PROVIDENCE – Immediately after Lincoln High senior quad-captain Nik Zicuis had posted a 10-5 triumph over La Salle Academy senior John Georges in the 220-pound weight class, he hustled to the opposing coaches' corner and accepted congratulatory handshakes.
He then sprinted to the opposite side and leaped into head coach Mike Tuorto's arms; while hugging him and grinning at able assistant Anthony Turchetta, Zicuis threw his fist into the air, index finger pointing skyward.
That's when, and how, he truly celebrated his second-ever state title at these R.I. Interscholastic Wrestling Championships, held at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house on Saturday evening.
“This is the best feeling in the world right now,” Zicuis laughed. “This is everything I felt my sophomore year, but so much better because I'm a senior. I've been pointing for this for so long.”
It nevertheless had been a trying road back to “champion status” for the amiable, gregarious Lion. Last winter, he gained weight and – as a result – had to grapple in the heavyweight (or 285-plus pounds) division. He ended up taking fourth at the 2012 version of “States,” and failed to qualify for the New England tourney.
Toward the end of his junior campaign, a doctor diagnosed Zicuis with extra fluid in a testicle, and underwent surgery to his groin in late June.
“My coach (Tuorto) had told me after states last year that, if I lost that weight – I was weighing in at about 260 – I'd win again at 220,” Zicuis offered. “I had my mind set on (losing the poundage), but then I had to have the surgery. My mom (Bobbie-Jo) was terrified, and, I've got to say I was a little nervous myself.
“The surgery wasn't that long, but I couldn't do anything, no exercise, no nothing, for about a month; I ended up losing 40 pounds,” he added. “What Coach had told me was always in the back of my mind. I kept my (gold) medal by the side of my bed, and I kept looking at it.
“I was really bummed because I had the chance to go to the Junior Olympics in (Houston) Texas (as a member of the Wadsworth, Mass. Wrestling Club), but I couldn't. The surgery, though, helped me get back to 220, and that gave me more motivation.”
After a long fall season on the gridiron, the center/nose tackle continued to ponder how he'd compete on the mat, but it didn't take long for him to realize he was on the right track.
He entered the state 220-pound category as the No. 3 seed after finishing the campaign with a stellar 39-3 individual record. He also was a key cog in the Lions' first-ever capture of the Division II-South title with a terrific 15-2 mark.
Zicuis made his title-winning match against Georges look just as elementary as 15-2. He took a 2-0 lead into the second period, and needed just seven ticks to gain a 4-0 advantage. Over the next 15 seconds, Georges pulled off a reversal, but Zicuis responded with a one-point escape. With 11 left, another two-point takedown gave him a 7-2 cushion to start the third, and he sailed to the gold.
Actually, his victory happened to be the night's second for Lincoln. Junior quad-captain Alex D'Aloisio collected his initial Ocean State title after pinning Cumberland High junior (and “Cinderella story”) Kris Nordby at 2:30.
“Nik won at 220 two years ago at 215. then went to heavy but took fourth last year; he lost to (then-East Providence junior) Jonah Aurelio in the semis,” Tuorto stated after the bout. “When he didn't qualify for New Englands, that bothered him profusely. It made him work really hard to get back to 220 and win another championship.
“I've got to say, it was a perfectly wrestled match,” he continued. “Nik got the first takedown, took the lead and never relinquished it. If (Georges) countered, he countered right back, and that's why he's the state champion.
“This is a true testament to his mental fortitude and his work ethic, to set a goal and achieve it, and Alex is the same way. If someone had asked me if I thought our kids would win (Saturday), I would've said, 'I know it!' I've seen the desire and the work they've done all season. I mean, they have a combined 85 wins this year, so there's nothing they do that surprises me.”
Tuorto then chuckled, “The only difference between them is 100 pounds. Honestly, you look at the season we've had: 15-2 dual-meet record, division champion for the first time in the team's (approximate 14-year) history and two state champions. From where this program was even two years ago to where we are now, OK, now I'm speechless!”
Thanks to those two crowns, Lincoln finished 15th overall with 56 points, again it's best ever. Defending team champion Cumberland took fifth with 113.5, only seven shy of fourth-place Mount Hope. Hendricken cruised to the crown with 168, a whopping 34.5 more than runner-ups Exeter/West Greenwich and Johnston. Still, it was a bittersweet event for the Clippers, who landed four matmen in the finals but didn't earn an individual title.
