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Mike Maletta

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Port Jefferson 126-pound senior Vin Miceli maintains control over his opponent. Photo from Section XI

By Desirée Keegan

Down 7-0 in the state wrestling semifinal with 50 seconds left, a switch flipped for Vin Miceli, leading to him wrestling his best, most exciting match of his career when it mattered most.

Vin Miceli embraces head coach Mike Maletta, on right, and gets a pat on the back from brother Nick, on left, after his semifinal come-from-behind win. Photo from Vin Miceli

“I remember watching a match a week prior to states when another wrestler was down six points in the third period with short time left, and ended up coming back and winning the match,” the Port Jefferson senior 126-pounder said. “So I said to myself, ‘Why can’t I do this?’”

He started letting his opponent get up for one point, only to take him down for two. Doubling up on points, he finished the match ahead 12-10, guaranteeing himself at least a second-place finish.

“It was one of the best feelings ever winning that match,” Miceli said. “Something I will never forget.”

The No. 3 seed was taken down twice early in the final and pinned in 1:33 by Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, who won his third straight state title at Albany’s Times Union Center Feb. 24. Even knowing his challenger’s pedigree, the Bloomsburg University commit didn’t let Anderson’s credentials stymie his confidence, or his eagerness to get out on the mat and wrestle in the last match of his high school career.

“I knew my opponent was going to be a challenge, and I knew he was going to come out at me aggressive, so I had to do the same back,” Miceli said. “I was super excited to be able to wrestle in the New York state finals, but was also a bit sad knowing that was my last high school match ever. Being able to wrestle on that stage is not an opportunity everyone gets, so I was definitely pumped to be there.”

Port Jefferson senior Vin Miceli sizes up his opponent. Photo from Section XI

Head coach Mike Maletta pulled his varsity athlete up from middle school in eighth-grade, after he went 11-0 the year prior. Miceli is one of the youngest wrestlers to exceed 20 wins in Port Jefferson history as an eighth grader, and finished his Royal career with 140 wins, second to 2016 graduate Matteo DeVincenzo (148).

“When Vin gets beat, he gets up, stands tall and comes back for more,” Maletta said. “That semifinal match was a culmination of that work. He said he wasn’t going to be denied. For him to get the reward for what he’s worked so hard for is satisfying for all of us. He knew it was his time.”

By the end of his career, Miceli evolved from the young varsity grappler he once was. He earned a spot in the state tournament his freshman year, but went 1-2. He lost in the county finals his sophomore and junior years, missing a bid to states, but this time around, he knew he was ready for a different result. The 126-pounder said he wrestled 80 offseason matchups, squeezed in double practices and private lessons on Sundays, and even saw a nutritionist to make sure he was strong and healthy at the weight he was competing at, while cutting his weight the right way, because he’d struggled with that in the past.

“I knew I was well prepared for this moment and I wasn’t letting anything stop me from getting on that podium,” Miceli said. “I knew I did everything I could to make sure I was 100 percent ready to go up there and compete.”

Vin Miceli has his arm raised after a state tournament win. Photo from Section XI

His father, Joe Miceli, said what he enjoyed most was seeing his son Nick, a former Port Jefferson wrestler, out on the mat by his brother’s side as an assistant coach, especially during the semifinal match.

“Seeing the two of them out on the mat celebrating after that win was really special,” Joe Miceli said. “Losing was frustrating in his sophomore and junior years, and he wanted to make sure he put the work in to get back up there again. Wrestling and dedicating himself the way he has, built a lot of character in him and made him very self-dependent. It’s sink or swim out there, and he developed well. This season was more than anyone expected.”

Vin Miceli said the sport has taught him many valuable lessons, and he’ll remain proud to don the purple and white, even if he was in Section XI blue and white up on the podium.

“Wrestling has made me the person I am today,” Miceli said. “Wrestling is not only a sport, but is something that will help you grow and mature as a person and change the way you look at things in life. I was able to make bonds with friends that will never be broken, and memories that will never be forgotten. Winning matches has been one of the best feelings, but it’s more about knowing that all that work you have put in has paid off. Being on that state podium is always something I dreamed if and worked for, and now I can say that standing up there is an awesome feeling.”

