Sunday, March 5, 2017

Wrestling: Palumbo stands alone as first LV champ

ATLANTIC CITY -- The wait is over.

Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo completed his run to school history with a 5-3 win over DePaul sophomore Ricky Cabanillas to win the 145-pound state title on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.

In doing so, Palumbo (46-0) capped a fantastic unbeaten season while becoming the Patriots' first champion after head coach Doug Vetter (1990), Chris Ressa (2001) and D.J. Russo ('06) came up short in their title bids.

"It feels awesome. It doesn't feel real," said Palumbo, only the fourth-ever finalist for the Sussex County school since the program began in 1975. "I'm sure it means a lot for everyone [at Lenape Valley]. For me, I'm a state champion. I knew this was always possible, but I had to step it up."

Nick Palumbo displays his wall chart atop the podium at 145 pounds.
In addition to Palumbo, Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner won his first title at 195, while Pope John sophomore JoJo Aragona (120) was a runner-up, as the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area had three finalists for the first time since High Point's magical run of four gold medals and a silver for North Hunterdon in 2011.

Palumbo, who finished third at 145 last season, is the program's first two-time placewinner since Russo, who also placed fifth at 171 in 2005. But the first gold is something to be cherished by an entire community, according to Vetter, who is stepping down after 16 seasons. Former coach Bob Poggi, now the school's athletic director, was on hand to witness the historic moment, as well as former Patriots two-time placewinner and assistant coach Gary Mikolay, who is expected to be the next head coach.

"This is a dream come true, being my final time in the corner," said a teary-eyed Vetter, who lost an 8-5 decision to High Point coach John Gardner in the 189-pound final in 1990 before coaching both Ressa and Russo in their final bouts. "This is something special that I will take to the grave."

You couldn't have written a better script, as Cabanillas opted to wrestle Palumbo's style of match -- going upper body -- including one throw attempt that took both off their feet for a brief moment -- and tying up in the neutral position. After a scoreless first period, Palumbo escaped and later converted a match-turning takedown at the edge off a nice pass-by with just two seconds left on the clock for a 3-0 lead heading into the third.

Palumbo added another takedown with 36 seconds to go for a 5-1 lead and gave up a what amounted to a meaningless reversal with 17 ticks left on the clock.

"He was letting me get my ties. It was perfect," said Palumbo, who is the school's all-time wins leader with a career mark of 135-27. "[The takedown] was perfect right at the end of the second period."

Palumbo also knew he had to stay on the attack more than he did in a 1-0 win over Cabanillas last weekend in their Region 2 final.

"I needed to be a lot more aggressive," said Palumbo, while will wrestle for the University of Buffalo next season.

Along with crediting his coaches, Palumbo said offseason wrestling in the freestyle ranks helped make him a state champion.

"That's where I learned the two-on-one and the throw-by, which I scored with," he said. "I would tell all wrestlers to get out there and get that experience. It helped me jump so many levels."

Vetter promised tears if this moment came after Palumbo's win in the semifinals on Saturday night. They flowed, not only for the victory, but the special bond he shares with his wrestler.

"This is tough, emotionally," Vetter said. "I'm crying some happy tears. This was 43 years in the making. This was for the community. I received hundreds, not tens, of phone calls and text messages for people in the community, people I've coached who care about Lenape Valley wrestling. You could say there was a little bit of magic in the air."

"It's his last year, and I was happy to fulfill his dream," Palumbo said. "He's one of my all-time favorite coaches. He's always giving me words of wisdom and sharing tips. I wouldn't have been able to do it without him."

1 comment:

  1. This was one of the best finals, just awesome. I hope they have a BIG parade for him in town