Junior Cody Beaudette came the closest at 113, though had to settle for a 2-0 loss to Warwick Vets' John Altieri. In the very next match, D'Aloisio – on his 17th birthday – recorded the pin of Nordby.
“I had a whizzer on an overhook; I had his leg shelved on my hip, and I felt his lips lower, so I just 'hipped' into him,” D'Aloisio noted. “I wrestled him before in the Cumberland Invitational finals on Jan. 12 and beat him, 16-6; my game plan was not to wrestle nervous and just do what I've done all year.
“I wanted to wrestle my style and not let him dictate the match.”
After hesitating, he smiled, 'Yeah, this is a great birthday gift – to myself!”
For the 12th-seeded Nordby, who previously had defeated the No. 2-ranked grappler from D-II (Pilgrim's Jordan DeSisto) and the top-seed from D-I (Hendricken's Rob Lanni) to gain the final, it was a dream-come-true.
“I couldn't be any happier,” he said. “This is probably the best tournament I've ever wrestled. I missed a lot of matches (seven in all) because my brother was in the Air Force, and we went to visit him in San Antonio for about a week; that's why I was seeded so low.
“I just approached the match like I had nothing to lose,” he added. “I felt good in the first period, but – in the second – I got my arm caught under my left leg, and I couldn't move. That's when he flipped me with his hip.”
When asked how he felt about being a state runner-up, he chuckled, “I know! It's awesome!”
Mentioned veteran mentor Gordon: “What Kris has done here is remarkable. They sure know his name now, that's for sure!”
Minutes after junior Chris Hayes delivered a pin of Mount Hope's Jon Perroni only 47 seconds into the third-place bout at 170, he shrugged, “That's been our problem in this tournament. We didn't have a lot of consolation guys get up to place third through sixth. If we had more guys in those matches, like we did last year, we'd have been in the hunt with Hendricken (for the crown).
“We just didn't get the job done,” he added. “Last year, we had a lot of guys in the back scoring points for us, but we also graduated seven seniors, and they're hard to replace. But I couldn't be more pleased with our guys. They wrestled their hearts out.”
After Exeter/West Greenwich junior Christian LaBrie pinned Clippers' senior co-captain Jon Maccini a mere 24 ticks into the 145 final, LaBrie's twin brother Andrew did the same to fellow co-captain Erik Travers at 152, though much later at 4:40.
In the final few seconds of the opening stanza, LaBrie threw Travers to the mat, and the latter cringed in pain; the same matman had injured his right shoulder while battling at 145 of the New England event last March.
The match was scoreless after that period, though LaBrie fashioned an early takedown before Travers sliced his deficit to 2-1 with an escape with 12 seconds left. Travers, still guarding that shoulder, eventually suffered the pin.
“I felt it almost pop out; I've done this three times so I know what it feels like,” the Clipper said afterward. “I felt a grinding of the bone. It didn't hurt my wrestling; it just hurt … It was a good match. I just got caught on a stupid move. I shot at his leg when he had an overhook and he threw me.
“There is no consolation to taking second,” he continued in response to his No. 3 finish at 145 last winter. “I wanted a state championship, but he won it fair and square.”
The good news: He will attend the New Englands next weekend at this same site, as will most of the other top-three placements.
In the final match, East Providence senior Jonah Aurelio made mincemeat of the Scarlet Knights' Tony Tavares, pinning his shoulders down at 2:39. For the hefty Townie, it was his second straight heavyweight championship.
“Being a senior, I wanted to be successful; I wanted to win it again,” he said shyly. “To me, it was all a drive to the New Englands, and then the nationals (in Virginia Beach in early April). This was just a stepping stone.
“I just wrestled hard and gave my all, but there's more in store.”
That's for sure. Should Aurelio, who incredibly hasn't yielded an opponent a single point all season and now has a career record of 151-17, win five more bouts at New Englands and beyond, he would tie EP legend Matt Martin's mark of 156 career triumphs.
One other Townie found his way into the finals, sophomore Collin Cardoso at 106 pounds. He, however, dropped an 8-2 decision to the Hawks' Jason Davol.