Locust Valley junior Sam Ward, left, battles Wheatley's Erik Rodriguez...

Locust Valley junior Sam Ward, left, battles Wheatley's Erik Rodriguez at 145 pounds during a varsity wrestling dual meet. (Jan. 15, 2014) Credit: James Escher

The contrast between Nick Casella and Sam Ward is stark.

"Casella is a ball of energy," Locust Valley wrestling coach Joe Enea said. "He sets the tone for the rest of the guys and he never stops."

Enea describes Ward as "a cerebral, technical wrestler who is always four to five moves over the kid he's wrestling."

Despite the differences, they have a common goal -- to prove that Locust Valley again is among the elite wrestling programs in Nassau County as it chases an elusive individual state championship.

"They're total opposites," Enea said. "But together they're tremendous."

Together the Locust Valley team has put together a tremendous season.

Rich in history, the Falcons won the inaugural Nassau County dual meet championship in 1979, the first of its kind in the state. Locust Valley also was home to Rich Pidgeon and the DeStefanis brothers, Bob, Al and Carl, who each won multiple state titles between 1976-85.

"It's important for us to bring the tradition that we used to have back," said Ward, a junior who finished fifth in the state last season. "We think we have a really good team this year and for the next few years."

Ward has tasted success on the big stage, but it's Casella who came the closest to state gold. No Long Island Division II wrestler has won a state championship since each county was split into two enrollment-based divisions in 2003. Casella has finished second in each of the last two seasons.

Combined with their success this season at the prestigious Eastern States Tournament, at which Casella and Ward each finished second, they are prepared to take the next step.

"It gives me a lot of confidence," Casella said. "I've been working really hard for it this year and I really, really want it."

Ward and Casella are among 16 Locust Valley wrestlers who placed in the Individual Nassau Division II championship last season. That depth has led to a practice room that prepares the entire team for the rigors of any individual tournament.

"It all starts in the practice room and usually your partner really helps," Ward said. "We have a really good room and we have good coaches and tough practices and it's good to know I always have someone in practice that can push me. We all work really well off each other."

Locust Valley proved its depth just a few weeks ago when it took down defending state champion Wantagh, 31-29, in a dual meet. Besides wins from Ward and Casella, the Falcons got huge contributions from Sam's brother, Jack Ward, Michael Gomez and Justin Formicola. Formicola's dramatic win over Nick Vines in the last match provided the margin of victory.

"It's really special for me. I graduated and wrestled at Locust Valley with my assistant, Tim Bellisari," Enea said. "It means a lot to us to get the program back to this point. We knew the history, but to get it back to that status means a lot to us."

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