Union High School’s Collin is 175-pound UCT champion

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UNION, NJ – Holding on to a slim 2-1 advantage as the second period progressed, Dan Collin could not wait any longer.

“He escaped, shot in and turned him (Cranford’s Joey Acinapura) over,” said Dino DeBellonia, Union High School wrestling head coach.

All of a sudden, Collin, Union’s senior captain, turned a close bout into the referee getting down on the mat next to him and slamming his right hand down to signal Collin’s complete control.
Collin then stood up, after halting promising Cranford sophomore Joey Acinapura by fall in 2:58, and then roared exuberantly to his Union coaches and the crowd beyond.

Collin, at 175 pounds, became the first 2024 Union County Tournament wrestling champion on Saturday, Jan. 20, in his own Union High School gym. More importantly, Collin also became Union’s first UCT champ since senior Nick Zuena captured the 152-pound title in 2017.

Just moments after his glorious triumph, Collin immediately referenced his favorite Biblical quote from Isaiah 60:22: “When the time is right, I, the Lord, will make it happen.”

Midway through the second two-minute stanza, Collin indeed felt the time was right to make a statement.

“I knew I had to score and it was time to make my move,” said Collin, who last year lost in the first round of his junior season UCT experience. “I knew I had to score more.”

This was the first time in four years that the UCT was in Union’s Louis J. Rettino gymnasium. In 2021, there was no UCT because of the COVID-19 pandemic; in 2022, it was at Arthur L. Johnson High School; and in 2023, at Kean University, while Union’s gym was being rebuilt after the torrential flooding that took place in September 2021.

“To win this in our own home gym makes it that much sweeter,” Collin said.

Collin rebounded from last year’s early UCT exit to advance to Region 4 competition at Union after placing second in districts. Against Acinapura, he said he wanted to “push the pace.”

“The winner of college matches knows how to control the pace,” Collin said.

Also a very bright student, Collin disclosed that he plans on majoring in pharmaceutical studies in college and that he may continue wrestling on a club level, depending at which school he enrolls.

For now, Collin is enjoying quite a senior season. He began the week with a record of 20-3, including three wins in three matches on Saturday, Jan. 20, and placed third in tournaments at Dover and Parsippany Hills.

“Dan provides outstanding leadership,” DeBellonia said. “He had one goal today and that was to win this tournament.”

Union began the week with an improved record of 10-4 and placed fifth in the UCT team standings with 91 points.

Cranford High School won the UCT for a record ninth straight time with 223.5 points. Governor Livingston High School, second for the third year in a row, finished with 217 points. Rahway High School was third with 139 points and Arthur L. Johnson fourth with 112.

Union had one other wrestler reach a UCT championship bout: sophomore Ariel Azeredo, who advanced to the 138-pound final, after producing two prior victories. In the championship bout against New Providence High School sophomore Braedon Valley, it went right down to the end of the third period before Valley prevailed by a 7-5 score.

Collin seeks to get back to back to Region 4 later this year and, again, improve on his performance from a year ago. That would be qualifying for the NJSIAA Tournament in Atlantic City.

“Dan is very athletic and very powerful,” DeBellonia said.

“Coach D is a very fundamental coach with a solid training regimen,” Collin said. “This is where I want to be. I’m now reaping the benefits.”

Union County Coach of the Year
Dan Garay, Rahway

Rahway was 12-0 last week before falling to Cranford. Garay has done a solid job at Rahway, following in the footsteps of prior head coaches Anthony Reinoso and Fred Stueber, with Stueber still at Rahway as an assistant to Garay. Reinoso is the head coach at Linden High School. Garay graduated from Rahway in 2001 and in his senior season of 2000-2001 went 33-0, including Region 3 and NJSIAA Tournament state championships. In the same way as at Rahway, Garay went on to become a standout in football and wrestling at Hofstra University.

T. Ralph “Pug” Williams Award
Angelo and Nancy Zuena of Union

They are the parents of Nick Zuena, a UCT champ as a senior in 2017 for the Union Farmers. “They were very instrumental in running the booster club and coaching the rec program here in Union,” said DeBellonia, who is now in his 15th season as the head coach at Union.

Union UCT champions under head coach Dino DeBellonia

2024: Dan Collin, senior, 175 pounds
2017: Nick Zuena, senior, 152 pounds

Photos by JR Parachini and Kristin Nunez