Dean Peterson becomes St. John Vianney’s first wrestling state champion
ATLANTIC CITY – Since the program began in 1973, St. John Vianney never had a wrestling state champion. No one had ever come close, either.
That was before Dean Peterson arrived.
On Saturday night inside Boardwalk Hall, Peterson made history by defeating Emerson/Park Ridge’s Nick Babin, 3-2, to win the NJSIAA 113-pound state championship and become the first Lancers wrestler to ever win a state title.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet but hopefully it will hit me a little later,” Peterson said. “But it feels great.”
A first-period takedown was all Peterson needed to finish the season 35-0 and claim the state championship. He escaped in the second period to extend his lead to 3-0 and held off Babin despite giving up a stalling point and then cutting Babin loose with 10 seconds left.
“I knew If I hit my angles and finished quick he wasn’t going to be able to scramble,” Peterson said. “On that first takedown I got to his legs, made sure it was clean and finished.”
Babin was never able to get close to scoring thanks to Peterson’s elite defense. In fact, Peterson only allowed two offensive points all season – a reversal to High Point’s Devin Flannery back in December at the Mustang Classic.
“At the beginning of the third period I probably should have just let him up because I knew he couldn’t take me down,” Peterson said. “He wasn’t really that strong on his feet so if he shot on me I probably would have just got a takedown.”
“It’s very difficult to score on him,” said SJV head coach Denny D’Andrea. “You see guys get right in on him and he gets the head and arm in and gets his hips down. It’s technique and you also have to have a feel for it. When you sprawl the guy can re-shoot but he has that feel to lock in so the guy can’t get his head back up. He posts the head a lot and the guys just can’t do anything.”
“Once he got that first takedown I knew it was over,” said SJV assistant Tony Caravella. “You can’t score on him. The only time I’ve seen anybody score on him is a reversal. He got taken down in the state final last year and that never happens. He’s good in every position, he’s knowledgeable, he’s athletic and he’s nasty.”
Peterson reached the state championship match at 106 pounds as a freshman, becoming the first SJV wrestler to reach the state finals. He lost to Hanover Park’s Joey Olivieri, however, squashing his goal of winning four state titles.
“His goal was to be a four-time state champion and when he lost last year he was pissed off,” D’Andrea said. “I said, ‘you can be a three-time state champion. Yesterday is in the past’. He came back with a vengeance.”
“Redemption always feels good,” Peterson said. “I lost two youth state titles and one of those was to (Delbarton’s) Nico Nardone. In the semifinals was the first time wrestling him in four years so that path to the finals made it 100 times better.”
To make his state-title run even more impressive, Peterson revealed he wrestled the last three rounds with a broken hand suffered in the quarterfinals.
“I broke it in the pre-quarters,” he said. “I went to post on his head and my finger kind of caved in and the knuckle popped out. I wasn’t worried because I broke my hand before. I broke my left hand when I was eight and I went out to Reno Worlds and won it.”
Only a sophomore, Peterson has entered rarified air at his school and in the Shore Conference. He is 71-2 in his career with a state championship and a second-place finish. D’Andrea and Caravella, both of whom are Shore Conference and New Jersey wrestling Hall of Famers, have seen it all in the world of wrestling. Peterson is right at the top among all the greats they’ve coached.
“Him and Nick Angen,” D’Andrea said “Nick Angen was the most talented kid I ever coached, a two-time state champion. This kid is right up there. He’s very talented.”
“I’ve had probably over 2,000 wrestlers and he’s by far the most talented I’ve ever had,” Caravella said. “And combined with that is he’s hard-working, and that’s a great combination. We’ve had (Vinnie) Santaniello and Angen and (Todd) Palmisano, elite kids, and he is just a different level.”
In two years, Peterson has accomplished things no St. John Vianney wrestler has. He’s set the bar high, but with two years left there’s a good chance he’s going to raise it even higher.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.