Nicky Meglino was bitten by the wrestling bug 10 years ago. On Saturday he actually got bitten during wrestling.
In the New York State Division 2 finals, No. 3 seed Meglino trailed top seed Ross McFarland of Section 3 Phoenix 2-0 heading into the second period at the Times Union Center in Albany. With both wrestlers now at 182 pounds, Meglino was trying to avenge last year’s 170-pound state quarterfinals loss to McFarland, who went on to win that state title.
In the rematch, meet medical and rules officials ruled that McFarland bit Meglino’s finger between the top two knuckles, a “flagrant misconduct,” which led to an automatic disqualification. Meglino was suddenly and unceremoniously crowned champion, much to the dismay of both sides.
“There were teeth marks on both sides of his finger and the skin was broken, verified by the official,” Edgemont coach Pete Jacobson said. “Unfortunately there is no leeway there. The official has to call for a flagrant misconduct when there is evidence of biting, so it results in a disqualification. It’s really tough. No one wanted that. I think the thing most upsetting for Nick in this whole thing is not getting the opportunity to win the match on the mat.”
Jacobson said he would like to believe McFarland didn’t bite Meglino on purpose. “It’s unfortunate the rules are such that there’s no flexibility there,” he said. “There’s no option to continue even if we wanted to do so, which we did.”
The two points Meglino let up at the end of the first period were a mental mistake and McFarland got the takedown. Still, Meglino felt he wrestled a strong first period.
Meglino said the two “got in a weird position” and with Meglino seeing an opportunity to turn his opponent, he went for the chin for a cradle. That’s when the bite happened as at least one of Meglino’s fingers got inside McFarland’s mouth. Meglino couldn’t help but react by pulling his hand away, shaking it and screaming, which led to a stoppage. The match never started again.
“I didn’t intentionally stick my finger in his mouth,” Meglino said. “I also don’t think he intentionally bit me. It’s a hard one. I’m sure no one in the crowd or on the mat wanted the match to end that way. But it did and that’s unfortunate.”
Had he known the match would be stopped for good, Meglino said he’d have done his best to mask what had happened.
“I knew I was better than him and I wanted to prove that to everyone else,” Meglino said. “I would’ve much rather wrestled hard the rest of the match and lost than come away with a win in that fashion.”
From the half match that was wrestled, Jacobson was impressed with Meglino as he faced “a great wrestler” whose lone loss prior to states was by medical forfeit.
“Nick was right there with him and it was such a clear cut demonstration of how much improvement Nick has made,” Jacobson said.
At the Times Union Center and online, Meglino has been under attack, but his coach and first-year Edgemont principal Kyle Hosier say anyone who actually knows Meglino knows he would never intentionally stick his finger in an opponents mouth, overstate an injury or take any shortcut to victory. Meglino, after all, had been named Section 1’s state Sportsmanship Award winner prior to the start of the competition.
Hosier believes both wrestlers were caught in the middle of a tough situation, but he can only speak for Meglino, whom he has gotten to know this school year.
“Anyone that knows Nick loves Nick and knows the type of character he has,” Hosier said. “He is such an outstanding young man, so it’s not surprising the characteristics and traits that make him such an excellent person are the same characteristics that make him an excellent wrestler.”
Video from Syracuse.com and photos on Twitter from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association show the lack of enthusiasm on Meglino’s face as he was trying to process what had happened during and after the incident. Being back home and in a supportive environment this week, Meglino is starting to come to grips with the fact that he can’t change what happened.
“I’m starting to take more pride not necessarily in that win, but how I did wrestle in that match,” Meglino said. “I think I wrestled the best tournament of my life Friday and Saturday. Like everyone said, it’s not about that one match — it’s about all the work that leads up to that match. I’m taking more pride in that now.”
Meglino hasn’t paid attention to the negative attention his match garnered, though he still has not celebrated being Edgemont’s third state champion, following in the singlets of Trey Aslanian (2013) and Cliffton Wang (2017), who also won as seniors.
Hosier has been impressed with what Jacobson and his assistant coaches have built in the wrestling room on and off the mat, where wrestling is the medium for helping student-athletes realize their potential in life.
Understanding the conflict Meglino has faced, Hosier told Meglino, “All those 10 years put you where you are now to be a state champion and I think that should be celebrated.”
