With broken hand, sophomore wins first state wrestling title in SJV history

By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor

St. John Vianney sophomore Dean Peterson celebrates winning a NJSIAA State Championships title March 2 in Atlantic City. John Blaine photo
St. John Vianney sophomore Dean Peterson celebrates winning a NJSIAA State Championships title March 2 in Atlantic City. John Blaine photo

When is sleeping more difficult than wrestling?

If you’re Dean Peterson, it’s when you have a broken hand.

On March 2, the St. John Vianney sophomore won the 113-pound title at the NJSIAA State Championships in the Atlantic City Convention Center. One day earlier in the pre-quarterfinals, the Holmdel school student broke his right hand en route to taking a 9-2 decision over Westwood’s Ethan Fernandez. 

It was familiar territory for Peterson, who broke his left hand at age 8 and still went out to Nevada to win the Reno Worlds championship.

“I was like, ‘I did this before, I could do it again,’” he said.

And so he did, by taking a 12-1 major decision over Pingry’s Brandon Spellman in the quarters, a 7-2 decision over Delbarton’s Nicholas Nardone in the semis, and a 3-2 win over Emerson-Park Ridge’s Nick Babin in the championship bout.

Surprisingly, doing all that was easier than getting a solid eight hours of sack time.

“It actually affected how I slept,” said Peterson, who was top seeded in his bracket. “I really couldn’t sleep that much. I’d wake up just in pain. When I wrestled, I just wrapped it up and the adrenaline got me through it.”

He kept himself quite busy at the states, as all of his matches went the full six minutes.

He noted that his match with the surprising Babin, who was a seventh seed, was his toughest. He took a quick 3-0 lead and then wrestled defensively to hold on for the victory.

“Babin is a very funky wrestler,” Peterson said. “When you get on his legs, there’s no guarantee you’re gonna score. I knew he didn’t have a lot of offense; I knew once I got out in the lead, I could probably hold it.”

Once the final whistle blew and Peterson’s arm was raised in victory, it wiped out a full year of frustration after he lost in the state final as a freshman.

“It was surreal, it was almost unbelievable, like I can’t believe that just happened –am I dreaming?” Peterson said. “Up until I won it, I still had nightmares about that [championship match] and losing it. … You work so hard, and then you fall one step short; it’s just not a good feeling. I used it as motivation.”

Peterson finds another form of motivation as well. He attends St. Mary Parish in his hometown of Barnegat and spends time reading the Bible.

“I just use it to get closer to God,” he said. “Obviously, without him there’d be no wrestling, there’d be no state championship right now.”

As it is, he is considered by SJV’s veteran Hall of Fame coach Denny D’Andrea as one of the top wrestlers he has ever had.

“That’s a great honor,” said Peterson, who finished the season 35-0 and has just two losses in his high school career. “Especially after how many wrestlers he has had that were just amazing.”

That’s the kind of comparisons one might draw when they become the first wrestling state champion in the school’s 46-year history. Making such history sometimes takes years to sink in, but Peterson is loving life in the present. 

“I’m enjoying the moment,” he said. “I remember how I felt last year and how I feel now, and it’s just totally opposite.”

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