Wrestling: Passaic Valley wins first state sectional title since 2010
The emotions of being with his wife Suzanne as she delivered the couple’s third child on Tuesday afternoon, a healthy baby boy named Marcello Anthony Benvenuti, were climaxed when Benvenuti saw his own father, Joe. The two had come together moments after Passaic Valley had defeated Governor Livingston, 34-30 earlier this evening to win the NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 championship in Little Falls before nearly 1,400 crazed fans.
And when Joe saw his dad, the tears flowed freely, a sign of happiness and thankfulness for a healthy family and the embrace between the two was telling.
But on this night, it still came back to wrestling and Benvenuti, the coach, was ecstatic as Passaic Valley won its first state sectional championship in six years.
“It was quite a week,” said Benvenuti. “Last Saturday, we lost at West Essex (in a dual match) and on the following Monday at practice it was time to evaluate what these kids wanted for the rest of the season. And we, as a coaching staff, challenged the kids to step up their intensity. And they certainly did that.”
Passaic Valley defeated Voorhees on Feb. 10 in the sectional semifinals, and then defeated a tough Gov. Livingston squad, the same team which had defeated top-seeded Nutley two days earlier in the semifinals. In both state matches, the Hornets had fallen behind early, before rallying back with an enthusiastic home crowd lending its support in a big way.
Winning a state championship last night wouldn’t come easy. The Hornets fell behind, 6-0, after the opening bout at 145 pounds, but got a little of it back at 152 when Vin Brigati won a 7-3 decision. Passaic Valley would forfeit at 160 pounds, but Jala’a Darwish, one of three valued senior captains, got the Hornets a little closer with a hard-fought, 9-4 win at 170 pounds.
The team wins may have been two apiece, but the Hornets were not getting bonus points and when Gov. Livingston registered a pin at 182 and took an 18-6 lead, it was up to senior captain Chris Armagno to deliver.
It wouldn’t be easy. Armagno found himself in a tough battle at 195 pounds, but in the third period with the score tied at 4-4, he recorded a pin that clearly put his team back in the match.
Armagno had not only won a huge match, but it was also the 100th win of his varsity career.
“Think about that,” said Benvenuti afterward. “Chris wins his final home match, gets his 100th victory and wins a state championship, all on the same night. Not bad.”
Armagno’s victory closed PV to within 18-12, and Gianni Palumbo, the third senior captain, won a 3-0 bout at 220 pounds, getting his team a little closer at 18-15.
Sophomore heavyweight Tom Marretta may have lost a 1-0 decision, but once again, he had showed his mettle in a key situation. Two nights earlier, Marretta’s pin had vaulted PV into the lead against Voorhees, a lead the Hornets wouldn’t relinquish.
This time, he had battled a wrestler 40 pounds heavier and while the result was not a victory, Marretta had not only saved his team a few bonus points, but showed his resolve as a hard-nosed athlete, whose best days certainly lay ahead.
Junior Kenny Kerwin would win a major decision at 106 pounds to close Gov. Livingston’s lead to 21-19 and then freshman Greg Sabbak gave the Hornets its first lead, 25-21 when he registered a pin.
Despite dropping a close match at 120 pounds, Nick DeNora did his job, working hard for six minutes and keeping his team ahead.
The Hornets led, 25-24, as freshman Jordan Sconciafurno stepped on the mat at 126 pounds. It would be a six minute thriller, with Sconciafurno pulling out a scintillating, 10-8 win. The Hornets were up, 28-24 and sophomore Jeremy Galletta was given the task of finishing the match, because a victory, of any sort, would clinch a championship.
Galletta didn’t disappoint, hitting a double leg to register a pin that secured a state championship in Little Falls for the first time since 2010.
“We’ve got some young kids who are coming around,” said Benvenuti. “And our senior captains were incredible, once again. When we needed a win, they all came through, like the great leaders they’ve been all season long. What a night. And or that matter, what a week.”
On Sunday, Passaic Valley will travel to the Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North High School, for the Group 3 semifinals, where they will most likely face perennial power South Plainfield starting at 11:30 a.m.
“It’s another big challenge,” said Benvenuti. “But we’ll give it our best.”
And for Benvenuti, his wife Suzanne, parents, Joe and Mary and cherished in-laws, James and Marsha Pasquariello, the moment was now, and it couldn’t have happened in a better setting.