Zach Miller looked the epitome of perseverance and toughness.
The Islip senior barreled his way through the 190-pound bracket of the Suffolk Division I wrestling championships at the Island Federal Arena all weekend in Stony Brook University.
Miller pinned every opponent in his way, including a pin in 2:13 of top-seeded Bryan Aulino of Lindenhurst in the Sunday afternoon final to capture his first title.
Sporting a large brace to protect his right knee, Miller overpowered every opponent.
“He came all the way back from two brutal injuries,” said Islip coach Mike Newell. “He had knee surgery a year and a half ago and then suffered a hip injury in football this year. He worked so hard to come back.”
Miller, 17, has a 43-1 record and a career mark of 141-22. That’s a lot of wins with one county crown.
“It definitely took a toll on me mentally,” he said. “There were times that I didn’t believe I could be the same guy I was before the injuries. My coaches have been a great support system. I completely tore my ACL and meniscus and then had an avulsion fracture of my right hip.”
Miller through intense rehab and workout regimens jumped from the 138-pound weight class to 190 this season.
There was plenty of heartbreak. Miller had qualified for the county tournament in seventh and eighth grade and lost in the round for an All-County award. He lost his freshman season to the COVID pandemic.
In his sophomore year, he lost in the 138-pound county championship to Jared Weinhaus of Sachem East in a crushing 5-3 defeat in overtime.
Then came the injuries. The ACL injury during his junior year of football wiped out the wrestling season.
And in his senior year, the hip avulsion to his right hip threatened to erase his last shot at a wrestling title.
“I played football again this year and no one even hit me when I got injured,” he said. “Both of my injuries were non-contact. It was so painful when I felt it pop. I thought my senior wrestling season was over before it started.”
Hauppauge junior Connor Sheridan won his second Suffolk title with a 6-2 win over top-seeded freshman Anthony LaGala Ryan of Longwood at 108 pounds. Sheridan placed second in the state in 2022 after losing an 8-6 heartbreaker to Cooper Merli of Newburgh Free Academy at 102 pounds.
“This is a big win mentally,” Sheridan said. “I struggled in the semifinals but pulled out a close match. It was important that I get focused for the finals because I’ve had some doubts this year after early season losses.”
Sheridan improved to 28-4 and has a 94-14 career record.
“I needed to reflect more on what I’ve accomplished than when I failed,” Sheridan said. “This is the confidence I need to take the next step at the state level.”
Northport senior Matt Marlow won his third Suffolk title with a 9-4 win over Comsewogue senior Mason Mangialino at 124 pounds. Marlow, a two-time state champion who will attend the University of Pittsburgh, improved his record to 38-5. His career mark is 159-13.
“I had a good position, and I was moving well, hoping to score more points to open the margin,” said Marlow, the winningest wrestler in Northport history. “I’m excited to go back to the state tournament. My goal is to be a three-time state champion.”
Mangialino, a two-time all-state place winner and Suffolk champ in 2022, is 39-3.
Undefeated eighth-grader Camryn Howard gave up his second takedown of the season and trailed Sayville’s Leo Mongiello 4-1 in the first period at 138 pounds. Howard came back with three unanswered takedowns for an 8-4 win to capture his second crown.
“It was a brawl for sure,” said Howard, who improved to 41-0. “He’s the toughest guy I’ve wrestled all season.”
For the first time in school history, North Babylon captured the team title with 166.5 points. The Bulldogs did not crown a county champion but had nine wrestlers earn All-County status.
“We had a total team effort,” said North Babylon coach Vin Innes, who will retire at the end of the year. “We qualified 17 wrestlers to the tournament. I’m so proud of these guys and how hard they worked. Next to being a father and a grandfather, this is the happiest day of my life.”
Innes, 56, was a two-time Suffolk runner-up in 1985 and 1986 for North Babylon.
“I lost in the county final twice and I was crushed,” said Innes, who has coached for 34 years. “I just wanted to be a county champion. And somehow in my final year, these kids gave that to me.”