ATHLETE OF THE WEEK

NB’s Pace: Queen of the mats

North Bergen junior wrestler/softball player Amanda Pace, who attends High Tech
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North Bergen junior wrestler/softball player Amanda Pace, who attends High Tech

Needless to say, it’s a crazy, whacky, mixed up time for Amanda Pace.

The High Tech High School junior, who wrestles and plays softball for North Bergen, is in the midst of the wrestling season that is culminating this weekend at the NJSIAA girls’ state championships in Phillipsburg.

This is all taking place while the Bruins are beginning their scrimmage schedule, preparing to begin the softball season that will see the first pitch being thrown next week.

Obviously, Pace cannot be in two places at once, so she will concentrate on her wrestling moves this week and once the state championships are over, she will put the head gear and singlet away for the time being and head back to softball workouts.

When Pace was asked about her emotions prior to the state wrestling championships, she didn’t utter a packaged answer.

“Well, I’m excited, nervous, nauseous, thrilled and bummed,” Pace said.

How could anyone competing for a state championship of any kind be upset?

“Well, I’m bummed because it’s over,” Pace said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the wrestling season was moved to this hybrid campaign lodged between the end of winter seasons in late February and the beginning of the spring in April. It was a six-week truncated campaign that really didn’t allow wrestlers to get in their best condition, but it was something.

“With the short season, I didn’t know how things would turn out,” Pace said. “I only started training [at Cordoba Training in Fairfield] a month before we started. It had been a long time since I wrestled. I did maybe two or three tournaments over the summer, but that was it.”

Pace decided to move up a weight class this season to 180 pounds because of COVID.

“I decided that I was just going to wrestle the way I wanted to wrestle,” Pace said.

Last week, Pace competed at the NJSIAA North regional at Union High School, determined to make this shortened season memorable. Pace pinned Esther Gracia of West Orange in 1:37 and then pinned Maria Taseva of Elmwood Park in the finals in 3:21, winning her second regional gold medal in three years.

For her gold-medal winning performance at the North regional, Pace has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“Honestly, winning this time made me feel a lot better about myself,” Pace said. “With the short season, I just had to wake up and do what I knew I had to do.”

Pace is tired of being the bridesmaid in state wrestling. She’s competed in the state tournament twice before this season – and finished second in the state twice.

“Second place feels disgusting,” said Pace, who carries a 3.9 grade point average at High Tech. “I’m tired of second place. I refuse to do anything else but win this time. I refuse to lose this time.”

Pace has been diligently drilling with some male wrestlers who are lighter in weight and are quicker than Pace, as well as New Jersey City University’s Sandy Guerrero, who recently earned NCAA Division III All-America status for finishing eighth in the D-III nationals.

“It’s been a good change for me,” Pace said. “I’ve learned a lot since last year. Sandy is a little bigger than me and the guys are lighter, so it all balances out.”

Pace has been practicing both with the North Bergen boys and the wrestlers at Cordoba Trained, headed by former state high school champion David Cordoba of Kearny.

“I was always someone who worked either from the top or the bottom,” Pace said. “I do not like wrestling from [the] neutral [position, which is standing]. I told Dave [Cordoba] right off the bat that wrestling from neutral is not my expertise. But he’s made me feel more comfortable in the neutral and that has helped me.”

What has also helped Pace is the time of year.

“Actually, I like the new season better,” Pace said. “The wrestling room is hotter, so that’s good. I’m able to go outside and do conditioning work, so that helps. It gives the sport a change of scenery that’s nice.”

Veteran North Bergen head wrestling coach and athletic director Jerry Maietta knows that Pace is on a mission this season.

“I wasn’t concerned with her higher weight this year,” Maietta said. “Once we knew we were going to have a season, I knew that she would be able to make the adjustments. The better wrestlers put in the extra time, going to clubs. That’s what Amanda did. Her goal is to win that elusive state championship and she has a good shot. She’s a student of wrestling. She watches old matches and asks questions.”

And Pace has become a role model for other girls in North Bergen who aspire to become wrestlers.

“She’s great with the younger kids,” Maietta said. “We have other younger girls in the room and she’s great helping them.”

Pace knows that the competitors get tougher this weekend. The other top seed is South regional champion Hannah Dahl of Pennsauken, but Pace believes her stiffest competition will come from Kelly Borbor of New Brunswick, whom Pace feels was slighted in her South regional competition.

“She was winning the match, then got caught,” Pace said of Borbor. “I think facing her will be my biggest match, but it’s anybody’s guess who will win. I know it’s going to be a long, rough day for me Saturday.”

Pace hopes to attend veterinary school when her high school days are over next year. For now, she has big goals.

“Maybe it’s sufficed to say that I set a yellow brick road to a state championship,” Pace said.

But is the yellow the same gold that is featured on North Bergen’s uniforms?

“I never thought of it that way,” Pace said.

Pace is all set to return to softball practice once the wrestling season is completed this weekend. Pace is an excellent pitcher who also carries a potent bat for head coach Shawn Stacevicz, who is obviously anxious to get his star hurler back Monday when the Bruins are expected to host a scrimmage.

“I would want to pitch,” Pace said. “I have to make sure my arm’s still got it. He [Stacevicz] will kill me if I wasn’t there.”

Preparing for this hybrid of a wrestling season certainly wasn’t easy.

“The entire season was difficult for everyone,” Maietta said. “There’s a lot that went into just having a season. I think the kids all knew that they were just a phone call away from having the whole thing shut down.”

Pace knows her destiny is at hand.

“I know that this could be a very good area for [college] scholarships,” Pace said. “I have to physically show that I belong there. I’m willing to give it my all to make sure I don’t come in second place again.”

State champion Amanda Pace of North Bergen – it has a nice ring to it. – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com