By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When he was growing up, Joe Ferinde always looked up to his older brother Michael. “I always said that I wanted to be like him,” the younger Ferinde said. “When he was a senior (at Nutley High School) and I was in eighth grade, I saw him wrestle in the state tournament and I would dream about getting a chance like that.”
Last year, as a sophomore, Joe Ferinde reached that goal of qualifying for the NJSIAA state wrestling championships in Atlantic City.
But this year, Ferinde wanted to make his journey to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall more memorable.
“That was the goal all season,” said the 120-pound Maroon Raider wrestler. “The whole season was geared toward getting a medal in Atlantic City.”
It wasn’t going to be easy. After all, Ferinde lost in the finals of the Region 4 tournament last week, meaning that Ferinde was going to have to battle back in the consolation preliminary round.
“I knew it was going to be a tough time,” Ferinde said. “I knew that the weight class was stacked. I basically went there to try to stay calm and focused throughout. I took each match at a time and just stayed focused on what was ahead of me.”
On Friday night, Ferinde wrestled twice and won both matches to stay alive.
Winning those matches put Ferinde in a better piece of mind.
“I definitely had to get the nerves out of the way,” Ferinde said. “I won the first match and moved on to the next.”
Ferinde defeated Kyle Brown of Old Bridge, 10-3, to advance to Saturday.
“It definitely cleared away any nerves I might have had and put me in a nice mindset to place in the tournament,” Ferinde said.
It also helped that Ferinde had a volunteer assistant coach on hand to lead the way, namely older brother Michael, who currently wrestles at Johnson and Wales College in Providence, R.I., and will compete in the NCAA Division III national championships next weekend in Iowa.
Michael Ferinde, four years older than Joe, competes at 141 pounds at Johnson and Wales.
“He worked with me right up before my matches,” Joe Ferinde said of his brother. “He helped me stay focused and gave me a few pointers to use. He’s definitely a perfect drilling partner. Having him there gave me most of my motivation to do well. Not many other wrestlers get to warm up with their older brother. It was a big thrill.”
Ferinde had to come back and wrestle Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. He won that match.
The next one came at 12:30 p.m. and once again, Ferinde emerged victorious.
“It was pretty tough, because my body was sore,” Ferinde said. “But I worked on staying focused.”
Ferinde remained at Boardwalk Hall for his next match, which came at 5 p.m.
“Once we were there, we stayed there,” said Nutley head coach Frank DiPiano. “We tried to do whatever we could to make him the most comfortable. Having his brother there really helped, because he didn’t have his teammates there. He just had the mindset that he had to stay focused.”
Sure enough, Ferinde won all three of his Saturday matches, guaranteeing the chance to wrestle on the final day of the season and locking down a medal.
Although his season ended with a loss, Ferinde did manage to finish eighth in the state at 120 pounds and for his efforts, Ferinde has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Ferinde finished the season with a stellar 38-4 record and became another in a legacy of Nutley wrestlers who have earned medals at the state tournament.
Bobby Trombetta, who graduated last year, earned three medals in his career. Brandon Keena also won a medal last year. Vinnie Maurillo, Anthony D’Amico and Nick Gaeta are also former Maroon Raider standouts who won medals at the state tournament under the guidance of DiPiano.
“It says something about a little program like Nutley,” DiPiano said. “I’ve been here seven years and we’ve had medal winners five of the seven years and four in a row. The kids understand the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
DiPiano loves Ferinde’s approach.
“He just loves the mat and loves wrestling,” DiPiano said. “He goes to school, does his school work and then wrestles. That’s all he does. He’s come such a long way. He wasn’t even in our regular lineup as a freshman. If you saw him then to now, you’d see a complete transformation. He knows wrestling is a grind. He embraces that idea and loves it.
Added DiPiano, “I really don’t think we’ve seen the best of Joe yet. He’s going to get better. He’s a student of the game and loves being on the mat. The focus he has is tremendous. He understands what has to be done. I think he opened a lot of eyes this weekend.”
Ferinde is proud of his accomplishment, especially the rough road he had to travel.
“It’s one of the best feelings of my life so far,” Ferinde said. “I can definitely use this as motivation for the future.”
And for now, Joe Ferinde has one up on his brother. Michael Ferinde got to the round of 12 his senior year, just missing the opportunity to earn a medal.
“He’s definitely one of the biggest reasons why I placed,” Joe Ferinde said. “From now on, I’m the boss.”
Ferinde laughed while uttering those words. He knows full well that Michael draws top honors in the Ferinde household.
Joe Ferinde has more wrestling to do this season. Later this month, he will head to Virginia Beach to compete in the Junior Nationals.
Now, he goes as a state medal winner.
“It really is a great feeling,” Ferinde said. “I know we haven’t had too many medal winners from Nutley. I just want to have the chance to do better than they did. That pushes me to keep going and do as much as I can.”
The future certainly looks bright, as long as Joe Ferinde has his older brother along.