Nick Pacheco sat on the Riverhead wrestling mat listening to head coach Mike Lloyd trying to hype up his Hampton Bays team, thinking back to a banner that had been hanging in the gym since the start of the season with the message “team goal: league champs.”
“C’mon guys. We’ve had some ups and downs, we’ve been through a lot, but we’re still league champs,” the 126-pounder recalled hearing his coach say, despite his Baymen team finish second in League VIII to Port Jefferson just a week earlier. “We said, ‘Yeah coach, you’re right, we’re still league champs’. And he’s like ‘No, we are league champs.’”
The junior wrestler said his teammates sat quiet for a second processing what Lloyd was explaining — that the Royals had been disqualified from several matches for using an ineligible wrestler, leaving Hampton Bays undefeated league title-winners for the first time since 2005.
“Everyone started screaming,” Pacheco said. “We were so excited. It was so great, so satisfying. This shows what we’re capable of achieving. Now, we’re fighting for top spots in counties.”
Because Port Jeff was removed from the team tournament, the seeding changed in the bracket, giving Hampton Bays a first-round bye before going up against Elwood-John Glenn. The Baymen fell 63-12, but Lloyd was proud of how his boys battled, putting up a stronger showing than during the team’s 67-9 loss to the Knights December 12.
“We’ve always been looking to build their confidence, but challenge them as well,” the coach said. “Although we’re losing five seniors, we have a core group of guys returning and we’re trying to raise the bar little by little.”
Pacheco topped his opponent Brendan Knott with a 9-3 decision. His co-captain, junior Nick Corredor, pinned John Henderson at 3:18 at 145 pounds. Sophomore William Krivickas edged Kevin Velasquez 9-8 at 170.
“We wrestled as hard as we could,” Pacheco said. “We’re still going hard, and showed we’re going to keep on wrestling no matter what.”
After winning the first few of matches of the season, he said his coach sat the team down to once again hype them up, telling his grapplers they had what it takes to go all the way.
“We started working harder and harder and when we topped Southampton [January 2] and got to three league ‘W’s, he gave us that extra push to keep working hard by telling us we’ve almost got this,” Pacheco said.
Lloyd, a Hampton Bays graduate, was a freshman on the 2005 league title-winning team. For him, earning the accomplishment as a player and coach has been special.
“It’s interesting for it to come full circle and now have this experience as a coach,” he said. “Obviously, it would have been nice to win the title the right way, but at this point, we’d like to say this is a turning point for the program, and we’re looking to make our mark, expand on this. The reason I got into coaching to begin with is the life lessons the sport has taught me — that it’s not just about going out on the mat and being the best, but everything that comes with it. I try to remind them of their opportunity now and how important it is to make the most of it.”
Thinking back to how he and his teammates would touch the team goal banner hanging in the gym, Pacheco said it’s time to not only hang a league title-winning banner, but another one with a new goal: two-time league champs.
“We’re getting better and better each day, with each practice, and now that we know what we can do, we need to apply everything we’ve got, all we’ve learned, and pass that on to the new guys next year,” Pacheco said. “We’re looking for back-to-back league titles now. We’re looking to leave a legacy.”