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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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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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Sterling Nenninger stares intensely at his opponent before a match. Photo from Mike Maletta

“Watch out for us this year, we’re gonna be good.”

That’s what senior wrestler Matteo DeVincenzo had to say about his Port Jefferson high school team, and the New York State champion may be right.

With a 13-4 League VII record over the last three seasons and a slew of All-County wrestlers returning, the Royals have been working hard in the off-season to bring everything they can to the mat this year.

“Last year we had a bunch of holes in our lineup, [but] with all of the guys we have returning, plus the newcomers, we can spread our lineup out if we have to,” Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said. “To fill out 15 weight classes in a small school is almost impossible, and we’re in a good position right now.”

Despite losing several All-County wrestlers to graduation in June, the team still has seven seasoned seniors and plenty of new additions.

Vinny Miceli has his arm raised after winning his first Suffolk County title. File photo by Deb Ferry
Vinny Miceli has his arm raised after winning his first Suffolk County title. File photo by Deb Ferry

Three guys are fighting for the top spot at the 99-, 145- and 152-pound weight classes. One of the 145-pounders is senior Alex Frohmen, who is coming off of a 28-day intensive wrestling camp in Minnesota.

“It’s not just the wrestling aspect when you go to that camp — it’s the amount of discipline you learn [from] being fully immersed in wrestling for 28 days,” Maletta said. “It’s a huge commitment and the expectations are not only for him to place, but to be on top of the podium in February.”

Frohmen also sees his teammates improving, both new and old.

“Some people are really growing and could definitely break through that threshold,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of sprinting, which definitely helps with our conditioning. Port Jefferson prides itself in its ability to wear down people and not be the ones panting at the end of the first period.”

At 106 pounds will be returning varsity starter Robbie Williams, who will build off of his experience from last year, when he wrestled at 99 pounds. Also at 106 pounds will be Joey Collins, whose freshman brother Jack, the quarterback of the football team, will compete at 145 or 152 pounds.

Joey Collins has Down syndrome, but Maletta said the athlete doesn’t let his condition bring him down.

“He brings a special excitement to any match that he wrestles in,” the coach said.

At 113 pounds will be returning county champion Vinny Miceli, who has almost 50 wins as a sophomore. His workout partner, Joe Evangelista, is a two-time All-Country wrestler who will be competing at 120 pounds and also has close to 50 wins.

At 126 or 132 pounds will be seniors DeVincenzo, Sterling Nenninger and Dallas Brett.

DeVincenzo is a three-time All-State wrestler and All-American, and Nenninger, also an All-County wrestler, is looking to improve on his fourth-place finish in the county last season.

“He’s our big gun,” Maletta said of DeVincenzo. “To have him anchoring the team is really exciting.”

Maletta said Brett, who was also named an All-County wrestler, is his wildcard.

“He has a funky style — he can surprise anyone,” Maletta said. “He’s never out of a match with the way he wrestles. He’s got a very unorthodox way of wrestling and sometimes he can surprise a guy with a roll or a throw and he lands on top and he can pin somebody.”

Senior Pedro Nobrega is Maletta’s “160-pound Brazilian import,” in whom he’s seen a vast amount of growth.

Chris LePore, who the head coach said is intense when he gets his motor going, will wrestle at 170. Maletta said he can see that sophomore flipping his record from last season.

Matteo DeVincenzo battles his way to his third Suffolk County title. Photo from Mike Maletta
Matteo DeVincenzo battles his way to his third Suffolk County title. Photo from Mike Maletta

Freshman Harry Cona, who Maletta said is willing to learn and attentive in practice, with great body movement for a big guy, will wrestle at 182. His fellow classmate is 152-pounder Sam Caltagirone.

All-County returner Ryan Walsh will compete at 195 and Nick Kafeiti, a junior who is new to the team, will complete the lineup at 220 pounds.

“Last year we were on the cusp of doing great things, so now we’ve been working hard over the off-season and we think we’re at that point where we can perform,” Walsh said. “You can feel the excitement in the wrestling room. It’s very positive.”

The Royals kick off their season with a tournament at Huntington on Saturday and have their first league meet on Wednesday at home against Southampton at 4:30 p.m. On Dec. 16 at 5 p.m., Port Jefferson will host Babylon on its “White Out” night. The team encourages fans to wear white, and the first 150 in attendence will receive “We Are P.J. Nation” T-shirts.

Nenninger said the expectations are high this season, and the team is sticking to its “PJ Nation” motto of not letting anyone cross its borders, while also making the Royals’ presence known despite being a smaller school.

“We face big schools and it’s not like we just give them the win — we’re always going to put up a fight,” Nenninger said. “We have such a small group of guys, but that only inspires us to work harder. We’re a group of strong wrestlers who feel we can take on the world.”

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