ALBANY - Hauppauge High School wrestler Nick Mauriello Jr. -- who survived a potentially life-threatening battle with MRSA last year -- will not be a state champion, but his visit to the state tournament has been a major triumph, nonetheless.
"I was just happy he was wrestling," Hauppauge coach Chris Messina said. "I was just happy he was alive. That's the reality of all this."
Mauriello, senior, could still finish as high as third in the state tournament. He won his first match Friday, lost the second, and advanced into Saturday's competition by defeating Curtis Barney of Canton by technical fall in the wrestle-backs.
Mauriello was unable to compete in last year's state championships after he contracted MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a serious bacterial infection, as well as Lemierre's syndrome, a rare inflammation of the blood vessels that doctors said was an offshoot of MRSA. The infection can be transferred in contact sports such as wrestling. Mauriello spent 19 days in Stony Brook Long Island Children's Hospital.
But Mauriello recovered, went through an arduous rehabilitation process to regain weight, strength and stamina and compiled a 39-2 record this season. He won the Suffolk County title at 132 pounds to qualify for the state tournament.
Mauriello started Friday morning at the Times Union Center with a 4-3 victory over Brendan Morgan from upstate Columbia High School.
"The first match is always the toughest," Mauriello said. "It doesn't matter what the score is, as long as you win."
The 17-year-old, who has earned a partial wrestling scholarship to Binghamton University, said he isn't the reflective type, and even during the bus ride Thursday never gave his personal journey a thought. "I didn't think about that at all. That was in the past. You've just got to keep moving forward," Mauriello said.
He did, however, acknowledge that earning a trip to the states fulfilled a major goal.
"I wanted to do that since middle school and I finally got here," Mauriello said.
In his second match on Friday, Mauriello lost to No. 2 seed Nick Kelley of Shenendehowa High School, 5-0, in a grueling bout. Kelley had beaten Mauriello, 10-4, at the Eastern States tournament earlier this season.
With one more victory on Saturday's final day of competition, Mauriello would be assured of All-State honors. With three wins, he can finish third. He's slated to wrestle at 10.am.
"I know how hard it was for him to get here," said Mauriello's father, Nick Sr. "Every wrestler here had to bust their butts. It's the best of the best. But Nick had to take it up a notch and start from ground zero. To see what he did to transform his body is amazing."