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Amanda Pace (center) won the 180-pound state championship in the NJSIAA girls’ wrestling tournament last weekend at Phillipsburg High School. Joining Pace are her parents, Mandy (left) and Donald (right)

Amanda Pace didn’t waste much time, when she was asked if she knew how many NJSIAA wrestling champions came from North Bergen. In fact, it was a great history lesson that Pace had at the tip of her tongue.

“Well, there’s Anthony Giraldo,” Pace said. “I’ve known him since I was a little girl. And there’s John Bott.”

Sure enough, Pace got those two correct. Bott was the first wrestler from North Bergen to get his name placed on the school’s “Wall of Wrestling State Champions,” after he won the 171-pound state title in 1982.

When it came time for Pace to name the third one, she clammed up a little.

“Well, then there’s me,” Pace said with an impish grin that could easily be seen over the telephone line without the benefit of some online streaming service. One could actually feel the proud smile coming through loud and clear over the telephone.

“I guess they have to put my name up there,” said Pace, who captured the NJSIAA girls’ state championship last Sunday with a pin over archrival Maria Taseva of Elmwood Park in 5:26 in the 180-pound classification.

Yes, they will.

“It’s really cool to be recognized with those guys,” Pace said.

Pace received congratulatory messages from both former state champs a day after the coronation.

“It felt really nice to be finally recognized for what I worked for,” Pace said. “It also feels a little weird that I’m now done.”

Pace predicted that her toughest match would come against Kerly Borbor of New Brunswick in the semifinals, a match that Pace won by a 2-0 decision.

“I said it before and it was definitely my hardest match,” Pace said. “I had to ride her out on the top position for an entire period. Both of us are very respectful of each other. We’ve been friends for a while. Both of us know each other’s moves.”

Pace also predicted that she would try to stay away from the neutral or standing position.

“I don’t like neutral,” Pace said. “It doesn’t happen often, but I held the lead. I had the fear of riding out this strong girl for two minutes. You’re never supposed to feel safe on top, but my hips are very powerful. I had control and was able to stay there.”

And that was just the semifinals.

“I was terrified before the finals,” Pace said.

After all, Pace had fallen short in the championship match in each of the last two years. She didn’t want a repeat performance.

“Before the finals, I was extremely anxious,” Pace said. “I was walking back and forth.”

Or better yet, Pace was pacing.

“I was pacing,” Pace said. “Amanda Pace was pacing. I was also afraid I was going to puke. I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t puke, don’t puke, just wrestle.’”

And that’s what Pace did. She wrestled, gained control and then with under a minute left to go, Pace gained the pin and the state title.

“I have to say that it felt like I was having a heart attack,” Pace said. “I just had to swallow my pride and go for it.”

That’s exactly what Pace did, going from the bottom position to the position of getting a pin.

“I knew I was winning,” Pace said. “I looked at the clock and it was 5:26.”

It was a special number for Pace, because 5-26 represents May 26 – the birthday of Donald Pace, Amanda’s father.

“My Dad is my rock,” Pace said. “He’s with me all the time. Sometimes, I’m too stubborn for my own good, just like my father. I am so lucky to have the amount of support I have from my family. I get support from my sister, my aunts, uncles, cousins. I have so many people supporting me since I started wrestling when I was five.”

And all of those supporting relatives had to watch her match via video stream online. The pandemic prohibited anyone other than Donald and mother Mandy Pace from being in attendance at Phillipsburg High School.

“Believe me, if my family could have been there, they would have,” Pace said. “They’ve been supporting me since grade school.”

And all of those supporting relatives had to watch her match via video stream online. The pandemic prohibited anyone other than Donald and mother Mandy Pace from being in attendance at Phillipsburg High School.

“Believe me, if my family could have been there, they would have,” Pace said. “They’ve been supporting me since grade school.”

North Bergen head wrestling coach and athletic director Jerry Maietta was thrilled to add another name to the Wall of Champions.

“She worked hard for this,” Maietta said. “At first, I think we were all happy just to have a wrestling season. One thing about wrestling and I’ve said this all the time that wrestling is like life. You get knocked down and you have to get back up. She overcame adversity and pushed through it.”

Maietta believed that Pace became a better wrestler against the girls by drilling on a daily basis with the North Bergen boys’ team.

“I think it really helped her,” Maietta said. “I think it worked to her advantage this time. She just goes with the flow. She knows what she needs to do and puts in the extra time.”

But when the wrestling season ended for Pace with a state title last weekend, she picked up her glove and cleats and headed to softball practice with the Bruins.

“That’s the way she is,” Maietta said. “She wanted to get out there and start softball season.”

Sure enough, Pace was back at softball practice on Monday.

“I was ready,” Pace said of softball. “It’s all good.”

Can Pace join her friend Giraldo as a two-time state champion from North Bergen? Pace is only a junior and plans on returning to wrestle in November.

“I don’t see why not,” Maietta said. “She’s not going to rest on her laurels. You have to earn it. She’s going to get the opportunity to represent North Bergen again.”

“Absolutely, I’m going to try to be a two-time state champ,” Pace said. “I have a chance to tie Giraldo. Wrestling is the hardest sport. There’s so much give and take. I’ve worked so hard. It’s been crazy. I wasn’t expecting to come in and be a great wrestler. In seventh and eighth grade, I was wrestling strictly against boys. But then they started girls’ wrestling and here I am. It’s just crazy.”

Maietta’s team had five wrestlers earn invitations to this weekend’s boys’ regional. Evan Cabrera (113 pounds), Nick Anderson (145 pounds), Joshua Palacios (160 pounds) and Ricky Perez (heavyweight) will also compete this weekend at Union High School with a chance to move on to the state tournament next weekend.

But the Bruins’ best chance at a medal rests on the shoulders of two-time state qualifier Justin Cantor at 138 pounds, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, but has returned this season poised for success. Only obstacle? The defending state champion Joey Olivieri of Hanover Park is in the same weight class.

Pace will be busy getting ready for the softball season. Yes, it’s crazy indeed, but such is the life of a state champion who gets her name up on the wall just like the other two.

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Listen to this week’s guest, namely former Marist High School and Monmouth University basketball standout John Giraldo of Guttenberg.

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