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli, third from right, stands atop the Division II 126-pound podium. Photo from Vin Miceli

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Vin Miceli wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

By Desirée Keegan

Panic could have set in for Port Jefferson, but its wrestlers remained calm under pressure.

With sole possession of the League VIII title on the line in a 24-24 meet against Center Moriches Jan. 9, the core of the Royals lineup came through, as it always has, to help Port Jefferson to a 41-34 away victory and first conference crown since 2012.

“It was an awesome feeling being able to win the league title, and seeing how excited my team and coaches are to achieve this,” 132-pounder Vin Miceli said. “I think we wrestled tough, but there were some matches where we could use some work.”

At 126 pounds, senior Robbie Williams sparked the turnaround. He had lost to his Center Moriches opponent, Dustin Dunkirk, twice before in close matches, and Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said he thought maybe psychologically Williams felt he couldn’t beat him. The coach said he considered matching his grappler up against someone else, but at a tournament in New Rochelle, where Williams went 2-2 and was one match away from placing, Maletta saw him wrestle through adversity.

Rick D’Elia wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

“When he was coming off the mat I said, ‘You did a good job today,’ and he said, ‘No, coach, if I did a good job today I’d be placing,’” Maletta said of the conversation between he and Williams Jan. 6. “My mentality changed, and I told him he’s going to face his opponent head-to-head.”

Williams started off 2-0, scoring back points early, and earned three more on a near pin to end the scoring for the first period. He score two more points with 44 seconds left in the third to go up 7-0, before surrendering a point when letting his opponent loose with the hope of taking him down again for a major decision, which he couldn’t get before time expired.

“He ended up a takedown away from bonus points,” Maletta said. “That’s not only flipping the score, that’s making a statement — and he’s wrestling up a weight class because he’s really a 120-pounder. He’s wrestling well at the right time, and I felt pretty confident where we were going to go from there.”

Miceli, who is undefeated, and 19-3 Joe Evangelista followed up Williams and backed up the head coach’s confidence.

The five-year grapplers took to the circle with Miceli also coming away with a 5-0 lead heading into the second period of his match. At 1:06, he got two takedown points and worked for a cradle, but couldn’t complete it, though grabbing three points for his effort and a 10-0 lead going into the final two minutes. He earned two back points to start the third, and let his opponent loose to try to get the pin or a final takedown for a technical fall. At the buzzer, he cradled his opponent once following his fourth takedown to earn the 17-1 major decision.

“I felt I didn’t wrestle to my full potential during my match, and realize there is still more I need to improve on,” Miceli said. “I felt worried and frustrated at first that I was not able to get those bonus points, but I knew my teammates after me would give their opponents a good fight.”

Joe Evangelista wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

Ryan Robertson, a 138-pounder, went up against a Top 8 state wrestler in Donald Wood and was pinned at the 1:21 mark to help Center Moriches close within five points overall, 35-30, but the 145-pound Evangelista pinned his opponent in 4:06 to seal the deal.

“He does what is expected of him, he pins his guy and the match is out of Center Moriches’ hands,” Maletta said. “It’s great — it’s kind of tough to celebrate on a Monday, but they’re true wrestlers anyway because they’re right back at it ready to get to practice tomorrow and fix their mistakes.”

Conrad Sund and brothers Anthony and Rick D’Elia came away with pins for Port Jefferson. Harry Cona and Brendan Rogers earned one-point victories, 1-0 and 4-3. Maletta said it was those matches that meant all the difference in the win.

“If either one of those went the other way we wouldn’t have won the title,” Maletta said. “They all came to wrestle; they all showed up to compete, which was great to see. The coaching is done at this point and they have to respond to situations, and they did.”

Chris Lepore, a senior who battled his challenger to a 2-0 finish for the second win of the night, said he sees things only escalating for Port Jefferson from this point.

“I’m loving where we’re going,” he said. “Getting a league title [in] my senior year is special, and we’ve all been working hard to get there, but what makes us so successful is we don’t focus on the bigger picture. We psyche ourselves up to win our match, push ourselves to the limit and put ourselves in the best position to support our team.”

