By Jim Hague
The Essex County wrestling championships were still a day away last Friday night, but Nutley High School head coach Frank DiPiano started to feel a little of the pressure.
DiPiano was helping to set up at the Codey Arena in West Orange, putting up tables and chairs to prepare for the tourney a day later, when it started to hit him.
“I felt a little weak in my knees,” DiPiano said. “I was a little queasy. I knew all these people were expecting big things from us, expecting us to do something that was never done before. We didn’t know the feeling of being a county champ, yet the expectations were very high. It was a little different with the expectations of doing something that had never been done before.”
The Maroon Raiders had come close in the past, but never won the team title in the Essex County tourney. With a deep lineup and a host of talented wrestlers, this was going to be the year. Or so it seemed.
When DiPiano took the job at Nutley, he insisted that it would take five years to make the program respectable and competitive. Well, the Maroon Raiders were already competitive and DiPiano had certainly made the program extremely respectable, but they had yet to reach the pinnacle.
DiPiano’s worries soon subsided Saturday, when the Maroon Raiders raced out to an impressive early lead.
“We got off to a great start and by the quarterfinal round, we had jumped out to a pretty big lead,” DiPiano said. “From there, things just sort of kept rolling. My nerves were high, but they went away pretty quickly. It was like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders.”
Led by overall champions Bobby Trombetta (120 pounds) and Nick Gaeta (195), the Maroon Raiders steamrolled to their first-ever Essex County Tournament title.
Nutley had 203 points, with West Orange finishing second with 169 and Seton Hall Prep third with 153. Bloomfield was fifth and Belleville sixth in the 24-team field.
“It says a lot about the kids,” DiPiano said. “There was a lot of hard work and time put in. Everyone is still on a high. The JV (junior varsity) kids were even excited, because they know they had a major part in it. The phone has been ringing with people offering congratulations. They can’t get over it. (Former head coach) Carmen LoRe now lives in Florida and he was calling me every minute or so. Parents are calling. Alumni members are calling, thanking us. They all never saw this before, but they’re all as thrilled and as happy as we are.”
The Maroon Raiders placed six wrestlers among the top three in their respective weight classes and had 11 wrestlers earn medals overall.
“They showed incredible balance,” DiPiano said. “I preached to the kids that if they lost early, that winning matches in the wrestleback rounds meant just as much and that’s how you win team titles. A lot of kids lost early and came back to win.”
Trombetta didn’t lose at all, winning his third straight county crown. He was defeating Nick Polimeni of Seton Hall Prep, 12-1, in the fi nal round when Polimeni had to take an injury default in the second period due a shoulder injury.
Incredibly, the win over Polimeni was the 100th win in Trombetta’s career. Trombetta, who fi nished seventh at 112 pounds at the NJSIAA state tournament last year, is well on his way to a return trip to Atlantic City, improving his seasonal mark to 23-1.
“There’s no doubt about the fact that Bobby was zoned in,” DiPiano said. “He was raring to go. It was like he was possessed. We all knew we were watching something special.” Trombetta now has a chance next year to become the eighth wrestler in Essex County history to win four consecutive county titles, the last one being Belleville’s Filiberto Colon in 2008.
Gaeta won the 195-pound title, earning his first county gold medal. Gaeta, a senior, defeated Dante Bellamy of Montclair in the fi nals. Bellamy is ranked among the top wrestlers in the state in his weight class.
“Nick was just very focused,” DiPiano said. “He was feeling pretty good and I’m glad for the kid that he won.”
Freshman Anthony DiLorenzo was second at 106 pounds, getting to the finals with an upset win over Belleville’s Rocco Genova.
Brandon Keena (160 pounds) and Andre Hamlin (heavyweight) both placed third for the Maroon Raiders. Keena is a junior, while Hamlin is a senior.
“We feel pretty good right now,” DiPiano said. “But we’re not stopping here. We have other things to shoot for.” The Maroon Raiders have 15 wins this season and if they defeat Columbia this week, that will give them a new school record for wins in a season. The Maroon Raiders are in line to receive a high seed in the upcoming NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III sectionals, with powerhouses like South Plainfi eld, Warren Hills and JFK-Iselin as possible foes.
“We’ve set a lot of goals,” DiPiano said. “We set the bar pretty high and we want to keep going. We’re not settling for anything.”
Among the other locals, Justin Colon of Belleville won his second straight county title, edging past Mike Marotti of West Essex, 3-1, in overtime, to capture the 126-pound championship. Colon now has 145 career victories, moving closer to the school and county records of 156, set by his older brother, Filiberto.