Finally, it’s completed.
Months of grueling practices, cutting weight and those never-ending quad matches on cold winter days and nights are completed. And for the Passaic Valley High wrestling team, the first week in March produced some good results, at the ultimate venue for wrestlers, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
PV had advanced senior captains Yousef Karmi and Tom Maretta to the state championships, at the Jersey Shore. Marretta took home a medal for finishing in the top eight in the state at 220 pounds and Karmi just missed out, but wrestled very well at 285 pounds.
Passaic Valley head coach Joe Benvenuti summed up the experience.
“Atlantic City, for the NSIAA Tournament, is truly a grind for these kids and coaches alike,” the coach said. “This sport and especially this weekend sends all of us on an emotional roller coaster, like no other sport. Friday afternoon and evening we spent nine hours in the arena. Saturday we spent close to 12 hours, and Sunday was another eight hours. No matter how exhausted we may feel leaving this tournament, going home with a medal makes it all worth it.”
Karmi battled hard against some of the state’s best wrestlers.
“We are very proud of the amazing effort by both our captains, Yousef and Tommy. Yousef did not get a medal, but his best effort was there. He had three amazingly close matches. His two losses came in triple overtime. Yousef has nothing to hang his head about. Heavyweight had 12 wrestlers that had been to the state tournament in previous years. This weight class was very difficult. Karmi leaves our program with 36 wins this season and over 71 for his career. He led our team this season in gold medals and pins.
“This kid was an amazing captain. He was very unselfish and always led by doing the right thing, even if nobody was watching. He will continue to do great things, and is still growing, at 6’5″, and 270 pounds. Yousef is looking to continue with football and wrestling, in college, and I am very confident he could excel at both on the next level. Someone will take a chance on him and he will not disappoint that coach.”
As for Marretta, he joined a rare list of wrestlers at PV who earned a medal at the states. After Nick DeNora medaled last year, this is the first time in eight years that PV has had back-to-back medal winners at Boardwalk Hall. The last time it happened was 2009 and 2010, when Ryan Dunphy and Frank Crocco finished third and second, respectively, at the state tourney.
Marretta, who didn’t begin wrestling until his freshman year of high school, capped off a tremendous season, with a seventh place medal.
“This kid has really put together one heck of a resume throughout his career,” said Benvenuti of Marretta. “This year alone stands out in such an amazing way. To be a first team All-County football player, as well as a first team, All-County wrestler and then finishing his senior year as a state medalist is just so unique these days. Kids have gotten away from playing multiple sports, and Tom is proof that you can succeed on a high level in multiple sports with the right frame of mind and a solid work ethic. If anyone deserves this kind of ending to his high school career it is Tommy.”
“Even though he came out as a freshman and had never wrestled before, Tom accomplished what many wrestlers fail to do, after training a lifetime to achieve. State medals are very hard to come by. Another thing that rarely happens in wrestling is winning your last match of your career. Tom told me Saturday night ‘I’m not losing my last match of my high school career’, and he didn’t.”
Marretta clinched a berth in the medal round with one of his best all-around matches of the season, defeating a tough Trey Zgombic of Delbarton, by fall, on March 3. A day later, his final match came in the bout for 7/8 in the state, and Marretta edged Cameron DiGiorgio of Christian Brothers Academy, 3-2.
Karmi and Marretta will be graduating this June, and Benvenuti will miss their leadership and work ethic.
“It really does not get any easier, seeing great kids graduate and move on each year,” said Benvenuti. “Wrestling in Atlantic City to end their careers is of course a happy time in their life, and ours as coaches. However, I definitely find myself feeling sad and emotional knowing they will soon be leaving us. No other coach and athlete spend more time together than a coach and wrestler. I have always made an investment into my athletes lives so that I can figure out what buttons to push and how to motivate them to achieve more. This coaching staff has really enjoyed working with, and getting to know these two perfect captains.
“Once again, the bar has been set high as to how a leader acts and how a captain handles himself, day in and day out. It was fitting that both of them represented our school and community in Atlantic City. This coaching staff, school and community are all so proud of them. Its going to be very hard saying goodbye to these two but they know I will be their coach forever.”