It was a crowning achievement last March when North Bergen wrestler Anthony Giraldo won the NJSIAA state wrestling championship, becoming only the second Bruin wrestler and fifth all-time in Hudson County history to earn an overall state championship.
Giraldo, then a junior at High Tech High School, put himself into position to become the only two-time state champion from Hudson County, considering that he had another year to compete on the high school level.
The Guttenberg resident could have very easily rested on his laurels, having already reached the pinnacle, having achieved all you could on the high school level.
But that wasn’t what Giraldo was all about.
“I had to focus on getting better,” Giraldo said. “I had to win the states again. I didn’t want to lose again, and not to lose, I had to win the states again. It would be terrible to lose my last match in high school.”
So instead of enjoying the summer months off, Giraldo only took a brief respite after winning the state title in Atlantic City last March.
“I took off a couple of weeks and went right back to work,” Giraldo said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew I had to give it my all again. I set my goals all over again.”
Giraldo went to the junior nationals last April and finished third, earning a berth on the United States junior national Greco-Roman squad that traveled to Serbia to compete last July.
“It was great,” Giraldo said. “I had to get a passport. Serbia was a great place to visit. They had a different kind of training there, a different kind of vision off the sport. It was awesome. Traveling to Serbia was so different. I didn’t sleep for two days. When we got there, it was a three-hour drive to get to everything.”
But Giraldo liked the idea that he was treated like a celebrity.
“Everywhere we went, people looked at you differently,” Giraldo said. “They treated us like kings as we drove through towns. It was so different. They take their sports, especially wrestling, very seriously. I saw a lot of people exercising all over the place, a lot in parks.”
After returning from Serbia, Giraldo set his sights on a top preseason tournament, called the Super 32s, which was held in North Carolina in October.
“It was a great tournament to be a part of,” Giraldo said. “It’s one of the best in the country.”
Giraldo fared well in the tourney, but lost in the semifinals.
“I ended up taking sixth place,” Giraldo said.
As it turned out, the tourney was a blessing, because Giraldo has not lost since.
The next rung on the ladder was the prestigious Beast of the East tourney, the premier tourney to officially begin the high school wrestling season in December in Dover, Delaware.
“I was definitely aiming for first place,” Giraldo said. “I was sure I wasn’t going to settle for anything but first place. I had been trying to win the Beast of the East since freshman year. It was something I wanted to accomplish before my career was over.”
“There were over 100 teams in the Beast of the East,” said North Bergen head wrestling coach and athletic director Jerry Maietta. “His weight class [the 132-pound bracket] was the deepest in the tournament, with more than 70 kids in that class. Over the last two years, he wrestled well and lost by a point. This was his last chance.”
Giraldo achieved his goal by finally winning the Beast of the East title, becoming the first Bruin wrestler to win the gold medal at the tourney.
Next up was the George Jockish Bergen County Coaches Association tournament at Rockland Community College in New York. Giraldo was shooting for a slice of history there as well, gunning for his fourth straight BCCA championship.
“I knew it would be a great accomplishment if I could do it,” Giraldo said. “I knew I was ready. I had the desire to win. I knew that there were only a few people to win it four times.”
Only six wrestlers had ever won the Bergen County holiday tourney four times.
Giraldo defeated J.P. Ascolese of Bergen Catholic, 9-3, in the championship match of the 132-pound class, putting him in with the elite group.
For his efforts, Giraldo has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. He’s the first honoree of the winter scholastic sports season.
Maietta thinks that Giraldo is just living up to a natural progression.
“I think he’s at the point where I think he can win every time he steps on the mat,” Maietta said of Giraldo, who now has a career record of 128-10 over four years and is just seven wins shy of toppling another Guttenberg native Bobby Dabal as the all-time leader in victories at North Bergen.
“I think he has that confidence now,” Maietta said. “He’s handled it every year. He definitely has his eye on the big prize and now what he has to do to get there. He also keeps working at it.”
Maietta believes that Giraldo is just driven more than the typical high school athlete.
“The average kid goes home after practice,” Maietta said. “Anthony goes and gets extra work like five days a week. He knows he hasn’t reached his goal yet. His goal is to repeat as state champion. It’s not an easy task. Not many have done it.”
Giraldo trains regularly with the Scarlet Knight Wrestling Club, which is an offshoot of the Rutgers University wrestling program. Giraldo has already signed his letter of intent to attend Rutgers in the fall and will wrestle there. He’s just getting a bit of a head start training with the Scarlet Knights.
“They have already me prepared for college,” Giraldo said. “Coach [Scott] Goodale is already treating me like I’m a college wrestler. I’m getting better every day.”
Giraldo knows that the goal of defending his state championship has already put pressures on him.
“It just makes me work harder, because everyone says that I should repeat,” Giraldo said. “Everyone is saying congratulations and I haven’t won anything yet. It just make me keep wanting to practice and get better.”
One thing is for sure. Giraldo is a solid role model for the rest of the North Bergen wrestlers.
“Everyone knows what he’s done already,” Maietta said. “They see when he wrestles and they see his approach. They see the success he’s had. They know he’s put in the extra time to be where he is. The success doesn’t come easy. It’s not handed to you. They all see he does all the extra stuff and that’s something they all should strive for. It definitely helps having him in the wrestling room every day.”
Giraldo has almost become another coach on the mat.
“They all go to him and ask advice,” Maietta said. “They know he’s a student of the sport. It’s always helpful to have him as a teacher. I never have to worry about him. He knows what he has to do.”
Right now, things are going according to plan. Giraldo has won all 12 of his matches this season and there’s no let up in sight.
“Everything is just rolling along,” Giraldo said. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.