Inside the Wantagh practice room, it happens every afternoon: the lights dim, the spotlight is shone on center mat, and the crowd erupts as soon as Justin Vines and Michael Killard shake hands.
OK, so there isn’t quite that level of fanfare. It’s only practice, after all. But when Vines, the top-ranked wrestler in Nassau at 113, and Killard, Nassau’s top-ranked wrestler at 120, face off in their daily bout in practice, it’s a spectacle, a treat for everyone in the room.
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“It’s like having a county final every single day in the practice room,” assistant coach Todd Bloom said.
In Wantagh’s 54-18 win over Hewlett Friday night, the fruits of both wrestler’s efforts in practice were exposed. Vines pinned Robert Levitz in 1:19, and Killard got his pin of Eddie O’Toole in 3:33.
“We get to wrestle the No. 1 kid in the county every single day,” Vines said. “That’s how we’ve gotten to this point.”
And they hold nothing back.
“When we get in the room, we’re not really friends,” Vines said with a smile. “We go after each other.”
“And then,” Killard added, “after practice is over, we shake hands, and we’re back to being really good friends. Then go back and do the same thing the next day.”
Killard, a junior, placed third at 99 in Nassau last year, and after an offseason that revolved around a rigorous lifting regime, he’s now at 120.
“He’s been very diligent with that,” Bloom said. “He’s one of the stronger 120 pounders in the county.”
His drill partner has felt it.
“Mike was always a good wrestler,” Vines said. “But after training so hard over the summer, it’s really crazy how good he got. Really impressive.”
Vines, meanwhile, finished second at 99 in Nassau last year, and has his sights set on heading upstate for the state tournament.
“But I’m not looking past anybody in Nassau County,” he said. “States is the goal, but I’m just taking it one match at a time.”
But Wantagh isn’t just top-heavy. Friday night, four other Warriors wrestlers pinned their opponents: Christian Encarnacion (99) in :27, George Albert (132) in :37, Nick Barberio (160) in 1:27, and Colm Magner (170) in 1:04.
Each time, the Wantagh sideline, a black and yellow blur of dozens of bodies, roared, as if they were watching a Vines versus Killard bout in practice.
“When you have that level of competition every day,” Killard said, “that’s the kind of thing that makes you a great wrestler.”