Not that one could tell, because there were no outward signs of it, but Mark Matyka wasn’t feeling his best before Tuesday’s Suffolk County League III wrestling match at Centereach High School.
Matyka had started the season wrestling in the 113-pound weight class, but had dropped weight to make 106, where the Riverhead High School senior said he will remain for the rest of the season. As a result, Matyka later said he felt low on energy, not that it showed on the mat. Following the prematch weigh-in, he ate some dried fruit, drank water and was ready to go.
Matyka went on to dominate his match, beating Kevin Ciosik by technical fall after building a 16-1 lead in the first period.
“How do you tech somebody being sick?” teammate Chris Debose marveled. “That really reminds me of Michael Jordan and his flu game.”
Matyka (14-0) said: “You never got to show your opponent that you’re feeling not so good. You just got to always push the pace.”
Riverhead needed every point it could muster, too. With its 170-pounder, Lawrence Bishop, unavailable, Riverhead had to do some lineup shuffling and strategizing.
“When you don’t have full teams, you have to do that,” said coach Tom Riccio.
In the end, it worked, but it was close. Riverhead stole a 44-42 triumph. Shareef Leonard brought Riverhead (3-2, 3-1) the decisive points when his arm was raised as Centereach (0-4, 0-4) forfeit at 285 pounds, the final bout on the card.
“One kid won that I expected to lose and one kid lost that I expected to win, but other than that, I expected it to be close,” said Riccio.
Riverhead had trailed ever since Jeff Tancsik’s pin of Katie Moore in 51 seconds gave Centereach a 30-29 edge. But Carlos Perez brought Riverhead three vital team points at 220 with his 9-4 comeback victory over Chris Powell.
Among the most impressive performances of the day was turned in by Debose, a league champion last year who needed only 29 seconds to pin Robert Cooper at 182. “I didn’t want to waste any time,” he said.
Debose might have been the first Riverheader in the gym, plugged into a cassette player, listening to music, walking around the gym and dancing, getting in the right frame of mind.
“When there’s everybody here, I’ll dance,” he said. “I don’t care because of the fact that when I feel comfortable, that’s when I can wrestle.”
Pins were also recorded by Riverhead’s Jason Daman (at 2:44 against Matt Ciavarelli at 113) and Ralph Gray (at 3:00 against Nelson Velasquez at 152).
Centereach had five pins of its own. Among them were pins by Selvin Maldonado (at 3:44 against Brendan Riccio at 120), Xavier Nicholas (at 5:08 against Jared Cawley at 126), Chris Ciavarelli (at 0:58 against Kyle Silvera at 138) and Matt Jones (at 0:39 against Sean Prunty at 170).
Matyka was a League III runner-up and Suffolk Division I runner-up last season. He reached his first state tournament as a wild-card recipient at 99 pounds, finishing sixth among state public school wrestlers and eighth overall.
Matyka is creeping up on the century mark for wins. With Tuesday’s victory, he brought his career record to 96-18.
“He has heart,” Debose said. “I mean, he has a passion. He drives for this county championship. I see him and I see how much he works, so I try to work just like that.”
Coach Riccio and Matyka say they have a close relationship.
“He’s like a son to me,” said Tom Riccio, who was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame last year. “He’s doing very well. You know, he’s in a weight class that’s a little tough for him to make, but he perseveres and he works himself through it. Wrestling is a tough sport and he puts a hundred percent into it. Mark is a 12-month-a-year wrestler, and you can’t do any more than that.”
What is different about this season for Matyka?
“I definitely have more of a drive,” he said. “Because it’s my last year, I want to really push the pace on people and become number one. I had some tough losses last year. You learn from your losses.”
Lately, there haven’t been any of those, though.
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Mark Matyka, right, facing Centereach’s Kevin Ciosik in their match at 106 pounds. (Credit: Bob Liepa)