The Smoke Signal

Senior wrestler looks to end career on a high note

Natelli to compete in the District 1 tournament on Saturday

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Senior wrestler looks to end career on a high note

Robbie Natelli (126) wrestles during a dual match against Pascack Hills. Natelli will compete in the district tournament on Saturday.

Robbie Natelli (126) wrestles during a dual match against Pascack Hills. Natelli will compete in the district tournament on Saturday.

Alysa Mehl

Robbie Natelli (126) wrestles during a dual match against Pascack Hills. Natelli will compete in the district tournament on Saturday.

Alysa Mehl

Alysa Mehl

Robbie Natelli (126) wrestles during a dual match against Pascack Hills. Natelli will compete in the district tournament on Saturday.

Jeremy Lesserson, Sports Writer

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Robbie Natelli has been looking for a first place District 1 tournament finish and a state tournament entrance since his freshman year of high school. The challenge has mainly been a more difficult weight class in District 1. This year is no different.

Natelli’s final shot comes this weekend in the District 1 tournament. It is at his home gym at Pascack Valley High School, and action starts at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. PV looks to get as many as four District Champions, including the likes of Natelli, Matt Beyer, Tommy Chiellini, and Casey Lewis. Beyer and Lewis were District champions last year, while Chiellini was out with a finger injury. George Dvoynos looks to submit himself in the Region Tournament for a second straight year, as he placed third at 170 last year. Tyler Pizzi and Luke Petaccia look to do the same for the first time. The last freshman to make it to the Region Tournament was Beyer, who did so two years ago.

Last year, Natelli placed second in the District 1 tournament at Ramapo High School. Ramapo and Pascack Valley recently made an agreement to alternate the hosting of the tournament. His freshman year he did not place. However, at Oradell High School in 2016, Natelli placed fourth in the District 8 tournament.

Natelli, a senior, has dealt with some difficult weight classes that have included the likes of Westwood’s Trent Furman, River Dell’s Jotaro Kurachi, Dumont’s Gianni Manginelli, Old Tappan’s Matthew Murawski, and Newton’s Matthew Rosa.

In particular, he has had to face Furman, Kurachi (graduated), and Manginelli quite frequently over the past couple years, and owns just a 2-12 record against them. Furman was the Bergen County Champ this year, while Manginelli was the runner-up and Murawski placed third.

On Jan. 26, Natelli faced off against Furman at 126 to open the match. The first period was scoreless. At the beginning of the second period, Furman started on bottom. He escaped for one point to give himself the early 1-0 lead. Just as the official blew the whistle at the end of the second period, Furman recorded a takedown as time expired. It was arguably the bout with the most anticipation, and it ended up being close. Natelli ended up falling to Furman again by a score of 3-0.

Furman defeated Natelli in the semifinals of the County Tournament by tech fall in 5:12. This time, Natelli kept it much closer.  

“I wasn’t trying to keep it close, I was just trying to win,” Natelli said. “It was an improvement from the counties.”

After a while, a loss to the same competitor time and time again could be disheartening, and some would lose faith so easily. Pascack Valley coach Tom Gallione sees the potential inside of Natelli to push and strive.

“I think there was a lot to take from that loss,” Gallione said. “A lot of the matches have been close. The counties it was a little bit lopsided Furman’s way, but I think Robbie had a different strategy. He gave up that one takedown at the boundary which was tough, which really changed the match. But I think overall, he learned a lot from that match. He was upset because he didn’t get more, he didn’t get more team points. But for him individually he learned a lot, a different way to attack Trent coming into the Districts.”

It is a recurring theme for Natelli, as he has had many rivals in his career at PV. He first faced off against Kurachi in the 2015 County Tournament. Kurachi came out victorious, and since that loss, Natelli has only defeated him once in January of last year. Kurachi most notably defeated Natelli in the second round of last year’s Region 1 tournament.

