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Brendan Rogers

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Port Jeff Royals set the bar high this wrestling season

Vin Miceli controls his opponent during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon
Matt Murphy breaks free from his challenger during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

For Port Jefferson senior Vin Miceli, grabbing gold was a nice way to kick off the individual season. The 132-pounder placed first at the 47th annual Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2, and was also voted Most Outstanding Wrestler by all of the coaches in attendance.

Miceli, who has committed to wrestle for Division I Bloomsburg University next year, said there’s no secret to competing at the level he does. He said the sacrifices he makes pay off on the mat.

“It takes a lot of hard work — there’s no stopping and there’s no offseason for me — I’m always in the wrestling room,” said Miceli, who will start the season competing in the 126-pound weight class, hoping to transition to 120 by midseason. “I have my brother and good friends to train with, so it’s nonstop. I have about 90 matches in the offseason.”

Despite its size, Port Jefferson has a rich tradition of cultivating wrestling talent year in and year out, and according to first-year assistant coach Jesse Meaney, the sport is unique in several ways.

“Wrestling isn’t like other sports where you need 100 kids coming out to have a successful team — the work that they put in is the success they will come away with,” Meaney said. “And repetition is the key. You have to drill things 1,000 times in order for it to become muscle memory, so at the end of the week, the kids have drilled things to where they’re technically perfect.”

Port Jefferson faced off against the best of Huntington, Kings Park, Farmingdale, Patchogue-Medford, Comsewogue and Grand Street Campus (Brooklyn).

Brendan Rogers attempts to turn his opponent onto his back during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon

Junior Rick D’Elia placed second at 113 pounds, as did senior Joe Evangelista at 152 pounds.

Meaney reiterated that being a large school with a larger talent pool isn’t the same type of advantage it is in other sports.

“Wrestling isn’t a sport that discriminates, if you have kids that are willing to put in the work and that are willing to listen to the coaches, you can have a successful program,” he said.

Junior Brendan Rogers placed third at 120 pounds, as did classmate Ryan Robertson and sophomore Jack Neiderberger at 138 and 195 pounds. Placing fourth were seniors Joe Longo and Chris Lepore and junior Harry Cona in 152, 182 and 220 pounds, respectively.

When asked what his goals were for his senior season, Miceli didn’t hesitate.

“I’m a senior on a mission — my goal is to win states,” Miceli said. “That’s been my goal since I’ve joined the team.”

The Royals compete in two more invitationals — Harborfields’ Steven J. Mally Memorial and their own Bob Armstrong Cup — before opening the league season on the road against Mattituck Dec. 21.

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Joe Evangelista controls an opponent last season. File photo

Port Jefferson wrestlers are taking this year’s theme to heart — the Royals are looking to become legends.

This season the team is paying homage to the greats who battled for the purple and white before them. To date, the Royals have 189 All-County wrestlers, 37 Suffolk County champions, 13 All-State wrestlers and four state champions. John Proios won the school’s first state title in 1967, and Bill Proios took it home again in 1969. Jamie St. John won in 1988 and 1989, and Matteo DeVincenzo claimed gold in 2014 and 2016.

“The coaching staff felt it was appropriate to acknowledge the ‘Legends of the Nation’ due to the amazing past, but to also acknowledge that just last year Port Jeff graduated its most accomplished wrestler in school history,” Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said. “Matteo was a true legend of PJ Nation.”

DeVincenzo was a four-time All-State wrestler, three-time state finalist, three-time All-American, two-time state champion and holds the school record for wins with 148. He currently wrestles for Princeton University, and joins some of his old teammates, including his brother Tristin, on the collegiate mats. The older DeVincenzo wrestled at The University of Pennsylvania, and ex-teammate Paul Cavanagh is wrestling at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. All three wrestlers represented Port Jefferson at the state tournament in Albany.

Vin Miceli has his arm raised following a win in 2015. File photo

This season, Port Jefferson returns three county champions and three other All-County athletes.

Rick D’Elia, Vin Miceli and Joe Evangelista have all wrestled upstate and are looking to return this February. Robert Williams, Joe Longo and Brendan Rogers are returning All-County wrestlers that will help the Royals battle for a league and county title, and are looking to make the leap to Albany this season.

