Julianna Hernandez will be remembered as the first.
The Newfield seventh-grader became the first girl to capture a league wrestling tournament in Long Island history.
The historic achievement came at 110 pounds in the Suffolk League III wrestling tournament, held Saturday afternoon at Smithtown East.
The momentous victory came in dramatic fashion as she rallied to win an 8-6 decision over top-seeded junior Henry Barbagallo of Northport.
Hernandez wiped out a 4-0 second-period deficit with a five-point move and three more near fall points for an 8-4 lead on the way to the win.
She became the first girl to ever qualify for the Suffolk Division I championships at Stony Brook University Feb. 13-14.
“It’s so exciting,” said Hernandez, who improved to 27-12. “I look up at the walls in the Newfield wrestling room at all the names of the Newfield champions before me and I wanted my name up there.”
Hernandez, who attends Selden Middle School, earned her place among the Wolverines’ greatest wrestlers.
And it didn’t come easy.
The drama unfolded after Barbagallo (25-8) came out hot and used a single leg takedown for a 2-0 first-period lead. He added a double leg takedown on the edge of the mat for the 4-0 advantage midway through the second period.
“I thought the chance to win was slipping away early in the match,” Hernandez said. “He was so strong. He was tight on my wrist and on top of me, and I couldn’t break free. I’d never wrestled him before and didn’t know what to expect.”
Hernandez slipped out of Barbagallo’s grasp, saw an opening for a reversal and switched to a half-Nelson for a five-point move that sent the gym into bedlam. Barbagallo broke free momentarily only to find himself in a double arm bar on his back for another three points just before the second period ended.
“She’s young and gets frustrated,” said Newfield coach Frank Ganter. “She’s matured tenfold this season. Our seniors have really embraced having a young girl on the team and they treat her like a wrestler, not a girl, and that’s made for a wonderful camaraderie.”
Barbagallo used a third-period reversal to get within 8-6 and worked a half-Nelson for 47 seconds trying to turn Hernandez for back points to force overtime.
She would not succumb and held on for the win.
Her mother Dawn Marie Hernandez, who was cheering and creeping closer and closer to the mat, was overwhelmed by the win.
“Initially we were not supportive of her wrestling,” she said. “We had our concerns. But she really wanted to wrestle and eventually we joined a club. I am so proud of her and her fight. She has a lot of heart and believes in herself, and the coaches inspire and have faith in her ability.”
Hernandez is one of 10 siblings. She has five brothers and four sisters. The oldest sibling, Joe, is 20 years old, and the youngest, Savannah, is four.
“There’s a lot of wrestling going on in our house,” she said, laughing. “There are holes in the walls. We get after it.”
Ganter said Hernandez is a bit of a prodigy.
“She’s wrestling less than two years,” he said. “Think about this. She’s 12 years old and beating 17-year-old boys. She has great strength in her hips and legs. And her mat awareness is uncanny. She’s a special talent.”
Hernandez has also drawn on the experience of Newfield’s assistant coach Katie Moore, who wrestled at Riverhead, and is currently on the Stony Brook University club team.
“Coaches Moore and [Antonio] Vaquiz have been amazing,” said Dawn Marie. “Coach Moore has a woman’s insight and that is so valuable.”
As soon as Julianna etched her name into the Long Island history books, Dawn Marie was on the phone with her husband Joe Hernandez, who was in Wildwood, New Jersey at a youth tournament with two of their boys.
“He was screaming into the phone and crying because he was so happy,” she said. “And we’re going to get her an Apple Watch for the big win. She earned it.”