UNION, NJ — Alissa Alcindor first tried her hand at field hockey, completing her second season this fall in the midfield.
A teacher of woodworking at Union High School, Daniel Eberenz, UHS Class of 1974, got Alcindor’s ear and discussed the possibility of Alcindor going out for wrestling.
There was a time in the 1970s when Eberenz was a standout wrestler for head coach Al Lilley, who in the early 1960s was a two-time state champion for the Farmers.
Eberenz, who was a district and region champion his senior season of 1974 at UHS, placing first in Region 4 at 135 pounds, made a big impression on Alcindor. It was a pitch to which she paid attention.
“He mentioned girls wrestling and the possibility of maybe a scholarship,” Alcindor said. “He was my motivation to keep going.”
Alcindor not only had a successful first season on the mat for the Farmers, but made it all the way to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association finals at Phillipsburg on Sunday, Feb. 26, where she placed sixth at heavyweight, 235 pounds.
Wrestling season concluded Saturday, March 4, at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, with the girls NJSIAA Tournament finals taking place there for the first time before the boys. The rest of the girls NJSIAA Tournament was competed at Phillipsburg on Sunday, Feb. 26.
The state wanted to highlight the girls finals by putting them at AC right before the boys. In the heavyweight bout, Lakeland Regional High School sophomore Caroline Biegel was defeated by Ewing High School junior Shellitha Collins by pin in 2:15. Collins placed fifth in the state finals at heavyweight last year as a sophomore.
Alcindor said she can be proud of the fact that she defeated Biegel twice in two tries this year, both by decision. Once was at Elizabeth and the other time at an event in Suffern, N.Y.
“Oh yeah,” proclaimed Alcindor when talking about her two wins over Biegel.
In her final competition, Alcindor went 3-3 at Region 2 at Union High School to finish a more-than-solid first season of wrestling at 17-4.
Alcindor highlights from girls competition:
• Sixth at NJSIAA Tournament at Phillipsburg High School;
• Second at Region 2 at Union High School;
• Won Elizabeth Tournament;
• Won Bergen County Invitational; and
• Undefeated at Somerville Jamboree.
“I found the wrestling to be more physical in the beginning,” Alcindor said. “It was a growing and learning experience from the first day.”
Alcindor said she wants to study health in college, with designs on becoming a respiratory therapist.
“Winning my first tournament at Elizabeth proved what I was capable of,” Alcindor said. “It was my first time doing something on a mat.”
Alcindor won all five of her matches at Elizabeth to finish first at her weight. The tournament took place at the Thomas Dunn Sports Center and included 12 weight classes. Alcindor defeated Biegel by decision in the championship match.
Those who assisted Alcindor include her cousin, Cristine Pierre-Louis, also a junior at Union, and the only other Union female wrestler to finish the season. Pierre-Louis also competed at heavyweight.
“She helped me so much, words can’t describe,” Alcindor said. “Her determination really helped. She continued to practice even though she didn’t compete in states.”
Alcindor’s coaches were Nick Curcio, a math teacher at Union; Bobby Mautone, who coaches wrestling at Union; and varsity head coach Dino DeBellonia.
“They helped me calm down,” Alcindor said. “Learning how to wrestle has a lot to do with control of the mind. It’s a very mental and physical sport.
“I proved that I could keep my word and stick with something.”
Alcindor is 17, with her 18th birthday on Dec. 15, right when her senior wrestling season will commence.
“Placing in the states was a big accomplishment,” Alcindor said. “After each match, I’m not really satisfied. I know I can do even better, if I put my mind to it.”
Photos Courtesy of Kristin Nunes and Alissa Alcindor