Long sparks Spirit to sectional title
ABSECON — The Holy Spirit wrestling team has come a long way, baby.
Just a few years removed from not being able to win a dual meet because they couldn't fill out a full lineup, the top-seeded Spartans on Friday night dominated No. 2 Donovan Catholic, 51-28, to secure their second straight Non-Public B South championship.
"It's amazing. Every day we are putting in more and more work and just trying to get better than we were the day before," said senior 160-pounder Steve Waszen. "We showed that on the mat tonight, coming together as a championship team."
A few years ago, Holy Spirit (14-9) had state champion Pat D'Arcy, but only a few other wrestlers. Coach Ralph Paolone went about trying to convince any and every boy in the school to come out for the team so the Spartans could fill a lineup and compete. This year, he had senior football stars Reggie Jean-Charles and Justin Figueroa come out for the entire season to add some strength to the upper weights. On Friday night, those two accounted for 12 points as Figueroa started off the match with a pin at heavyweight and Jean-Charles ended it by accepting a forfeit at 220 pounds.
"It's the best feeling ever. We really did it for Ralph, watching him through the years work hard for us," Waszen said. "He's really put in the time for us, and we just wanted to return the favor and win it for him."
The bout of the night came at 126 pounds, as Spirit's Zach Long scored an inspiring victory over Chase Barney in an ultimate rideout. After a scoreless first period, Long escaped in the second to take a 1-0 lead. He couldn't hold Barney down in the third period, as a Barney escape with 1:40 left tied the bout, 1-1. That's how it remained through the first overtime period and a pair of 30-second overtimes, setting up the final 30-second ultimate rideout. Long won the coin toss, chose the down position, and escaped with 20 seconds left to give Holy Spirit the lead for good at 15-12.
"It was a really hard match and it took a lot out of me. I just wanted to win for the team. I just knew I had to get out when I was on the bottom to win, and I worked my hardest to get out. I just had to hold him down and then get out for the win," Long said.
"I was definitely nervous, because in the first overtime, I thought the kid escaped but Zach was able to hold him down to keep it at 1-1," said Dominic Sacco, who scored a win at 120 pounds just prior to Long's victory.
"Zach came out freshman year for the first time. He's really put in the work and developed, and that showed on the mat tonight," Mike Waszen said. "Without that win, it would have been a much closer match. He really came forward, and it's really starting to show."
Added Steve Waszen, "Since the start it was a close match. With Zach winning, that led to a chain of events where Alec won, then I won, then Mike won, Fitz won. Everybody just kept winning and pinning. This crowd really shows what this school is about. The fans really get behind their sports teams. They just want to see us get better and better."
Ryan Keil followed with a pin at 132 pounds to make it 21-12, and after the Griffins (13-11) scored a pin at 138 to cut the deficit to 21-18, Spirit responded with a quick pin by Alec Harper at 145. Holy Spirit forfeited at 152, but got big wins from Waszen at 160 and his younger brother, Mike, at 182 sandwiched around a Tim Fitzpatrick forfeit win at 170. Those three victories pushed the lead to 45-24 and sealed the deal.
Holy Spirit advanced to Sunday's Non-Public B final, where it will face either DePaul or Queen of Peace. The Spartans will be in search of their first overall state championship.
"We put it together last year and we really wanted to come back this year and win it a second time. Being the home team helped a lot, we had a lot of fans come out. Everyone is really happy," Long said.
"We just have a better team this year and we keep building up. We keep getting good freshmen. That's how you know we've really improved, and we just keep working hard," Sacco added. "I knew we were going to win because we kept getting pins in the middle weights. We had to pin everybody, and not get pinned. This is cool. Hopefully we can go (to Toms River) on Sunday and get a ring."
Mike Waszen said the Spartans' second straight sectional title was a true team effort.
"It's just about going out, recruiting kids from the hallways, the football field, anything we can do. We did a good job of that. It's hard when you have six kids, like we did before. But last year we just hit the peak and everybody put in a lot of hard work, and that's what is showing out on the mat," he said. "It's nice that we can overcome the obstacle of (having a limited lineup) to win a title, and then repeat. We're looking forward to Sunday. We're looking to get some redemption and bring home the Non-Public B overall title."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays