One had the Flu and the other was known for being number two.
After a pair of runner-up finishes, Hillsborough junior Cole Psemeneki finally got his championship moment while Bound Brook senior Xavier Pena reclaimed his top status after missing last year’s tournament with an illness that kept him off the mat and in bed all week long.
While both wrestlers arrived at Saturday’s Somerset County Tournament with different stories and levels of success, they both agreed that winning meant a step in the right direction.
“It’s one step down,” said Psemeneki, who was one of 14 individual champions crowned Saturday at Hillsborough High.
Psemeneki won the 113-pound title with a 6-1 decision over Dylan Kolakowski of Watchung Hills while Pena powered his way to his third county championship with an 8-7 win over Ridge’s Devon Capato at 132.
Pena, a state qualifier last season, never lost a match at the Somerset County Tournament, but his illness last season cost him a chance to become a four-time champion.
“I was happy to compete again and keep moving forward,” Pena said. “This is just another step towards Atlantic City. “I’m just grateful. It’s good to see my hard work pay off.
Pena fought off a late shot to preserve his win. He knew he could rely on his defense after he jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first period.
“I knew it was short time,” Pena said. I know that I’m good defending so I knew he wasn’t going to score.”
Psemeneki, meanwhile, knew anything could happen in the final seconds. Last season, Psemeneki survived an overtime thriller to beat Kolakowski in the semifinals and this time proved to be just as thrilling.
“With him, it always comes down to crazy scrambles,” Psemeneki said. “It’s always crazy with him.”
In the final 20 seconds, Kolakowski got in position to put Psemeneki on his back, but he found a way to avoid the disaster and clinch a long-awaited title.
He’s been working towards this his whole life so I’m glad he’s finally reaping the rewards for the work he’s put in,” said Hillsborough coach Roy Dragon III.
Overall, 14 wrestlers from seven schools came out victorious. Watchung Hills led the way with four, Bound Brook crowned three champions while Ridge and Franklin had two a piece. Manville’s Shane Lallkissoon (170) and Bridgewater-Raritan’s Brett MacMath (182) added titles for their schools.