By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It’s been said that the toughest championship to win is the first.
The Nutley High School wrestling team experienced that a year ago, when the Maroon Raiders won the school’s first-ever Essex County Tournament championship.
But to repeat as champion? Now, that’s a feat all in its own. The Maroon Raiders tried to prepare for the ECT by facing a brutal early-season schedule, taking on highly respected, state-ranked programs like High Point, Brick Memorial and Howell in the early going.
In fact, the Maroon Raiders entered the ECT last Friday afternoon with a sub-.500 record in dual meet action, owning a 5-8 record going in.
“I told the kids going in that our record didn’t mean anything,” said sixth-year Nutley head coach Frank DiPiano. “I told them that we’re now battle tested and it was going to pay off.”
Sure enough, the Nutley regular season slate gave the Maroon Raiders an edge going into the tourney at the Codey Arena in West Orange over the weekend.
“These kids put the time in and did a phenomenal job getting ready,” DiPiano said. “They learned a lot.”
Thanks to four Maroon Raiders winning individual titles, Nutley steamrolled to its second consecutive Essex County Tournament team title, holding off West Essex, 207-189. Caldwell was third and West Orange fourth.
While last year’s victory might have been a little more expected, this one almost came completely out of left field, because the Maroon Raiders graduated a ton of talent from last year’s team.
“This one was a lot tougher,” said 126-pound senior Bobby Trombetta, who had a historic weekend. “The second one meant a whole lot more. Everyone showed up ready to wrestle.”
Trombetta became the school’s all-time victory leader over the weekend, collecting the 147th win of his career. His 148th win came in the championship round, when he pinned Paul Scully of Verona in 4:53, earning his fourth straight county title, becoming the first Nutley wrestler to win four consecutive Essex County crowns.
Trombetta surpassed Anthony D’Amico, who won 146 times during his days as a Maroon Raider wrestler.
“Bobby is very goal oriented,” said DiPiano, who saw Trombetta reach the 100-win milestone during last year’s ECT. “He’s a very focused individual.”
Trombetta had been out of action with a shoulder injury and only returned to the mats last Monday when the Maroon Raiders faced Caldwell.
“I wouldn’t let him wrestle if he wasn’t ready to compete,” DiPiano said. “But he was really zoned in and wanted his fourth county title.”
“It meant a lot to me,” Trombetta said. “I knew that I had to come back, keep trying hard and keep my pace up. The win record is nice, but I hope there are plenty more to come.”
Trombetta has his eyes set on the big prize, namely a state championship in Atlantic City.
“Winning this just motivates me more,” Trombetta said. “I have to stay ready and keep working.”
When Trombetta gets back into wrestling shape, he will return to his comfortable 120-pound class.
Sophomore Anthony DeLorenzo won the 106-pound weight class title by defeating Dean Caravella of Caldwell in the title match by a 4-3 score. DeLorenzo finished third last year, so he celebrated his first county title.
Senior Brandon Keena also won his first county championship. The 160-pound Keena dominated Joe Velardi of West Essex in the title bout by a technical fall, winning 16-0 in 4:29.
“He’s a very tough wrestler,” DiPiano said of Keena.
The fourth Maroon Raider to win a county title was sophomore 182-pounder Vin Mainiero.
“He’s been wrestling a long time,” DiPiano said of Mainiero. “Even though he’s a sophomore, he has a lot of experience. He qualified for the states last year as a freshman.”
Mainiero defeated Roberto Locasio of West Essex, 3-1, to win the 182-pound title.
The Maroon Raiders almost had a fifth county champion, but senior Peter Burbank lost in the finals at 220 pounds to Vin Cordasco of Cedar Grove, 9-3. The sixth-seeded Burbank got to the finals by avenging losses to wrestlers who defeated him in the past.
“It’s the first year he’s in our lineup,” DiPiano said of Burbank, who is also a football standout at the school. “He did a great job.”
The Maroon Raiders had 13 kids wrestle in the tournament and 11 of them finished among the top four. Ten of the 11 moved on to the medal round with four earning championships. That’s some level of success throughout.
“When you win one championship, like we did last year, people get a chance to see what’s going on,” DiPiano said. “But it also puts a big target on your back. Last year’s team was very talented. But this win is amazing, the way it went down and the way it happened. I never saw a Nutley team compete like this throughout the tournament.”
DiPiano doesn’t care if the Maroon Raiders might not qualify for the state sectionals this year.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” DiPiano said. “The record does not indicate how good they are. They’re putting the hard work in. They deserve this championship because they worked hard for it.”