High School wrestling is awesome. It's one of the greatest times of your life -- wrestling side by side with the friends you've known since childhood and representing your hometown with a tremendous amount of pride. With State Championship time being upon us, I want to tell the story of the greatest memory of my high school career.
I have wrestled in almost every tournament in the world. I've won the Olympics, NCAAs, and World Championships, but none of those can truly compare to the feeling I felt when I won my first and only State Championship my senior year of high school. The year was 2006. I was ranked No. 1 in the state at 135 pounds. I was 34-2 on the year, with my only losses coming from the Beast of the East Tournament earlier that year (I went 3-2 and failed to place). I was up against a familiar foe. His name was David Greenwald of St. Mary's High School, and we had already wrestled once that season in an All-Star dual matchup of New Jersey's best, where I won 6-4. Before the All-Star dual I was ranked second in the state, but after my victory, our rankings reversed. Dave was tough. We had both finished second in the state the year before as Juniors. It's funny to think of, but I lost to a guy who would become a 2x NCAA finalist at Penn State, while he lost to a very tough Nick Orio of Eastern Regional. I would lose to Frank "The Tank" Molinaro of Southern Regional High School, who would go on to win an NCAA Championship at 149 in 2012. As we arrived to the New Jersey State Championships as seniors in 2006, we both had one thing on our minds -- "State Title or Bust!" I did not want to leave that arena with the same sickening feeling that I had the previous year after losing in the state final in double overtime. I was focused.
Fast track. I'm back in the State Finals, and guess who's on the other side? None other than Dave Greenwald. Before the finals, my high school wrestling coach, Rick Koss, and I, had a small video session during which we attempted to scout David to be more prepared for the match. Greenwald was known for his great scrambling abilities and an awesome cradle that he could hit from almost anywhere. The one piece of advice that kept ringing in my ears throughout my entire warmup and match was, "Watch out for the cradle!" I was terrified. I knew that I was ranked No. 1 in the state, but I also knew this match wouldn't be easy. I was great on my feet, but he was great on the mat. It made for an interesting matchup. I wasn't nearly as confident then as I am now.
Fast forward again. We are late in the third period of the match. I was, essentially, getting owned. The score was 8 to 5, Greenwald, and I was watching my State Championship hopes slowly tick away as I was being ridden hard. Dave was great on top, and as much as I tried, I couldn't seem to find a way out of his grasp. Time was ticking. One of the most distinct moments of the match that I can remember is the announcer on the loud speaker yelling to the crowd "30 seconds!" I knew I had to do something, and quick. I worked back up to my base and hit a switch as hard as I could! Reversal! I was able to reverse him! It was almost unbelievable, but there was still work to be done. At this point there were only 17 seconds left, and I was still down 8-7. Immediately I went to let him up, and attempt to get another takedown to tie the score and send the match to overtime. As I circled out front, and took my hands off of him, he stayed down on the mat. He was on all fours with his head down and time was winding quickly. I didn't have time to waste, and I didn't even look at the ref to see if he had awarded David with an escape point. I dove back in on his legs. Fearing that he was going to give up the tying takedown, he began to roll in between my legs to scramble out of a possible overtime. In the process of him rolling through my legs, I was looking to get leverage, so I grabbed his leg and pulled it up between mine, and sat back in a solid position to prevent him from rolling me. I could hear my coach yelling "Stay there, stay there!" As time ran out, the refs had yet to make a decision, and there was pandemonium in the arena while Dave and I sat in the middle of the mat not knowing what was going on exactly. TIme ran out, and the refs and both coaches went to the head table to deliberate. After about a minute of uncertainty, my coach came out of the crowd with his arms raised in celebration! I couldn't believe it! I had won! It turns out, that Greenwald was never awarded the escape point because he didn't come up off of his knees into a neutral position. So when I dove back in on his legs, I was technically still in control. As we began to scramble, when he rolled through my legs, he was essentially exposing himself, and the refs began counting backpoints. I received a two count, and was given two back-points. And there it was, 9-8. I was a State Champion. I couldn't be more proud standing on top of that podium. I was a State Champion. I was going to get a cool letterman jacket, and have my name in the paper. This was the first time in my life that I had won anything of significance. This will always be an extremely special day to me. As I walked out of the arena that day, my dreams grew instantly. I wanted to wrestle at Nebraska. I wanted to be an NCAA Champion. Little did I know then that it would come true. As everyone approaches their state tournament, or has already competed, I wanted to say congratulations, and good luck. These are the best days of your life!
Here's a copy of a short link of the State Final video. Copy, Paste, and Enjoy!