Shore Sports Network 2016 Wrestler of the Year: CBA’s Sebastian Rivera
The state championship drought for Christian Brothers Academy had become so long that its last and only state champion - Pete Black in 1968 - had his name written in black and white on the Colts' wall of champions.
That was until Sebastian Rivera came along and brought Boardwalk Hall to its feet with a win for the ages.
Rivera pinned Delbarton's Patrick Glory in 5:59 to win the 113-pound NJSIAA state title in front of a capacity crowd in Atlantic City to become CBA's first state champion in 48 years. He did it in thrilling fashion by rallying from a 4-0 deficit to take an 8-5 lead before getting the championship-clinching fall with one second left on the clock. His smile to the crowd as he put Glory to his back was one of the lasting images of the entire tournament. Rivera was the lone state champion from the Shore Conference and our selection as the 2016 Shore Sports Network Wrestler of the Year.
"It was one of the best moments of my life and I'll never forget it," Rivera said.
Rivera's road to a state championship began in modest fashion as an undersized freshman. He weighed barley 90 pounds in his first year at CBA, and went just 3-8 wrestling at 106 pounds. Everything changed that offseason when he grew into his weight class and his talents were able to shine through. Rivera burst onto the scene as a sophomore with a 40-3 record, a District 22 title, a second-place finish in the Region VI Tournament and a fifth-place medal at the state tournament.
Rivera entered his junior season ranked nationally at 106 pounds and as a state title contender. He looked every bit the part by getting to the state tournament with an undefeated record still intact. He reached the state semifinals where he lost to eventual state champion Brandon Cray in double overtime, and ultimately finished in fifth place again.
Heading into his senior season Rivera raised his national profile by winning the Super 32 at 113 pounds, beating Glory, 9-7, in the final. He wrestled most of his senior season at 120 pounds and helped CBA to its best season in program history. The Colts ended Howell's 73-match Class A North winning streak with a 28-27 win on criteria, and that victory helped them earn a share of the division title. Their biggest team moment came in the Shore Conference Tournament where they again topped Howell, this time 34-28 in the final, to secure the program's first SCT title.
Rivera's ultimate goal remained unattained, however, so he went to work by cruising to his third District 22 title before winning his second Region VI title and earning Most Outstanding Wrestler honors. He had two technical falls and a pin in the region tournament, including an 18-3 technical fall in 4:15 over Howell's Kyle Slendorn in the final.
Rivera remained a buzzsaw in the state tournament with a 10-2 major decision over West Orange's Victor Lopez in the pre-quarterfinals and a pin of Highland's Lucas Siegfried in the quarterfinals after he opened a 16-0 lead.
Rivera knew all along his two main obstacles in the state tournament would be St. Joseph (Montvale) senior Jonathan Tropea and Glory, and he let them know he was ready after winning the region title in dominating fashion. He made good on his prediction, beating Tropea 6-3 in the semifinals to set up the matchup with Glory for the 113-pound state final.
His final high school bout didn't start the way he hoped when Glory hit him with a four-point move in the first period. Undeterred, Rivera staged an epic rally to win wrestling gold. He rode Glory out in the second period to keep the deficit at four. Then came a brilliant third period. Rivera escaped to make it 4-1, then took Glory down to close the gap to 4-3. After cutting Glory loose to make it 5-3, Rivera scored the tying takedown with around 30 seconds left. Most wrestlers would be simply trying to hang on and get to overtime, but Rivera was savvy and gutsy enough to set Glory up and capitalize on a mistake.
Rivera cinched a deep tight waist on Glory, and he knew the only way Glory could get free for the winning escape was to jump over. Glory went for it, and Rivera was waiting to make him pay. He put Glory to his back as the final seconds ticked off, and looked to the crowd where his family was sitting with a smile as big as the boardwalk. He had the back points to secure the victory, and finished off the incredible win with a pin with one second left.
"It was a beautiful way to end it." Rivera said.
Rivera finished the season 31-1 and with a 111-14 career mark. He concluded the season ranked No. 3 in the country by both InterMat and FloWrestling. He is a three-time District 22 champion, two-time Region VI champion and three-time finalist and a three-time state medalist. His 111 career victories are fourth most in CBA history. He will head to Northwestern next season to compete in the Big 10 where he will wrestle at 125 pounds.
"Getting fifth last year was disappointing, but I got it done and won a state championship in my four years here, and that's all that matters to me," Rivera said.
Wrestling 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.