It all came down to the final match at 132 pounds. Wantagh’s wrestling team wouldn’t want it any other way.
As Joe Clem stepped onto the mat, Wantagh’s bench oozed confidence as if it was already over.
“It couldn’t have unfolded any better,” Wantagh coach Paul Gillespie said. “It was unbelievable that he was there in that moment for us.”
The match ended how Wantagh expected it would: with Clem’s hand raised.
The junior defeated Long Beach’s Konnor Rosenzweig, 15-0, via technical fall 2:20 to clinch a 28-23 victory for Wantagh in the final round of the Nassau Division I dual meet championship Saturday at Clarke high school.
“I was very confident in myself and just excited to be in that moment,” Clem said. “I just wanted to get the job done for my team.”
Clem fired on all cylinders from the start and took a 14-0 lead into the second period. He earned an escape 20 seconds into the period to send Wantagh’s bench into a frenzy.
Wantagh was kept alive two matches earlier by Clem’s brother Anthony. Trailing 23-15 with three matches remaining, Anthony took on Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez at 118 pounds. Sibomana-Rodriguez won the state title at 102 pounds last year.
“I was nervous going into it knowing that we were down some points,” Anthony Clem said. “I knew if I took him down, I would win the match.”
He was right. Anthony scored a takedown one minute into the first period and another in the third period for a 4-0 decision to cut Wantagh’s deficit to five.
Then it was Ryan Arbeit’s turn. The senior dominated from the start and led 8-2 after the first period. He finished with a 19-4 technical fall over Greg Walpole in 4:26 at 126 pounds to tie the score at 23 and set the stage for Joe.
“I’m confident in Joe,” Arbeit said. “I knew it was going to be either a tech fall or a pin. It was iced once I saw him step onto the mat.”
Wantagh seemed to be in control after the fifth match, when Noah Corwin pinned Hayden Sofield in 32 seconds at 172 pounds to take a 15-5 lead.
Then Long Beach (11-2) won five straight matches, culminating with Brody Franklin pinning Max Burkhardt in 23 seconds at 110 pounds to take an eight-point lead.
“We had three guys left and I knew they were going to get the job done because of the hard work they put in all year,” Gillespie said.
Nine of Gillespie’s 15 county titles as a head coach have been at Wantagh. The other six came in his time at Long Beach (11-2).
It marks Wantagh’s second consecutive county title and 10th in program history.
Wantagh (27-0) will head to the dual meet state championship tournament at the SRC Arena and Events Center in Syracuse next Saturday.
Last year, Wantagh went 32-1 with its only loss coming to Minisink Valley in the final round of the state tournament.
“I’m much more confident this time,” Clem said. “Our team is a lot stronger this year. Everyone is capable of pins and techs.”
In Division II, Seaford made sure to finish the job this time. After falling short in last year’s final, No. 2 Seaford defeated top-seeded Locust Valley 32-23 for the county title.
Locust Valley (13-7) led 12-11 after six matches, but Aidan Lukas sparked a run for Seaford. The senior pinned Robbie Burns in 3:58 at 172 pounds to take a 17-12 lead.
“A few people came up to me and said that we needed the six points and I was a little nervous,” Lukas said. “I haven’t shot a lot this season, but I picked it up in that match.”
Matt Martorana and Karl Leudesdorff each followed with a pin of their own. Then Neriel Colon sealed it with a 5-2 decision in the fourth overtime period to give Seaford a 32-12 lead with three matches to go.
Seaford fell to Locust Valley, 37-24, on Jan. 4.
“I felt like they out-toughed us that last meet,” Seaford coach Dave Takseraas said. “We knew we had to be aggressive and push the pace if we wanted to win today and that’s what we did.”
Seaford defeated No. 3 Cold Spring Harbor 66-12 and Locust Valley beat No. 4 Island Trees, 42-28, in the semifinals.
Seaford's only other county title came in 2019. The Vikings (8-9) will join Wantagh on the trip to Syracuse.
“I’ve dreamt about this since I was a freshman,” Colon said. “I’ve wanted to go to Syracuse for the state tournament and we got it done.”
Wantagh beat Manhasset, 42-24, in the semifinals and Long Beach advanced to the final over MacArthur via forfeit.