Joey Lamparelli wore the same half smile all night at Allentown High School on Jan. 23.
He wore it when he walked out for introductions prior to the match, when he watched his Redbird wrestling teammates for over an hour and then when he strutted out for his own match, shortly after 6:30 p.m.
It was almost like he knew.
In his 126-pound bout against Hightstown High School’s Liam O’Donnell, Lamparelli took O’Donnell down twice in the first period. But he relented both times and kept the match going. The junior would later say he had more to work on.
Then, in the second period, Lamparelli wrestled O’Donnell to the mat, locked his arms behind his back and held him down for the pin.
The referee called the match. Lamparelli stood up, still half smiling, and then bent over to rip off his ankle pad. The ref held up his hand and then Lamparelli shook hands with O’Donnell.
He was about to walk off when his coaches and teammates hustled out onto the mat to stop him. Then the public address announcer said it: “We would now like to stop this match to recognize Joey Lamparelli’s 100th career victory!”
Lamparelli accepted a plaque and posed for pictures with his coaches, teammates and family members. He was still wearing the same half smile.
The junior definitely knew.
The stout 126-pounder became just the fifth Allentown wrestler to win 100 career matches. He also reached 100 victories faster than any other wrestler in Mercer County history.
With plenty of season left this winter, and a whole senior season coming up next winter, Lamparelli is on track to break Allentown’s program record of 117 victories, too. Ross Scheuerman, a 2011 Allentown graduate, holds that record.
“It feels pretty good. I knew my goal was just to go out there and get points for the team. I didn’t really feel much pressure even though it’s a big night for me,” Lamparelli said. “Usually in big matches I just pace around and that zones me out. I literally just walk back and forth, don’t talk to anyone and be in myself.”
Lamparelli is an aggressive wrestler, and he attacked O’Donnell from the opening whistle on Jan. 23. He is often in position to pin opponents earlier than he actually does on the score sheet. But he likes to keep those matches going so he can work on moves.
“I don’t like having fast matches. I feel like they are a waste because I want to get my work in,” Lamparelli said. “Letting them up and continuing to take them down, it kills people mentally, too.”
On Jan. 23, after the ref blew the final whistle, Lamparelli didn’t feel any different…at least not at first.
“It was basically like every other time I win, for a second,” he said. “But then I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”
Lamparelli’s half smile turned into a full smile, and he started laughing. For a second, at least, he was not one of the best athletes in Mercer County history. He was just a kid who accomplished something awesome.
His maternal grandfather, Howard Rubinstein, saw this coming years ago.
“He just took to the sport very young,” Rubinstein said. “He would beat the majority of the kids.”
But even in an individual sport, Lamparelli is a team guy. He has eight career losses, all in individual competitions with no team matches or scores.
“Every time the team is involved, he comes up big,” said Allentown coach Mitch Nock. “The kid, he’s awesome. That’s what he is.”
Allentown beat Hightstown on Jan. 23, 37-35. Lamparelli’s fall, which came near the end of meet, helped swing the result toward the Redbirds.
With the victory, Allentown also clinched the Colonial Valley Conference’s Colonial Division championship, finishing with a 5-0 division record. The Redbirds have won the division three times in four years.
Senior John Kuchar has been a big part of that run. He won a crucial 160-pound match on Jan. 23, pinning his opponent in 1:56.
“He’s a pin guy,” Nock said. “He finds ways to get guys back and pin them, which is great for a team that’s short handed like we are.”
But the Redbirds have one more goal as the season moves toward its home stretch: win an NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament match. Allentown has not yet won a state sectional match during this four-year run.
“Maybe we can even keep advancing,” Nock said. “These kids have really come together.”
Lamparelli has even higher ambitions for the rest of the year.
He advanced to the state tournament in Atlantic City the past two years but has not yet earned a medal.
Medals are awarded to wrestlers who finish in the top eight of their weight classes.
He hopes to be on the highest podium in Atlantic City this March.
“I know I’m right there with the best kids in the state, so I’m aiming for that top podium,” said Lamparelli, who won the Region 6 title at 106 pounds last year before he went on to Atlantic City. That was his first region championship.
He also wants to break the program record this winter, not next.
“Yeah definitely,” Lamparelli said. “I think I can break it this year.”
“The home run record before Babe Ruth broke it was like 28. And then Babe Ruth got 60. He didn’t just break it. He set a brand new standard,” Nock said. “That’s what Joey might do. It’s exciting.”