ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — The Cinderella story of Sam Wustefeld might have come to an unfortunate end Sunday afternoon in Atlantic City, but it certainly didn’t dampen the mood of the wrestler or his coaches Sunday night.
After Wustefeld’s magical run through the NJSIAA State Tournament ended in the State Finals with a 5-4 defeat to Bound Brook’s George Walton, Wustefeld received a police escort home to a festive Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, where friends, family, teammates, and members of the the community gathered to congratulate the wrestling start and his coach, Marc Fabiano.
After pulling off a series of upsets, Wustefeld, a junior, found himself in the 182-class State Finals Sunday afternoon, where he matched up against Walton, a senior with 109 career victories. The match, a nail-biter, came down to the final seconds, where Walton received two points in the final 18 seconds to ultimately land the victory. Wustefeld put up more than a valiant fight, however, as he was interlocked in a 3-3 tie with Walton very late in the match, and recovered from an early 3-0 deficit to do so. While he may have lost the championship match, Wustefeld finished the season as the No. 2 wrestler in New Jersey for the 182-pound class -- a feat that has rarely been done at Scotch Plains-Fanwood, and not since 2004.
“[The Championship] was really crazy. There were so many people, so many fans watching. Whether they know you or not, they’re cheering on somebody and it’s an amazing experience,” Wustefeld said at the celebration back home at SPFHS. “It’s nerve-wracking just going to that, knowing that it’s the biggest match of your career so far. I was just really excited to compete in it. It was a really awesome experience.”
“This is huge for Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School; it’s huge for the program. Nobody knew about Sam, nobody knew his name, anything he’s done during the season, last season, nobody knew where he was from,” said head coach Marc Fabiano. “He definitely — I 100 percent believe it — put us back on the map.”
To reach the finals, ninth-seeded Wustefeld shocked the state, pulling off three consecutive upsets — including pinning the No. 1 seed, Jake Sosinski of Northern Highlands. The grueling, prestigious tournament, held at Atlantic City's famous Boardwalk Hall, routinely draws huge crowds and mass attention from the state. Wustefeld’s performances put him at the center of the high school sports world this weekend.
“Coming as a ninth-seed is really exciting. I was just looking to place in the tournament, but I was able to wrestle really well and beat some kids I wasn’t supposed to and make it to the finals which is outstanding — I was really excited about it,” Wustefeld added.
“It was taking it one match at a time, it was wrestling aggressive. He was just in the zone every time, and he took one match at a time and wrestled the best he could, peeked at the right time every match,” stated Coach Fabiano.
Entering the season, Scotch Plains-Fanwood had some nice things to look forward to and certainly had the attention of its community. But outside of the town and maybe county borders, not many people knew about the program. Now, after Wustefeld’s emergence on the biggest stage in New Jersey wrestling, the state not only knows about Scotch Plains-Fanwood — it’s ready to see the school take it to the next level.
“I couldn’t be happier right now, because going into next year, he’s got a goal to set and he’s got something to keep fighting for and keep working,” said Fabiano. “So next year, there’s more to give and he’s able to, from today, push everybody else to get better and work harder.”
And now, Wustefeld, who had to maintain the weight of 182-pounds the entire three-day weekend — nothing more, nothing less — can eat again.
Says Wustefeld: “Eating… I’m looking forward to it!”