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You had to see it to believe it. Joey Collins led his team out to the mat as the volume was raised on the sound system — the music blasted as WWE wrestler John Cena sang, “Your time is up, my time is now.  You can’t see me, my time is now.”

Collins, a senior with Down syndrome, has been on the Port Jefferson wrestling team for four years. He took center stage Dec. 22 during the Port Jefferson Bob Armstrong Tournament.

Facing a Riverhead opponent, Collins started the period on top before his opponent broke free. Face to face, his Blue Waves challenger grabbed his right leg, and instead of taking Collins down, fell on his back, where Collins jumped on the opportunity to hoist up his opponent’s leg for the pin and a win in the consolation match. He said the song he loves got him ready to compete.

Joey Collins gears up to compete. Photo from Joe Collins

“It got me more pumped,” he said. “It was the best moment of my entire career.”

As the mat was slapped three times to decide his fate, the cluster of wrestlers alongside him leaped up in celebration. Collins, engulfed by the excitement and cheers from the crowd, stood up and waved his hands, imploring the fans in attendance to keep up the noise.

“I love being a part of a team,” Collins said. “It’s exciting. I work hard and do something for me that betters myself.”

His father, Joe Collins, was moved by what he’d just witnessed, but said his initial thoughts were a little different based on his son’s reaction.

“Part of me was saying, ‘Jeeze Joey, you need to tone it down a little bit,’” he said, laughing. “He’s not the most gracious celebrator, but the reaction was so positive from everybody and I was really, really pleased that he was enjoying it so much. I felt proud of him and I loved the way he jumped into his coach’s arms and slapped hands with all his teammates. I also thought about how proud Joey’s mother would have been.”

Collins’ mother Mary Beth died last November following a lengthy battle with cancer. The father recalled the first time his son, who became an avid wrestling figurine collector in middle school after idolizing his cousin’s collection, took part in a wrestling match at the end of his freshman year. He had been practicing with the team, but finally competed in his first consolation match, which are matches that don’t factor in to a team’s score for a meet.

“My wife clutched my forearm, seeing his face against the mat looking up at her, and everyone was screaming for him to stay on his belly to keep from getting pinned,” Joe Collins said. “It was very exciting. We were nervous and proud to see him out there. We were thankful and grateful he’s getting the opportunity to play like that with other kids.”

Joey Collins practices for his next match. Photo from Joe Collins

Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said he remembers when Joey Collins’ mother approached him following the Mount Sinai meet.

“She walked over to me very sternly, and I was afraid of how she was going to take it,” he said. “But she put her hand out and said, ‘Thank you,’ and walked away.”

From that moment Collins was hooked. He was used to cheering his teammates on from the side of the mat with Maletta, but finally got the opportunity to compete, although still frequenting the sideline to cheer on friend and teammate Matteo DeVincenzo, a prominent wrestler in the program who won county and state titles.

“It always warms my heart when I see Joey sitting next to the coach and yelling encouragement for kids like Matteo and his older brother Tristan,” Joe Collins said.  “It was a nice turnaround for Joey to be encouraging someone else. That was really neat to see.”

DeVincenzo also enjoyed it.

“I thought of Joey just like I thought of anyone else on the team — a wrestler,” DeVincenzo said. “He was a member of the team and deserved to be treated the same as everyone else. It felt great to have Joey’s support. It was evident that he looked up to me and that was gratifying and impactful.  Knowing that I was someone that he could use as a model and mentor was very self-fulfilling. It was inspiring working with Joey and watching him grow over the years. He truly grew into a young man on and off the mat. Joey was a symbol of hope and heart for the team. Whenever we were struggling or down in the dumps, one glance at Joey could enhance anyone’s day. If Joey could do it, anyone could.”

Joey Collins said he enjoys the camaraderie between him and his teammates, too, something he said he learned from Maletta.

“He taught me how to become a better wrestler,” Collins said. “He taught me how to train and how to work hard. I love to cheer my team on. I love getting involved with the sport. I love being a wrestler.”

Although Maletta said at first having Collins on the team presented a set of unique challenges, he and the wrestlers have warmed up to their fellow Royal.

