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PHILLIPSBURG – In the final bout of the 2021 NJSIAA Wrestling Championships, Brick Memorial’s David Szuba delivered one of the most emphatic state championship victories in Shore Conference history.

A little over halfway through the first period, Szuba countered an underhook and hit a headlock throw that launched Toms River North’s John O’Donnell to his back for a thunderous fall in 1:15 that gave Szuba the New Jersey 285-pound state title on Sunday night at Phillipsburg High School.

O’Donnell had taken a 2-0 lead with a takedown early in the bout but Szuba was able to escape and find an opening for a home-run throw. And when he connected, it was all over. The Mustangs senior let out a primal scream that was surpassed only by his father, Ben, who lifted his son into the air with a roar of his own as the crowd looked on in awe.

"I was looking for arm pressure, I was looking for sweeps into the duck under because he's so big," Szuba said. "His pressure's coming in from fighting his arm and he shot an underhook and I was like, 'dude, whatever man', and I sent it."

"I started with judo so I know my headlock is good and I can throw anybody. I just had to be in the right position because he is big and he is tall and he was leaning right over me. I felt it and it was there and I have great hips so I sent it into orbit."

The victory for Szuba settled the score with O’Donnell after the two had split bouts earlier this season. Szuba won in a dual meet, O’Donnell won in the Central Region final and Szuba took the rubber match for the heavyweight state crown.

The win also put Brick Memorial into the history books. A day after Evan Tallmadge, Anthony Santaniello and Vincent Santaniello won back-to-back-to-back state championships from 113 to 126 pounds, Szuba gave Brick Memorial four state champions in one season for the first time in Shore Conference history and just the third time in the state’s modern era. High Point in 2011 and Bergen Catholic in 2015 and 2016 also accomplished the feat.

"It's who we train with, it's our coaching staff, it's where we train at - Shore Thing is a great club - we're always grinding, always putting our head down and we knew we were going to do it," Szuba said.

When the two met in a dual meet on April 1 it was Szuba who won by fall early in the third period. O'Donnell nearly had a cradle in that bout but Szuba got free for a reversal. When O'Donnell tried a Granby Roll to start the third period, Szuba caught it and stuck him for the fall.

In the rematch, O'Donnell made his adjustment and wrestled the bout on his terms, slowing it down and using every bit of his 6-foot-4, 282-pound frame to pound Szuba to the mat and crank him with a vicious power half. O'Donnell came away with a 5-1 win in the Central Region final that earned him the No. 1 seed for the state tournament.

On the car ride back to Brick from the region tournament at Hunterdon Central, Szuba and Brick Memorial head coach Mike Kiley began to devise the plan of how to reverse the loss if they met up with O'Donnell in the state final.

"We had a long car ride home together from super regions, just me and him, and he actually said to me, 'Why do I have to lose to win?'," Kiley said. "In the past, he's lost to (Jackson Memorial's Kyle) Epperly, (Jackson Memorial's Brock) Winston and then he beats these dudes in the more important match. We had a plan to keep pressure, look for a duck and we knew that was going to be there off of it and, hey, it worked. It was really set up by that pressure, that constant pressure."

"I learned I had to focus in more and be more calm so I don't get tired because if you tire yourself out against a big dude...," Szuba said. "I gave up the takedown and I was like, 'whatever'. I got up, stuck to the plan and opened up. There was a great opportunity and I took it."

Part of that plan was also making sure O'Donnell couldn't use his hulking size to his advantage. When O'Donnell scored the first takedown it was not ideal, but there was no panic from Brick Memorial.

"You don't ever get worried with Szuba on the mat," said Brick Memorial assistant coach Dave Kiley, who works with Szuba daily in the Brick Memorial wrestling room. "It wasn't the most optimal start but you have to remind yourself that it's Szuba and he always finds a way in big spots."

Last season in Atlantic City, Szuba came two points short of a state championship when he suffered a 9-7 defeat to Camden Catholic's Martin Cosgrove in the 195-pound state final. Second place is simultaneously a great accomplishment and a low point for a high school wrestler. It has fueled Szuba for the past 414 days.

"I worked so hard to get there last year and to come up short, it eats you alive," Szuba said. "It haunts you at night like, how did that happen? Then you start putting the pieces together of why it didn't work out and you just have to put your head down and grind. And I grinded."

"This is a special group of kids, they work their tails off for us and this was a long time coming for David Szuba," Mike Kiley said. "He is one of the toughest kids I've ever been around. That kid has been to some dark places in our wrestling room working himself to the bone. He finished our weekend and he finished his career on top where he belongs."

 

 

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