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Virginia Beach, Va. -- Just a little bit of time can make all the difference. Whether it be a year or just a couple of weeks, fortunes can change dramatically, just as they did for some of the Shore Conference's best last Sunday.

Last season was a lost cause for Christian Brothers Academy sophomore Sebastian Rivera. Rivera weighed just 94 pounds as a freshman wrestling at 106 pounds, and the result was a 3-8 record. He was simply too small to be competitive. One year later and it was all very different for Rivera. He began the season undefeated and remained so until losing in the Region VI final. He didn’t lose any steam heading into the state tournament, and finished fifth for his first state medal and a 40-3 record.

At the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, Rivera pinned his first four opponents before a 5-2 decision over Virginia’s Zachary Beckner thrust him into the national final at 106 pounds. There he would face an opponent quite familiar to him, Morris Knolls’ Garrett O’Shea. The two had met just a few weeks prior in the state fifth-place match with Rivera winning by fall.

“In states he got pinned the match before so maybe he was down,” Rivera said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be like that this time. I was ready for a war.”

Christian Brothers Academy freshman Sebastian Rivera (left) and Howell sophomore Kris Lindemann won national titles at the 2014 NHSCA National Championships.

Rivera earned a quick takedown in the first period and added another in the closing seconds for a 4-1 lead after one. He earned another takedown in the second period to extend his lead to 6-3, and pushed his advantage to 8-3 with a takedown to start the third period. O’Shea escaped and secured a takedown to trim Rivera’s lead to 8-6, but he couldn't threaten again. Rivera held on to win the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals 106-pound championship, 9-6.


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“I saw his matches and he was tough on bottom,” Rivera said. “My gameplan was to wrestle on my feet.”

The wrestler Rivera was this season was who he truly believed he was all along. Being at the proper weight has made all the difference, allowing his technique and ability to shine. He lost in he state quarterfinals to Delbarton’s Ty Agaisse, the eventual state champion, and No. 3-ranked 106-pounder in the nation, but that only served as a confidence builder. The score was 3-0, and Rivera was close to scoring a takedown.

“My goal is to hopefully get top-10 in the country and start making a name for myself,” Rivera said. “I think I can compete with the best in the country.”

Howell’s Kris Lindemann dealt with plenty of adversity as a freshman, as well. Lindemann had already established himself as a standout during his freshman year, but missed the individual postseason with a concussion after posting a 29-2 record. He spent the first half of this season trying to regain the form he had as a ninth-grader, and he eventually got on track to help Howell to its best season ever while finishing sixth in the state at 132 pounds.

Lindemann weighed around 129 pounds for most of the season and didn't’ have to cut weight to make 132, and also didn’t have to worry about dropping down a weight because it wasn’t a need for Howell. In the NHSCA tournament, Lindemann made a slight cut to 126 and reached the quarterfinals with an 8-1 decision, technical fall and pin. He edged Kentucky’s Keegan Duncan 4-3 in the quarterfinals before blanking New York state champ Kellen Devlin, 5-0, to reach the final.

In the championship bout, Lindemann took on two-time Georgia state runner-up Christopher Diaz. Lindemann would score the only takedown of the match, which came in the first period for a 2-1 lead. Diaz rode Lindemann out in the second period, then escaped in the third to force overtime. Despite some near finishes by both wrestlers, the bout made its way to rideouts where both Lindemann and Diaz held each other down in the 30-second tiebreaker periods. Having scored first, Lindemann had the choice in the ultimate tiebreaker and chose top. He rode out Diaz to win 3-2 and take home a national title.


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“I knew I could hold him down for 30 seconds,” Lindemann said. “I was going to grab a leg, grab anything to get that clock running down and he’d be tired. My conditioning isn’t that much better but I knew I’d have a little edge on him.”

Last year at this time Lindemann was still feeling the effects of a concussion and wondering when he’d be back to normal on the mat. Now he has a state medal under his belt and a national title in his back pocket.

“In the regular season I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I put in the work to get there,” Lindemann said. “It’s all coming together right now. I just have to keep the momentum going in every tournament.”

“I finally found where I want to be. I’m wrestling how I want to wrestle and taking it to the next level.”

Rivera and Lindemann were the only national champions from the Shore Conference, which produced nine All-Americans.

Wall freshman Matt McKenzie reached the 182-pound finals in the freshman division before falling to Pennsylvania's Zane Black, 4-2 in sudden victory overtime. McKenzie defeated Indiana's Tristen Tonte 13-0 in the first round, majored Texas's Noah Sims 12-0 in the quarterfinals and blanked Florida's Joe Marcano, 3-0, in the semifinal round.

McKenzie was 32-5 at 170 pounds in his freshman season, finishing second in the District 23 Tournament and fourth in the Region VI Tournament. In the region third-place bout, McKenzie lost to Southern senior Gerardo Jorge, 3-2 in double overtime. Jorge went on to place eighth in the state at 170 pounds.

Brick Memorial freshman Nick Rivera finished third at heavyweight. He pinned his way into the semifinals, including a 26-second fall against New York's Dominic Eriksen. He fell to eventual champion Nick Boykin of Tennessee, 7-4, in the semifinals. In the wrestlebacks, Rivera used a pair of first-period pins to finish third. Each of his five victories came via fall.

Rivera was the District 23 champion and placed third in the Region VI Tournament. He was the only freshman or sophomore to qualify for the state tournament at heavyweight, and finished with a 19-7 record.

Also finishing third was Jackson Liberty junior Mike Russo. The New Jersey third-place finisher at 120 pounds, Russo lost to Maryland's Steven Simpson, 3-2, in the semifinals. He bounced back to defeat Vermont's Troy Gassaway 5-1, and New York's Ben Lamantia, 5-3 to place third.

Jackson Memorial freshman Tim Hamann placed fourth at 138 pounds. He lost by fall in the quarterfinals to Idaho's James Fisher, but won three straight bouts to reach the consolation final. He was defeated by Pennsylvania's Mikey Labriola, 3-0.

Middletown North sophomore Chad Freshnock, a District 22 and Region VI runner-up at 182 pounds, placed fourth at 195. He won two bouts by fall to reach the quarterfinals, where he lost to eventual champion, Matt Correnti from Holy Cross, 18-2. Correnti went on to win his second straight national title. Freshnock defeated Virginia's Cody Amos, 8-5, to clinch All-American status, then won by forfeit to reach the consolation final. He was defeated by St. Augustine's James Brady, 9-5, and finished fourth.

Freshnock's teammates, freshman Thomas Anderson and sophomore Anthony Vetrano, each placed seventh in their respective divisions. Anderson was seventh at 152 pounds and Vetrano was seventh at 170.

In the middle school division, Chris Cannon, the younger brother of Long Branch freshman Austin Cannon, won the 105-pound national championship. He did not allow a point in five tournament matches.

Team New Jersey fared well in all four high school divisions, taking first in both the sophomore and junior grade levels, while finishing second among freshman and placing eighth for seniors. The Garden State had 13 finalists, 10 national champions and 49 All-Americans.