Joey Collins shows off his WWE wrestling belt. Photo from Joe Collins

“The first year it was a handful,” he said. “I tried to think of how I was going to work with guys that were focused on winning state titles, but by his second year he got better at being in practice. He was able to stay on task longer, and I treated him like every other kid. We try to raise expectations and he wrestled some good matches.  Joey goes out there and he wrestles hard no matter what.”

He competed in multiple matches in his sophomore year, and was joined by his twin brother Jack Collins, a football standout who is also currently on the basketball team.

“Wrestling with Joe was a blast,” Jack Collins said. “At practice you could really feel the radiance he gives off when wrestling and learning. Wrestling is a huge part of his life. He loves it and the sport has been good to him. It taught him a lot as well about morals. Athletics have been a great way for me and Joe to connect.”

After missing some of his junior season when his mother passed away, Maletta said he was excited to see Collins return to the team his senior year, noting that he’s one of six “watchmen,” seniors who have been on the team since they were freshman. Last year, none of the seniors had been on the team all four years, and prior to that, there were just two.

“Wrestling was a good distraction for him,” Maletta said. “I told him he’s a senior now, and I’m putting him in matches for real. It would be a disservice for him to not ever really go out there and know what it’s like to win or lose and feel the emotions of the sport.”

Maletta said it’s been a pleasure to watch Collins grow.

“He’s matured in the room, he’s part of the team,” he said. “It’s sad he won’t be in the room next year.”

The big guns brought it home for Mount Sinai.

John Parente won by a major decision, 12-0, at 195 pounds, and Bobby Christ edged his opponent, 4-3, in the finals to propel Mount Sinai to a second-place finish behind Half Hollow Hills West at the Bob Armstrong wrestling tournament at Port Jefferson Jan. 21.

“I told them if you want to wrestle in the county tournament this is the last time to show us what you’ve got,” Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong, who is also Bob’s son, said he told his team. “A freshman that just came up, Adam Shata, had a big win at 160 pound with a solid pin, so we have some freshmen that are really stepping up.”

Jahvan Brown at 138 pounds and Neil Esposito at 145 pounds, made some noise and, according to Armstrong, are wrestling well for this time of year despite their inexperience. Although neither made it to the finals, four other Mustangs did. The team had nine place in total.

“We’re turning it around here toward the end of the season.”

—Robert Alberti

Northport finished with 168 points, just behind Mount Sinai, which finished with 174.

Unlike the Mustangs, the Tigers brought it home in the finals, as all three representing the blue-and-gold took home tournament titles.

“We’re turning it around here toward the end of the season,” Northport head coach Robert Alberti said. Seven of his other wrestlers placed.

Junior Jake Borland, a 113-pounder, is currently ranked sixth in the county in his weight class. He topped Mount Sinai’s Matt Campo, 9-2, who is a returning county champion.

“We expect him to win every time he goes out,” Alberti said of his grappler. “It was a good test for him leading up to counties.”

Borland placed third in the Armstrong tournament last year, and brought his A-game this time around. He won his first match with a pin, and the next two by technical falls.

“I feel confident scoring points,” he said, adding that he knew he had to have a strong mentality and wrestle smart to win in the finals, using his fireman’s carry, duck under and high crotch to help him gain points.

Borland said he can see improvements in his game from last season.

“I got better at getting out on bottom, because last year I struggled with that,” he said. “Now I get right up. Right after [Campo] took me down I got out and took a shot, and I got him right to his back and scored. I got two for a takedown and three for back points and from there I started scoring.”

“[Kenny Cracchiola] wants to make an impact and he’s really done it. He’s beaten some really good guys and overall, matchup-to-matchup, he continues to be a dominant wrestler.”

—Garry Schnettler

At 132 pounds, junior Chris Esposito clinched the championship title with a 9-2 decision over Ward Melville’s Rafael Lievano, who is currently ranked third in the county. Esposito beat his opponent last weekend as well.

“That was a good statement for Chris to come out and beat the kid for a second time in a row,” Alberti said. “He’s showing the county that he’s here to wrestle, and he’s not going to be happy without winning.”

