ALBANY -- Up in the stands at the Times Union Center, Sheila Mauriello nervously watched her son, Nick Jr., wrestle this weekend. Of course, she rooted fervently for him to win. But from a parent's perspective, she framed a much bigger picture.
She could laugh now about Nick having spent so much time in the den on what she called "the MRSA couch" that the family had to discard that piece of furniture in the spring because it wore out. "When he was in the hospital, we didn't know if he would ever be able to have a normal life," Sheila Mauriello said. "And now, looking back on all that's happened in the last year, it's such a gift to be here. We're all so grateful."
Nick Mauriello Jr. of Hauppauge High School completed an improbable journey from hospital bed to family couch to wrestling mat. One year after being released from Stony Brook Long Island Children's Hospital, where he spent 19 days battling a near-fatal combination of MRSA and Lemierre's syndrome, Mauriello is an All-State wrestler.
He was unable to compete in last year's state championships after he contracted MRSA (Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), a serious bacterial infection. Lemierre's syndrome is 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.
With his mom and three brothers -- Dan, Chris and Matt -- in the stands and his father, Nick Sr., watching from the arena floor, Mauriello won four of six matches in the 132-pound weight class at the state wrestling tournament, including two of three bouts Saturday, to earn a fourth-place finish and All-State honors (awarded to the top six in each weight class).
"I definitely didn't want to come up here and lose. I wanted to do as well as I could and get a few wins," said Mauriello, 17, who finished his senior year with a 43-4 record.
He was considered a strong candidate to earn a trip to the state tournament last winter before being stricken with the two diseases.
His first trip to the states was assured Feb. 11 when he won the Suffolk County championship at Stony Brook University. "We all were crying that day," Sheila Mauriello said. "We're so proud of him. It was such a struggle for him to get back to where he could compete again. To be here is just so wonderful."
But the experience would have been less rewarding if Mauriello had not done as well as he did. His second-round loss Friday put him in the consolation (wrestle-back) round, but he won his next two matches to earn a spot in Saturday's competition.
He needed to win his first match Saturdayto be assured of All-State recognition, something he conceded was on his mind when he stepped onto Mat 5 at 11:30 a.m. "I was a little nervous," he said. "If I lost, I would've lost everything I worked for."
He didn't lose, beating Eric Lewandowski of Lancaster, 4-1. A couple of hours later, Mauriello edged Nick Cegelski of Penfield, 3-2, to advance to the consolation final. There, favoring a left shoulder he wrenched earlier in the tournament, Mauriello was pinned by his nemesis (but friendly rival), second-seeded Nick Kelley of Shenendehowa, with 29 seconds left in what had been a scoreless first period.
Kelley, who earlier in the day had suffered his first loss of the season to Jamel Hudson of St. Anthony's, hugged Mauriello and his father after the match. Kelley handed Mauriello three of his four losses in what turned out to be a remarkable and memorable final high school season.
Though reluctant to dwell on the details of his ordeal, Mauriello did acknowledge that when he got out of the hospital last February, he didn't allow himself to envision what the state wrestling tournament experience might be like.
"I just wanted to get back to normal and not be skinny and unable to do anything," he said. "I went in at like 145 pounds and I came out at like 110, with really nothing on me except skin and bones. I didn't like that at all.
"I never pictured myself getting all the way back and coming up here and placing high," he said Saturday night at a private gathering of friends and family on the second floor of an aptly named restaurant several blocks from the Times Union Center.
Its name: Victory Café.