“If you look at the Royals roster, a couple of things may stick out,” Maletta said. “For one, the Royals have zero seniors on the squad this year, a point that may doom a team, but excites the coaching staff, not only for this year, but for the future. Another thing that one may notice is the arrival of some brothers to the team.”

D’Elia’s younger brother Anthony is now at 99 pounds, while his older brother moves to 113. Tyler Rogers joins his brother Brendan, and Will Williams joins his brother Rob.

“It does not end there, because next year Anthony Evangelista may be joining his brother Joe, along with Ryan Robertson’s younger brother,” Maletta said. “PJ Nation will be a true family affair.”

Maletta is excited about Rogers’ potential.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise at his young age,” the coach said of the eighth-grader. “He’s a really aggressive wrestler, and he helps our team balance and get the right matchups between 113 and 130 pounds.”

In the first two tournaments this season, the 26-person Port Jefferson team finished with four champions — more than any other team. Kings Park and Patchogue-Medford were close behind with three, Huntington and Grand Street Brooklyn had two and Harborfields had one.

Brendan Rogers became champion at 99 pounds with three pins, Rick D’Elia brought the gold home at 106 with three pins, Miceli had three technical falls at 126 pounds for the top spot and Joe Evangelista had five pins at 145. Jon Moshe placed third in the 138-pound weight class; Robbie Williams finished fourth at 113; Matt Murphy placed fourth at 152; Shane DeVincenzo, Tristin and Matteo’s younger brother, placed fifth at 132; and Joe Longo placed fifth at 145 pounds.

Rick D’Elia sizes up an opponent. File photo

Rogers and 195-pounder Harry Cona also placed first at the Varsity B tournament. D’Elia, 160-pounder Matt Spyro and 220-pounder Jack Niederberger placed second, and Lucas Rohman came in fourth at 145 pounds.

Last week at the Steven Mally tournament in Harborfields, the Royals represented well, placing 11 wrestlers in the tournament, with seven finalists and three champions.

Rogers, D’Elia and Miceli placed first, while Williams, DeVincenzo, Evagelista, Longo, Murphy, Cona, Niederberger and Anthony D’Elia all took a spot on the podium.

The Royals kicked off the dual-meet season by taking on Babylon Dec. 14, where the team topped its opponent 55-25, before traveling to Bellport Dec. 17 for a holiday tournament.

The team faced off against Center Moriches Dec. 21. Maletta said the matchup is basically for the league title. The Royals narrowly fell, 44-30.

“They have a pretty tough 99-pounder,” he said. “But if everyone’s at the right weight, we’re real solid up until 152 pounds. We have some new guys at 160 and 170, and we have two new wrestlers at 220 and 285, so we can stretch to have a full lineup, which is really going to pay off in dual meets because we can get some bonus points up in those higher weight classes, and we haven’t been able to do that in two or three years.”

Maletta said the team is always wrestling, and his core group of guys — Brendan Rogers, Rick D’Elia, Miceli and Joe Evangelista — have the best chances to go upstate at the end of the year — but it won’t be easy.

“The county championship will be really tough,” he said, adding that teams like Center Moriches, Bayport-Blue Point and Mount Sinai will present some of the biggest challengers. “They’re going to have to step up. It’s not going to be an easy road to get upstate, but if they do climb the mountain to the county tournament, they’re going to be better prepared to be on the podium upstate.”

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Vin Miceli sizes up his opponent this past season. Photo from Mike Maletta

Although the Port Jefferson wrestling team once again fell short of its goal of a League VII title, plenty of Royals will still see action this weekend — and stepping onto the podium would mean a trip up to Albany at the end of the month for a chance at an individual state crown.

“We have a group of seniors that have been working hard all season,” head coach Mike Maletta said. “It’s still yet to be seen where they’ll end this season, and it all comes down to the next two weeks.”

Matteo DeVincenzo stands atop the podium after his first-place finish at the Eastern States tournament. Photo from Port Jefferson school district
Matteo DeVincenzo stands atop the podium after his first-place finish at the Eastern States tournament. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

The Royals squad ended the year at 5-2 in conference play, suffering a loss to undefeated Mattituck/Greenport/Southold on Jan. 6 and a close 37-36 loss to Bayport-Blue Point in the final league dual meet of the regular season on Jan. 22. The team also beat Hampton Bays, 64-15, in a nonleague meet that didn’t count toward that record.

