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Nick Riggio Puts Away His Wrestling Shoes


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Many of Verona’s student-athletes aspire to becoming a champion. Nick Riggio did, and he wants all the kids now taking to a field or a gym for the first time to know that, while it’s important to have goals, they will achieve them only one small step at a time.

“You have to stay focused on each individual match,” says Riggio, who rose to the top of both football and wrestling at Verona High School. “One single point could turn whether you win or lose.”

Riggio is putting away his wrestling shoes now, after taking the small steps that took him all the way to the state wrestling championship in Atlantic City in February (he was named 1st Team All-Conference Offense in football). He got there by winning first place at 170 pounds in the NJSIAA District 10 championship this year and second place at wrestling’s Regions in the same weight class. While Riggio’s wrestling accomplishments didn’t end with a spot on a State podium, they are noteworthy because he achieved them with one less year in varsity wrestling than his rivals: Riggio had to sit out his freshman season due to a shoulder injury suffered on the football field.

“When he returned sophomore year, he immediately started to contribute,” says VHS wrestling’s head coach, Pete Foster. “In his junior year, he was one win away from going to the state tournament.”

Foster notes that the standard wrestling match lineup in those years didn’t make it any easier for Riggio to do what he did. Then, matches would begin at the lowest weight class and proceed up to the heavier weights, which meant that Verona’s success would often end up on Riggio’s shoulders. “He closed a bunch of matches for us,” says Foster. But even when Riggio wasn’t last on the lineup, Foster was always confident in the outcome. “Nick will get get a win for us,” he recalls thinking. “We can bank on those points. When you have somebody with the skills, you know he can handle it.” Riggio had 35 wins and just 6 losses this season, finishing his high school wrestling career only a few wins short of the coveted 100-win mark.

It all may seem like a lot to put on one athlete’s shoulders, but Riggio insists that he didn’t feel it as such. “I really didn’t see it as pressure most of the time,” he says. “I just saw it as another match. Just something I wanted to win. It was more motivation than pressure.”

The match-enders weren’t the only times he needed to draw on his inner motivation. Having started in the sport in first grade with Verona’s Junior Wrestling program, Riggio came to face the same opponents over and over over the years. The plus side of that, he says, is “you get to know the wrestler and what he wants to do”. The down side: “It gets harder to work some of your stuff. You have to work on things that you may not be comfortable with in practice,” he adds. “Then surprise them.”

Coach Foster credits Verona wrestlers John Pavia and Frank Riggio with helping Nick to develop his skills in practice, which meant that both had to wrestle substantially up. The younger Riggio normally wrestles at 152 and placed third in that weight class in Districts. Pavia usually competed at 160 pounds.

Foster also credits all the whole-body strength training that Nick Riggio committed himself to over the years. “He developed into a leg wrestler, and pinned a lot of guys that way,” Foster says. “He also has a really great stand up. He can be out at the whistle in half a second against really good guys. Our coaches had a hard time holding him down.”

Foster would like to see more Verona athletes come out for wrestling the way Riggio did. Though the team has many accomplishments–Riggio’s fellow seniors Michael Garcia and Cade Byrne are part of a squad that has made it to state sectionals three years in a row and Verona was moved to the upper division of the Essex County conference because of its winning record–Verona still too often has to forfeit matches because it does not have wrestlers in all the weight classes. “Forfeiting a weight class, that’s like a football team starting a game down 14-0 or 21-0”, Foster says.

Football is how Riggio will continue his athletic pursuits, on the field for Gettysburg College this fall. But he says that win or lose, it’s all the same. “You gotta just shake it off and go to the next match and go ahead,” he says. “You have to keep your head up and keep going.”

Photos copyright Joanna Breitenbach. Used by permission.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


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