After a crushing defeat from Central earlier in the season, Northeast High School won the championship in a nail-biting finish.
If they were looking to cut weight, they had plenty of time to sweat it out.
Unlike most championships, when the Public League wrestling match finished, there was no immediate rushing the mat, no celebration and no posing for pictures with the trophy.
The Northeast and Central high school wrestling teams had battled to a 32–32 tie, and it took some analysis of the scoresheet before the officials determined a winner.
After about 10 minutes of deliberation, the celebration began.
Northeast 33, Central 32.
The Vikings were awarded an extra point thanks to the eighth criteria, which is most first points scored in the 14 matches. In fact, Northeast scored first in 10 of those matches.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, I knew as soon as our coach looked over at us and let us know,” said Northeast senior Rigoberto Vasquez-Ortiz, who picked up a victory by decision at 137 pounds. “Winning was amazing. It was everything. We won when I was a sophomore, but I was a (junior varsity) wrestler. This one felt really good.”
Success is even better when it’s unexpected, and there’s a good chance everyone not wearing a Vikings singlet expected the Lancers to cruise to a victory.
Central smoked Northeast 52–15 on Dec. 22 during a regular season meeting. But that loss may have been exactly what the Vikings needed to win in the finals.
“That loss let us know we weren’t good enough to not work hard,” said Vasquez-Ortiz, who lost his match during the regular season against Central. “I bumped down (a weight class) this time, but I think there were a lot of guys who wrestled better this time.
“Everyone worked for this one. When I won my match, I had no idea it would be the match to decide it. But everyone who wrestled had a match that helped decide it. We needed every point we could get, so every match was important.”
It took a perfect lineup to turn the tables against Central, but coach Mike Siravo credits his wrestlers for making it happen.
“We told them they can win, but the biggest thing is having them buy in, and they did, they were ready,” Siravo said. “Central is a very good team, but we were missing some guys the first time, so most of our guys wrestled up. I knew we’d have a different match, but the guys believed, and that’s not easy to do when you lose to a team earlier in the year.”
One of the team’s captains, Vasquez-Ortiz said his teammates realized after they lost to the Lancers during the regular season that if things didn’t get better, the season wasn’t going to end the way they wanted it to.
“I could see right after we lost that one that we started putting more work in and trying so much harder at practice,” Vasquez-Ortiz said. “I think we were working hard the whole time, but once we saw that if we didn’t try harder, all of the hard work we were putting in wasn’t going to get us a championship, we realized we had to work harder.
“I am a leader, but I didn’t do anything to get anyone to work harder. It was like everyone saw what we needed to do and everyone just went out to do it.”
Also scoring wins for the Vikings were Carlson Ogene, Chris Lopez, Jameel Coles, Emmanuel Santana, Arian Lugo and Michael Rubino.
Northeast, along with Central and the Catholic League finalists Archbishop Ryan and Archbishop Wood, will advance to the District 12 championships on Thursday, so Vasquez-Ortiz isn’t satisfied with everything they’ve accomplished just yet. He believes the team can have success against the Catholic League schools, too.
But he is happy with how far he’s come during his career as a Viking.
In fact, Vasquez-Ortiz didn’t know much about the sport when he entered high school, but he’s glad he took some advice to give wrestling a try.
“My sister is older and she was at the school and became friends with one of the captains of the team,” Vasquez-Ortiz said. “I decided to try it and right away I liked it. It was hard, and I wrestled JV my first two years, but I got better and better, and I’m really glad I gave it a chance because I love it.”
This could be the last year Vasquez-Ortiz wrestles for a team, but he fully expects to be on the mat in some form next year.
He’s headed to Temple University, which doesn’t have a wrestling team, but does have it as a club sport.
“I definitely think I’ll check that out,” said Vasquez-Ortiz, who is leaning toward studying something in the business field, but will likely go in undecided. “I really liked Temple, it’s a good school, but I’ll miss wrestling, so I really want to at least go see what the club is about.”
It will keep him on the mat, but he might never experience the joy he did by beating Central.
“Just knowing we won the championship is so great,” Vasquez-Ortiz said. “We worked for it. We won it because everybody worked for it. The feeling was just amazing.”