“We didn’t go 8-0 because we’re missing some of our heavier guys,” Maletta said about the team’s run.

But the team did have success in multiple tournaments.

On Jan. 9, the team took first place by outscoring 14 opponents at the David Sorenson Memorial Invitational held at Long Island Lutheran in Brookville. At the same tournament, teammates Vin Miceli, Joe Evangelista and Matteo DeVincenzo took first-place wins in their individual weight classes.

A week afterward, DeVincenzo took his second first-place crown at the Eastern States Classic, held at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake. To earn his latest title, DeVincenzo defeated three other state champions from a field of 60 wrestlers. Simultaneously, he was voted Champion of Champions by his peers.

The Royals also won the LuHi Tournament, a separate tournament at Long Island Lutheran High School, in mid-January.

“We don’t fill out all of our weight classes, so for us to win a tournament means that our guys who were in the tournament wrestled real solid,” Maletta said. “We’ve had steady wrestling all year from guys like sophomore returning county champion Vin Miceli [and] sophomore returning All-County wrestler Joe Evangelista, and seniors Sterling Nenninger, Dallas Brett and Alex Frohnen have done a great job winning and placing in tournaments.”

Joe Evangelista controls his opponent. Photo from Mike Maletta
Joe Evangelista controls his opponent. Photo from Mike Maletta

Jack Collins also placed in two tournaments and freshman 99-pounder Ricky D’Elia won a tournament, while 106-pounder Robby Williams placed in four this season.

“We’re pretty solid from 99 up to 152 pounds,” Maletta said. “The biggest happy surprise has been Rick D’Elia at 99 pounds, how he has over 20 wins as a ninth-grader. He’s gotten valuable experience, he’s undefeated in the league, so the goal is for him to be heading upstate and getting some even more valuable experience in Albany.”

DeVincenzo’s winning season continued when the graduating senior, who will be attending Princeton University in the fall, set a school record of 141 career wins during the Armstrong Cup, held in Port Jefferson on Jan. 30.

DeVincenzo is now a four-time Armstrong Cup champion, which according to Maletta has never been done before by any wrestler. He surpassed brother Tristin DeVincenzo’s win record of 137 wins in his first match there. He’s undefeated right now with a 29-0 record, and plans to remain undefeated at the end of the month, stepping atop the podium at the state championship.

Matteo DeVincenzo may have a unique trip upstate. According to Maletta, his senior star, who is a three-time county champion, state champion and All-State wrestler, may see a familiar face in his weight class — a wrestler who defeated him in the 99-pound final in his freshman year.

“It would be fitting if they meet in the finals this year, and I have all the confidence that Matteo can top him,” Maletta said. “Coach Ian Schneider and Coach Nick Miceli and myself are just enjoying the ride right now. Very few coaches get to coach an athlete like Matteo, so we’re aware of it, and we’re going to enjoy the next month.”

Rick D’Elia competes in his final match of the LuHi Tournament. Photo from Mike Maletta
Rick D’Elia competes in his final match of the LuHi Tournament. Photo from Mike Maletta

For now, Port Jefferson is sending numerous athletes to the Section XI Division II championship on Feb. 13 at Center Moriches High School.

Other wrestlers competing will be Brendan Rogers, James Laffey, Shane DeVincenzo, Joe Longo, Dylan Berger, Brian Webb, Matt Murphy, Joe Collins, Pedro Nobrega, Chris Lepore, Ryan Walsh and Harry Cona.

“We might not be able to outpace some of the other teams that can fill up the brackets with their athletes, but we’re looking to come away with a group of champions that’s going to make Port Jeff proud,” Maletta said.

Two years ago, Port Jefferson sent a record five wrestlers to the state tournament. Last year, the team dropped back a little, sending three, but the head coach is looking to send another handful of guys back to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championship on Feb. 26 and 27.

“We’re excited about moving forward,” Maletta said. “We countdown in practice because we have to enjoy the time together, because we don’t have much longer. They’ll always be my boys, my athletes, my kids. I’m looking forward to enjoying the next week and hopefully extending it further into the end of February. It’s been a good journey.”

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