Pat Smith won only six regular-season matches during his freshman season on the mats with the Wantagh wrestling team, but the rookie Warrior heavyweight came through when it mattered most.
Smith's pin of MacArthur's Jonathan Ruby clinched Wantagh's third straight Nassau County dual meet championship on Feb. 1 at Clarke High School. The freshman weights around 250 pounds and has been competing in a weight class against more experienced wrestlers who often have a 20 to 30 pound advantage.
"After the season he had I never expected him to be the hero of the match," said Wantagh head coach Paul Gillespie, who took over the Warrior wrestling program in 2011 following a storied career at Long Beach and Oceanside. "He had everything against him but he came through."
Wantagh (12-3) came into the county finals unseeded, but held the program's recent championship form by defeating Seaford and Calhoun before upsetting top-seeded Locust Valley (41-32) and 4th-seeded Massapequa (39-34) in the quarterfinals and semifinals. The Warriors then rose to the occasion against their neighborhood rivals MacArthur with a 43-28 triumph against the second-seeded team. Joining Smith in picking up key bouts during the championship match were Jonathan Loew (106 pounds), Kyle Quinn (113 pounds), Joe Hill (120 pounds), George Albert (126 pounds), Steve Pambianchi (138 pounds), Matt Langan (145 pounds), and Nick Vines (160 pounds.)
Wantagh's three-peat and fourth county championship in five years comes in a season the Warriors appeared to be vulnerable after seeing its 44-match winning streak snapped by East Islip. Gillespie said the doubts some wrestling observers had about Wantagh continuing its dynasty provided extra motivation to finish on top.
"This is one of the few times that we have been looked at as the underdog so to come through makes it extra special," Gillespie said. "They had a great mental attitude and when you have a great mental attitude in wrestling you can go very far."
Wantagh's leadership on and off the mat this season has been spearheaded by multiple captains including seniors Nick DeVito, Nick English Hill, Vines, Albert, Langan and Nick Devito. Quinn was also selected to serve as a captain with the seven seniors as a junior following a state title at 106 pounds in 2013.
Gillespie now hopes to see his wrestlers excel at the Nassau County individual championships at Hofstra University's Mack Sports Complex on Feb. 15-16. The New York State Championships are scheduled for Feb. 28 and March 1 at the Times Union Center in Albany.
Gillespie, a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, describes Wantagh's surprise championship rally as one of the highlights of his many decades in the sport. Gillespie's stories wrestling career includes 17 county titles captured at Long Beach High School and earning All-American status twice at West Chester State University.
"This team is just a great bunch of young boys," he said. "We had a very good run."