The Nassau Community College wrestling team has consistently been at the top of Division III in the NJCAA — and this year was no different. But, as coach Paul Schmidt reflected on his team’s ninth national championship, captured Feb. 23-24 at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he couldn’t help but marvel at the team-centric nature of this year’s title.
“I’m not going to have 10 [individual] national champs,” Schmidt, who was named NJCAA non-scholarship coach of the year, said. “We’ll be lucky if we have one guy going to the finals. So, everybody is going to have to pick up the slack and get wins and bonus points. That’s what they did. They really did well.”
And other coaches noticed.
“I told the boys ‘this is a real team championship,” Schmidt said. “When I walked out after the ceremony, one of the mid-west coaches came up to me and said ‘you know, that was a real team championship you guys just won. It was a real team effort.’ I said ‘I’m glad you said that, I just finished telling the boys that.’”
Nassau Community College wrestled against the top junior colleges in the nation, regardless of division, at the tournament. As the highest placing Division III school, they were awarded that national title in that division. Northeastern Oklahoma A&M won the overall crown.
NCC’s Chris Meloni (Shoreham Wading-River High School), Michael Abidin (Hills East), and Jonathan Solorzano (Lindenhurst), earned All-American status. Meloni took sixth at 149 pounds, Abidin was sixth at 174, and Solorzano placed seventh at 285.
“We were pretty tough,” Meloni said. “It just stinks that, in the beginning of the year, everyone wasn’t falling into the right weight. But, toward the middle, when we got everyone to the weights, we were solid. We had a really strong team.”
Schmidt said that the points scored by his team in the first two rounds carried them to the championship.
Perhaps the most unlikely All-American was Solorzano, who had planned on taking a redshirt season, saving a year of eligibility for when he moves on to a four-year school. But, after an injury to Edwin Rubio in January, Solorzano stepped in and is now among the ten best in the country.
“Whatever it took to bring a national title back to Long Island and represent my hometown, Lindenhurst,” Solorzano said of his decision to return. “I just love the sport and everything about it. So, I was really excited to come back and take advantage of the opportunity that was right in front of me.”
Solorzano’s decision may have made Nassau’s season, according to Schmidt.
“If he didn’t come out of redshirt, we would not have been the same team,” Schmidt said.
For a program that has been as successful as Nassau is, celebrations don’t last long. Only days after the title, some were already thinking about next year.
“I feel really accomplished. I worked hard for it,” Abidin said. “But, I wanted to win the tournament. But, that’ll be next year. I’ll win it.”