Matteo DeVincenzo felt relieved.
As the clock wound down and the whistle blew, the 126-pound Port Jefferson powerhouse put another state championship title in the record books with a 2-1 victory over Locust Valley’s Hunter Dusold.
“I expected to win, so it wasn’t surprising, but it felt good,” DeVincenzo said. “Overall, I wrestled real solid and dominated up until the finals.”
That focus and determination from day one led the Royal to an undefeated season. DeVincenzo was 32-0 heading into the state championship bracket. The first upstate challenger he faced he topped 12-2; the second match, a Section X grappler, he ruled over 9-1; the third, a Section III opponent he outscored 8-4. The finals win against Dusold capped it all off for a perfect 36-0 season.
“This whole year has been about domination and preparation, so I’d say no matter where I was in the bracket I would’ve had the same outlook,” he said.
But the senior and his coaches Mike Maletta, Ian Schneider and Nick Miceli were happy to see him avenge his state semifinal loss from last season, to once again stand atop the New York podium.
“This was really his last time wrestling in New York so we knew of the significance of it and it being special,” head coach Maletta said. “Matteo is one of the best of the best. He was unstoppable.”
Schneider, the team’s assistant coach, said being just 23 years old and having the opportunity to coach in the state championship was a phenomenal feeling.
“It was absolutely incredible to watch him do what he does best on the wrestling mat,” he said. “It was exciting, it was nerve-racking, it was all the emotions that ended joyously with him coming out on top. I may not ever coach a kid of his caliber in any sport again. I hope to have that, but he’s one of a kind and he’s something else as a person, as an individual and as a wrestler. He’s one of those rare gems that are out there. It was an absolute honor to coach him.”
Besides the four-time Suffolk County and two-time Eastern States champion, the Royals also sent two other wrestlers to Albany.
Sophomore 120-pounder Joe Evangelista and freshman 99-pounder Ricky D’Elia garnered some extra experience battling the bracket. Evangelista, a three-time All-County wrestler who became a county champion this year and finished with a 22-10 record, had to battle two tough All-State kids. D’Elia, who ended the season 25-7, made a couple of mistakes in a 5-3 first-round loss that sent him to the wrestlebacks.
“For their first time, it was cool for them to see the process for themselves and for Matteo,” Maletta said.
Although DeVincenzo will take one final trip with his coach, and D’Elia, to Virginia for nationals, but then the senior star is taking his talents to the mats of Princeton University. In college-level wrestling he will join his older brother, Tristin, who wrestles at the University of Pennsylvania, and another former Royal, Paul Cavanagh, who competes for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
The Royals had 11 All-County wrestlers this season. In addition to the three who traveled upstate, Brendan Rodgers, Robbie Williams, Vin Miceli, Joe Longo, Alex Frohnen, Dallas Brett, Jack Collins and Ryan Walsh all earned the accolade.
“I’m proud of what we’re doing here at Port Jeff and people notice us — from the biggest school in Suffolk County to the smaller schools that we wrestle with,” Maletta said. “They know if they’re competing against a kid with a Port Jeff singlet, they’re going to be prepared.”
Seven of those 11 will be returning to the roster next season. And with a young squad that will not soon graduate, the Royals expect only to gain players over the next two seasons.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Schneider said. “Our middle school program has a bunch of kids where we’ve lacked in the upper weight classes, so when we can fill out the lineup we’ll be that much harder to beat.”
Maletta has enjoyed his time with his grand grappler, and hopes for even bigger and better things in the future.
“I’m 45 years old and there’s been great days in my life — getting married and having kids — but putting on my suit and heading down to see Matteo be crowned a state champion was pretty special, and I’m thankful that Matteo was brought into our lives and into our wrestling room at Port Jeff,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into this and I’m aware that many coaches don’t get to coach a Matteo. I’ve been coaching for 20 years and this is a kid that will be linked with me forever.”