Joseph Clem of Wantagh wins his match at the Nassau...

Joseph Clem of Wantagh wins his match at the Nassau Division I semifinal match against Massapequa on Saturday, January 22, 2022 in Jericho. Credit: Dawn McCormick

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Fresh off a third-place finish in the New York state wrestling tournament last month, Wantagh’s Joe Clem took the trip down to the Virginia Beach Sports Center for the National High School Coaches Association tournament this weekend hoping to improve on last year’s finish when he just missed out on becoming an all-American.

“The kids here are so tough,” Clem said. “I wanted to win the tournament but I really didn’t know if I could at first.”

Clem did even better than he thought, making it all the way to the finals of the 113-pound bracket in the sophomore division before falling to California’s Isaiah Quintero, 3-0, Sunday morning.

“I was really happy to make it to the final,” Clem said. “I definitely got stronger and my top game is a lot better from when I was here last year.”

Clem was the best Long Island finisher in the tournament, which featured 14 weight classes at each high school grade level, 16 middle school classes and nine girls classes.

Joe’s brother, Anthony, also wrestled in the 113-pound bracket. Anthony lost his first match but battled back to win five consolation matches before falling just short of all-American status.

“They are the face of this program because they travel everywhere to wrestle,” Wantagh coach Paul Gillespie said. “It’s great for us because they encourage a lot of kids to come out.”

Wantagh also had another all-American in Ben Rogers, who took fifth at 152. In total, Long Island had eight wrestlers win all-American honors in the high school divisions, which requires a top-eight finish.

“Getting on the podium means a lot,” Rogers said. “Sometimes hard work goes unnoticed but getting that recognition is great.”

Jackson Polo of Cold Spring Harbor finished third in the senior division at 138 pounds. Northport sophomore Matt Marlow (126) and Bayport-Blue Point junior Max Gallagher (132) both finished fourth. Polo, Marlow and Gallagher all won state titles. Massapequa senior Anthony Conetta had a fifth-place finish at 145, Hauppauge junior Frank Volpe was sixth at 145 and St. Anthony’s senior Frankie Theroux was eighth at 152.

“Being a state champion is a great stepping stone,” Gallagher said “but the ultimate goal for me is to win this and other national tournaments.”

And though Polo said nothing compares to the atmosphere of the state tournament in Albany, he also is hoping to capture a national title this summer in freestyle in Fargo, North Dakota. 

“It means a lot to have a strong showing this weekend,” Polo said. “Although it’s not the outcome I wanted, I'm still proud of my effort.”

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