Natelli has been successful against other opponents such as Murawski and Paramus’ Aaron Ayzerov. While Murawski placed third in this County Tournament, Natelli beat him by a decision score of 7-3 in the league finals match. Natelli beat Ayzerov in the County tournament to claim fifth, but also lost to him in the first round of the State Sectional Tournament by a score of 5-3. Natelli’s history with Rosa amounts to just one match, as Natelli lost to him in a dual match against the Newton Braves by a decision score of 8-4. Rosa also placed fourth in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex County Tournament.

Natelli comes from a wrestling family, as it is common to spot his brother, Joey, at a match shouting out criticism to his younger brother. Gallione remembers the days that he coached Joey in his first year as a full-time head coach. He says that he remembers Natelli as a small child, finding it hard to believe that he’d ever rise to wrestle for his Indians’ squad.

“It’s cool. It’s always funny, you don’t think too far ahead.” Gallione said. “When I started, I think Robbie was in second grade. Mr. Natelli was like ‘oh yeah, sometime down the line, Robbie will be wrestling for you’ and I was like ‘oh yeah,’ because you look at him and he’s up to your knees. Now all of the sudden, you blink and Robbie is through senior year, pretty much.”

Natelli and his brother train every Sunday together for about an hour, depending on whether Natelli has had recent matches and how sore he is. They spend the time watching his matches on video and wrestling each other. The Natelli brothers have been doing this for awhile.

“I think the biggest thing is that a lot of these guys, we’ve seen already,” Joey said. “Watching films, going over things that we could have improved the last time we wrestled them, things like that, just to see what changes we could have made. If we lost or if we won, how could we keep doing the right things to beat those kids again.”

A weight class excluding Kurachi should help Natelli advance into the state tournament. In the 2016 county tournament, Kurachi placed fourth, while Natelli placed sixth. In the 2017 Region 1 tournament, Kurachi and Natelli faced off in the second round, with Kurachi ousting Natelli 8-1. It isn’t out of the question for Natelli to place in the States with the departure of a rival. Gallione knows that Natelli has been running with the rest of the pack for a while.

“Well, you lost Kurachi, but you still have a tough weight class,” Gallione said. “He’s got Furman, he’s got Manginelli, he’s got (Rosa) in the districts, (Murawski), but he is right there with them. Any day, any of those guys can beat anyone else and that’s kind of the mindset he has to keep. They’re all right there and he can’t worry about that he lost to them in the past, he’s got to focus on what’s ahead of him.”

Joey graduated PV with a 66-33 record, but never placed in counties. However, he makes sure that his brother trains the way that he did when he was in high school. Gallione referred to both of the brothers’ work ethic as “non-stop.”

“Joey was tough as nails and Robbie follows in that footstep,” Gallione said. “They are just tough kids. You may see kids that are bigger than them, or (more) muscular than them, but they are tough. They don’t stop, they don’t back down from anyone. Joey was that way when he started, Robbie is that way now, and that is just the way that they have been their whole career.”

In the weeks before the big tournaments, Natelli and his brother know how to prepare physically and mentally. Gallione and PV’s coaching staff are right there beside him as he takes on the challenge, along with the rest of PV’s wrestling squad. Natelli even said that he wrestles “a lot better” when he’s in the Districts, as he feels that he attacks more. Joey thinks that Natelli has to wrestle harder, but he shouldn’t have big concerns.

“I wouldn’t say he has to worry,” Joey said. “Just obviously they’re both very good and competition is tough, but those kids, we know what they do. Their tendencies, we kind of just go through those things. When we practice what did this kid do, at top, neutral, bottom, and how we can stop it.”

Furman, Manginelli, Murawski, and Rosa are tough opponents. Yet, Natelli knows who his biggest opponent really is.

My biggest opponent is me. If I’m in the right mindset, no one can beat me at Districts.”

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About the Writer
Jeremy Lesserson, Assistant Sports Editor

Jeremy has been writing for The Smoke Signal since his freshman year, and specializes specifically in writing for wrestling in the winter. He looks forward...

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Senior wrestler looks to end career on a high note