Ward Melville has a state wrestling champion for the first time since 1981, after freshman Nick Piccininni wrestled four athletes to capture the state title at 106 pounds last weekend.
"They were tough but I felt like I was in control most of the matches," Piccininni said Monday. "This is a great feeling. There’s nothing like it. There’s no sport that can compare to this."
His win caps his own undefeated season, the payout of his two-a-day practices, discipline, and year-round work on the mat.
But it may also speak to one of his team's most successful seasons in recent memory. Senior Pierce Curran finished sixth in the county at 220 pounds, senior Taesung Kim finished third in the league at 132 pounds, and freshman Don Donnelly finished third in the league at 113 pounds. The team went 17-9 this year, sent four wrestlers to the county tournament, and boasted eight total All League wrestlers: the most the team has had in years, according to Bill DeSario, who coaches the team along with Kurt Ferrara.
DeSario said he's hoping Piccininni's win at the state level can inspire what's going to be a very young team next year as the Patriots say goodbye to seven starting seniors.
"They bought into the program," said DeSario, who earned his last season. "We’ve taken a step up these last couple of years, and hopefully we can continue to do that."
But they're going to have some help along the way thanks to the rise of the Patriot Wrestling Booster Club – a group formed by parents during the 2010-2011 season to support the team by fundraising, keeping the team members educated, supporting the athletes during matches, and facilitating off-season opportunities for Patriot wrestlers of all ages to work on their skills and strength.
"It’s such an intense sport ... we're trying to build up this team," said Lisa Curran, president of the wrestling booster club. "It’s a sport that really makes [the athletes] feel better about themselves."
Curran said the booster club has held educational events for the wrestlers, including nutrition and strength seminars and bringing in to speak to the teams. The club recently donated a sound system to the high school that DeSario said the team uses every day. It launched RaZor, a club wrestling program in which kids of all ages can work year-round to improve.
"We’ve done a lot in a short period of time," Curran said.
DeSario said the booster club has benefited the team in multiple ways.
"I think they’ve learned from what other schools have done and they’ve improved on that. It’s really very helpful," he said. "We have this great ball rolling. Hopefully it will keep rolling."