Ryan Ponce needed a little pep talk, but he was more than ready.
Ponce is a 106-pound wrestler on the Northeast High School team and when his spot in the lineup came up in the Public League championship, the Vikings didn’t need a good showing, they needed a pin if they had any hopes of knocking off rival Central.
The pressure was immense and almost unbearable. That’s where coaching came in.
“I was so emotional, I was even crying a little because it was such a big match, I was like that before the match,” said Ponce, a junior from Juniata, a second-year wrestler who was a reserve on the team during last year’s championship run. “I was just so nervous, not of losing, but I knew I had to get a pin if we wanted to win. It was such an important match.
“My coach (Mike Siravo) calmed me down. He told me to relax and go out and wrestle. I was still nervous, but it calmed me down. He told me things were going to be OK if I just went out and wrestled.”
He did. And Ponce’s best was enough. He scored a second-period pin to bring Northeast within six points before the final bout. There, Emmanuel Santana got another pin at 113 pounds, which tied the score, but it was good enough for a Northeast championship due to a tiebreaker.
The Vikings brought home their second consecutive Public League championship on Friday thanks to the criteria of most tech falls. The tech fall was scored by Jameel Coles, who won 21-6, at 220 pounds. It was the first of four straight victories to close out the championship. The final score was 33-32.
Northeast will wrestle for the District 12 team championship. It will face the winner of an All-Northeast Catholic League championship when Father Judge hosts Archbishop Ryan in a match that was held after the Times went to press. All three teams, as well as Central, will compete on Thursday at Franklin Towne Charter for the right to go to the state team tournament.
Father Judge bested Archbishop Wood 46-21 in a Catholic League semifinal. Ryan advanced by beating St. Joe’s Prep 50-28 after knocking off La Salle, 58-22, in a quarterfinal.
“It was historic for us because we would always win on even years, and (Central) would win it on odd years,” Ponce said. “This was the first time we won two years in a row, and everybody wanted it. It was a team victory.
“I was so nervous, but after the match, everyone came up and celebrated with me. It was great. My friends and family were all there, even my teacher came up to me to congratulate me. It was really great.”
For Ponce, this season has been a pretty good one.
Last year was his first year on the mat and he spent the bulk of the year getting the moves down, though he did finish with seven varsity wins.
This year, he’s compiled a 12-4 record for the Vikings, who finished the regular season a perfect 5-0 in Public League action.
But his big tests came in weekend tournaments. He credits that for the success of the team.
“We work six days a week to win, and that’s why we won the championship,” Ponce said. “We love going to those tournaments. Not a lot of Public League teams do that, and it gives us an advantage because we’re getting better every time we do it. It helps in matches (like the championship).”
Ponce has been honing his skills all year. He also had an advantage that he didn’t have to cut a lot of weight to compete at 106.
“It’s hard to cut weight, but I’m around that weight all the time so it wasn’t too hard for me,” Ponce said. “It’s a big help because you don’t have to lose any strength. I’ve been that size my whole life. I’m strong for that weight.”
He’s also a great athlete.
Now he’s on his way to being a star wrestler in the Public League, but he’s also eyeing a successful baseball career. He’s been on the team at Northeast, but this year he has a shot at starting on the varsity team.
“I talked to the coach, and he told me I can play (varsity) this year,” Ponce said. “I’m a second baseman. We have a good baseball team, too.
“I’ve played baseball my whole life, but I think now I’m a wrestler. I tried it before because I heard it was fun and it is. And it’s really fun to win a championship.”
He hopes he can add more hardware this year.
Thursday will be a huge test no matter whom the Vikings meet in the city championship.
But Ponce isn’t too worried about it. In fact, he’s just happy he can keep wrestling. The way he looks at it, the longer his season goes, the better he’ll be.
“We all want to wrestle a lot,” Ponce said. “We still have districts and then we can go on, and then we get individual (meets in the league, district and states). I love wrestling. The more I get to wrestle, the happier I’ll be.”