Getting to the finals
The two weeks spent working with his coaches and other state wrestlers throughout Section 1 in preparation for states was the best two weeks of the season for Meglino. Though he wishes he had teammates there with him, the several coaches-on-one attention was key to his continued success.
“The effort he put in the last two weeks was amazing and he was really able to jump levels because of the individual attention, the focused and pointed attention based on the competition he’d be seeing,” Jacobson said. “His success was largely based on the last four months, the last four years, the last 10 years. That’s when he did the things that got him in this position.”
Edgemont’s coaches had all of the competition thoroughly scouted, so there would be very few surprises, if any, at states. For McFarland in particular, Meglino knew what to expect.
“My coaches try to imitate his style and really give me his feel, so Pete was telling me I beat him 12 times these past two weeks,” Meglino said. “I just had to show what I had been practicing.”
The finals wasn’t the only tough match for Meglino at states. It took three wins to get there.
In the first round Meglino won a 15-0 technical fall, a good way to shake off the nerves and get in a workout.
The quarterfinals offered a challenge as Meglino lost a 6-2 lead when his opponent turned him and put him on his back to tie the score at 6-6.
“I wasn’t expecting the takedown and the two backs there and I had to kick it into another gear,” Meglino said.
Meglino buckled down and went on to win 11-8.
“He was able to fight off his back when he was in real jeopardy of being pinned,” Jacobson said. “He just showed the grit he’s show throughout his whole career. He fought off his back and kept wrestling.”
Meglino automatically earned All-State by advancing to semifinals the next day. Reaching the semifinals was a big step after losing in the quarters the previous year.
“It was pretty exciting because you place that night — you don’t have to go into the blood round the next morning,” Meglino said. “That night’s sleep is the most important because if you don’t sleep that night you have a hard time the next day. That satisfaction really helped me sleep.”
In the semifinals, Meglino trailed 4-0 against second seed Anthony Rasmussen. That was the score heading into the final minute of the match.
Trailing “didn’t phase him,” according to Jacobson. “He knew exactly what he needed to do… He had a plan ahead of time. That’s something else we worked on ahead of time.”
With a takedown and back points, Meglino was able to win the match 5-4.
“I was down by four, so the technique kind of goes out the window, not completely, but for the most part,” Meglino said. “I just dove at his leg just hoping to grab onto something, and I did. He got into a weird scramble position and I got him onto his back and I just held him there for five seconds and got the takedown and three backs.”
Meglino got through the final 20 seconds without giving up a point, including one final time from the top position with seven seconds left. “I just squeezed him for the last seven seconds hoping he didn’t escape,” Meglino said. “That was the most emotion I’ve ever had after a match.”
The satisfaction of staying true to what got Meglino to this point was felt by everyone in his corner.
“He was pretty happy coming off the mat because I can’t express enough he’s all about the process and I think what he was most fired up about coming off the mat is not necessarily that he won, but he was able to be so locked in that despite the score going into that last minute he knew what to do and he executed,” Jacobson said.
For Jacobson, there is no doubt that Meglino’s legacy remains the same now as it did a week ago. Meglino ends his Edgemont career with two Section 1 titles, a state title, a record of 108-39 and honors including the Con Ed Award and the Sportsmanship Award from states.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great kids come through our program, but Nick Meglino is one of the best leaders and one of the most high character, high integrity kids I’ve ever coached,” Jacobson said. “There’s no one out there that’s ever said a bad word about Nick. He’s an amazing leader, an amazing person, one of those empathetic wrestlers who cares about other people. It’s going to be a big loss to our program, not necessarily from a wrestling standpoint.”
NEW YORK STATE DIVISION 2 CHAMPIONSHIPS
Opening Round: Meglino def. Mark Mullen (senior, SVEC-4) 15-0 tech fall 5:32.
Quarterfinals: Meglino def. No. 6 Blake Ilges (senior, Canisteo-Greenwood-5) 11-8.
Semifinals: Meglino def. No. 2 Anthony Rasmussen (junior, South Jefferson-Sandy Cre-3) 5-4.
Finals: Meglino def. No. 1 Ross McFarland (senior, Phoenix-3) by DQ.