Esposito was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler after recording the most pins in the least amount of time. He pinned his first opponent in 20 seconds, his second in 59 and his third in 1:30, before sizing up his final foe. He said he came into the match knowing what he needed to do, and he wanted to prove that his win last weekend wasn’t a fluke.

“I knew the first time I wrestled him I didn’t wrestle as good as I could,” Esposito said. “Mentally, every time I go out to a match I’m calm, no matter what. I always want to score first, but even if I get scored on I never lose it; I remain calm and keep working.”

Billy Shaw was the final champion for Northport, who won 6-5 over Mount Sinai’s Joe Goodrich at 152 pounds. It was the grappler’s first tournament win.

“He had a tough match at North Babylon on Friday wrestling the No. 1-ranked kid in the county — he got beat up a little bit,” Alberti said. ”So for him to come out the next day and win his first tournament as a varsity wrestler is good for him. For him to turn around is a testament to his hard work.”

Ward Melville finished fourth with 136 points. In a unique and rare scenario, Kenny Cracchiola beat teammate Richie Munoz by a technical fall, 16-0.

Cracchiola went 4-0 on the day, winning three of his matches by technical falls and the other by a pin.

“I shoot single legs to take them down and on top I do a variety of different tilts for back points, which rack up points for me pretty quickly,” he said.

“Even before I step on the mat I’m always focused on wrestling, nothing else distracts me.”

—Vin Miceli

Unfortunately, he had to use these moves against his teammate, but he said he liked seeing two Patriots make it to the finals in the same weight class.

Port Jefferson followed in fifth place with 126.5 points, and sent seven to the podium.

Vin Miceli edged Centereach’s Luis Fernandez, 6-4, and was named the Champion of Champions. He had two pins as he battled his way through the bracket.

He said he focused to be able to bring home the gold.

“Even before I step on the mat I’m always focused on wrestling, nothing else distracts me,” he said. “I put in a lot of work in the off-season, so it really shows how much you can get out of the work you put in.”

Joey Evangelista edged Half Hollow Hills West’s Joe Costa, 3-0, for his title at 145 pounds. He pinned his first three opponents, but said his finals match was tough.

“My coaches have preached mentality is everything, so I’ve been working on strengthening that,” he said.

According to head coach Mike Maletta, the junior has been a finalist in every tournament this season, and won two.

“As long as they both stay aggressive and take smart shots and pushing the pace, they’re going to be real successful in three weeks when they’re up in Albany,” Maletta said of the possibility of the Royals competing for state titles. “The excitement is that some guys are starting to exceed expectations.”

Centereach finished in seventh with 93 points. Jett Tancsik outscored his Half Hollow Hills West opponent 9-4, for the 160-pound championship title.

Centereach head coach Ray Bruno said he was pleased with his team’s performance. He said the tournament is a good tune up to get ready for the Cougars’ matches in the League III tournament.

“This is probably the 10th year for this tournament and I appreciate them doing it keeping my dad’s memory alive.”

— Matt Armstrong

Rounding out the scorers in the top 9 were No. 8 Harborfields with 88 points, and Comsewogue with 39.

According to Matt Armstrong, his father coached at Port Jefferson from 1969 to 1990, where they were league champions for eight years and won the New York State championship cup in 1986.

“They had some very successful teams here at the time,” he said. “It’s great to come back here as I see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time. Many of the kid’s parents wrestled for my dad. This is probably the 10th year for this tournament and I appreciate them doing it keeping my dad’s memory alive, it’s Mike Maletta who keeps it going, and he does a great job.”

Borland said his Northport team has exceeded his expectations, and he’s looking forward to rounding out the season with the final dual meet of the season Jan. 27 at Smithtown West at 6:45 p.m., before heading to Syosset for the Battle of the Belt tournament the next day.

“Coming into this year I thought we were going to be absolutely terrible,” he said. “I thought we were going to have three good kids and we were going to be that team that gets beat up on, but I realized we have a few freshmen that are going to make very good wrestlers. We’re a young team, but we’re doing damage.”

Bill Landon contributed reporting

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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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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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