Joseph Clem Wantagh wins andhugs his coach against Samson McKissick-Staley...

Joseph Clem Wantagh wins andhugs his coach against Samson McKissick-Staley Pittsford in the 131lb Division I final match at the 2024 NYSPHSAA wrestling championships on Saturday Feb. 24, 2024, at the MVP Arena in Albany, N.Y. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

ALBANY — The plan was quite simple. Move the opponent around, maintain continuous motion and stay off the mat to win the match.

Wantagh senior Joe Clem followed the game plan to perfection. He battled top-seeded and undefeated Samson McKissick-Staley of Pittsford for the 131-pound Division I state wrestling championship before a crowd of more than 7,000 at MVP Arena.

Clem won the title in thrilling fashion. Trailing by a point with 28 seconds remaining, Clem hit a neat reversal and scored a point for an illegal clasp to come back for a 5-3 win over McKissick-Staley to claim his first state crown. The late score sent the crowd into bedlam as Clem controlled McKissick-Staley (38-1) for the final 13 seconds as the Pittsford sophomore tried to break free.

“My coaches told me to keep it moving and be aggressive,” Clem said. “He’s a hand fighter and likes to get on top and ride legs. In that third period, he was in the top position, but I found a way to get loose and scramble for the reversal. I had to eliminate his ride on top to win. Once I got the lead, I wasn’t letting go.”

Clem and his twin brother, Anthony, who finished fourth in the state at 124 pounds, celebrated with a bear hug.

“I won this for me and him and our entire family who have been so supportive throughout our wrestling careers,” said Joe, who is six minutes older than Anthony. “It was the moment we’ve all worked for our whole lives. All the extra early-morning runs, weightlifting and drilling, it’s great. My conditioning was the key.”

Wantagh coach Paul Gillespie wiped the blood from his forehead after he took a shot from Clem, who jumped into the 74-year-old’s arms after the win. His glasses went flying but he still caught the jubilant wrestler.

LI champions at MVP Arena in Albany included two who triumphed after losses in final last year, NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

“I’m a tough guy, I can take a hit,” said the 37-year coach, who crowned his 13th state champion. “These Clem brothers have been such a pleasure to coach since the eighth grade. They are model wrestlers for all the youngsters coming up through our program. We asked them to do so much extra work and it paid off. I’m so proud of them.”

Joe Clem (57-3) finished third in the state as a sophomore at 115 pounds and was a state runner-up at 126 a year ago.

“I’m super excited for my brother,” Anthony said. “I felt nervous when he was out there, but I knew he could do it.”

Matt Marlow’s bid for a third state championship got wiped out in the 124-pound final. Luke Satriano (Valley Central), the defending state champion at 102 pounds, used a second-period reversal and eight back points to build a lead in a 10-0 win over Marlow to earn the title. The Northport senior struggled against the much taller Satriano, who used his length to his advantage, denying Marlow any scoring chances in the third period. Marlow finished the season 41-6.

Long Beach sophomore Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez gave up a third-period escape with 1:30 left and lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to sophomore Cooper Merli of Newburgh in the 102-pound final. Sibomana-Rodriguez appeared to get in on a few takedowns only to be countered by the defending state champion.

Merli was called for a stalling violation midway through the first period as Sibomana-Rodriguez pressed the action and could not find a way to score. The action was stopped multiple times as the wrestlers were in a stalemate position.

“He took the offense out of the bout,” Long Beach coach Ray Adams said. “That was their game plan. We had a few opportunities to score and didn’t finish the moves.”

Sibomana-Rodriguez, who won the state crown as an eighth-grader and finished third last year, concluded this season at 42-3.

“He rode me out in the second period and I didn’t push the action when I should have,” Sibomana-Rodriguez said. “This is another learning opportunity for me.”

Saturday marked the first time in 34 years that Suffolk failed to crown a champion in Division I.

East Meadow senior Matt Rodriguez (42-4) lost a 27-12 decision by technical fall in 5:43 to Minisink Valley junior PJ Duke (39-0) at 160 pounds. The undefeated Duke dominated the tournament and is considered by many to be one of the greatest wrestlers in state history. To Rodriguez’s credit, he went hard at Duke and wrestled the longest bout against the Penn State commit in the tournament.

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months