If there was anything the Suffolk County wrestling community learned about the Shoreham-Wading River High School team this season, it’s that you don’t tell those student-athletes they can’t attain some lofty goals.
“It’s a dream and everyone dreams. But everyone was telling these kids that couldn’t do it,” SWR coach Joe Condon said. “But they believed they could. These guys just trained and worked hard.”
Yes, the county dual meet wrestling championship this past weekend looked like one of those David vs. Goliath confrontations. There was SWR, a small school that competed in League VI, going up against Brentwood, the League I champion.
“It’s very difficult to do for a smaller school because you have a much smaller population,” Condon said. “Year in, year out, it’s extremely difficult to adapt to the large schools. And, frankly, there are some very talented large schools in Suffolk County.”
On Saturday afternoon, SWR pulled off a surprise, besting Brentwood, 36-32, at Comsewogue High School, capping a 9-0 season for the Wildcats.
“It pretty much was like a storybook ending if you could write a perfect movie script,” Condon said. “To make that happen, it’s just so difficult. This was a monumental accomplishment for the kids.”
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I still can’t believe it happened.”
On Friday, they beat Bellport in the quarterfinals, 33-27, in an encounter that was decided in the final bout. Freshman Chris Colon pinned senior Andy Barbecho 42 seconds into their 114-pound match.
On Saturday, unbeaten senior Connor Pearce had the first and last words for SWR, which downed Elwood/John Glenn, 40-29, in the semifinals. Pearce won the first bout of the match, pinning county runner-up Anthony Mirando in 27 seconds at 126 pounds. The Wildcats won nine of the first 11 bouts.
His team trailing Brentwood (8-1) by two points entering the final bout of the final, Pearce pinned Juan Hernandez in 3:36 for the title. After the referee slammed the mat to signify a pin, Pearce’s teammates hoisted him onto their shoulders in celebration.
“It was like a scene from ‘Vision Quest’ or from ‘Rudy’,” Condon said of a high school wrestling movie and a college film, respectively. “I don’t ever remember seeing that. Like he said, he trained for that moment his whole life.
“Connor is a solid rock in the program. He’s come through time and time again. Two-time state qualifier. He’s been the county champion. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and more. He’s an ultimate teammate, ultimate competitor.”
Condon also lauded four senior wrestlers who recorded pins — Jake Jablonski (152), Sean Miller (160), Jake Ekert (215) and Dylan Blanco (285). They also won their matches against Glenn earlier in the day.
After Ekert pinned Anthony Jackson at 1:15 to spark the Wildcats’ comeback against Brentwood, Condon talked to Blanco. “He said, ‘This is the last match of my life. I’m winning,’ ” Condon recalled. “He went out and did it.”
Blanco pinned Elmer Cruz in 1:19, avenging an earlier loss.
“They just don’t quit, no matter what the odds,” Condon said of his wrestlers. “They had the odds stacked against them in so many ways. They just did everything we asked them to do.”
Those odds were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the severe restrictions and all the hoops the team had to jump through, Condon lauded his assistant coaches for contributions. That group included Kevin Nohejl, Chris Meloni, Steve Taddeo and T.J. Fabian.
“These guys are under the radar,” he said. “I get the interviews when we win, but these guys did a lot of the leg work. We couldn’t be successful without everybody pitching in. It was huge.”
With the cancellation of this year’s state championships, the county crown was the big prize.
“This was our state championship,” Condon said. “Beating great teams like Brentwood and Bellport, that’s pretty much as good as a state championship.”