Lavinsky Collins came into Ewing High School thinking football was his best sport.
Instead, he became the winningest wrestler in school history by the end of his senior season.
“There’s no question in my mind, he’s the best wrestler to come through this high school,” said Ewing head coach Matt Dalessio. “I know back in ’67 there was a third-place finisher. It was a different day and age back then.”
Dalessio points out that Collins is a two-time champ with 122 wins—a school record, and he has 40 wins in a season, which is a school record in a single season.”
After going 40-5 at 152 pounds in his final year, Collins will graduate with 11 more single season wins than the old record set by Josh Garzio in 2011.
He also won titles in the Mercer County Tournament and District 22, and was a runner-up in Region 6. He scored an upset over the top seed in the state to finish fourth in the Tournament of Champions in Atlantic City.
To do so, Collins had to take a tough path that included going up against Bergen Catholic’s Gerard Angelo, the top seeded senior who is a Cornell University commit. Collins was thrilled by the prospects of taking him on from the moment he saw he had the No. 9 seed in the state tournament draw.
“When he saw the 9 seed and his part of the bracket, he said, ‘I get to wrestle the 1 seed. I’m happy with my seed,’” Dalessio said.
“We talked about it the night before and all day leading up to that match with Gerard Angelo,” Dalessio said.. “He wrestled brilliantly. He didn’t give him anything. He got his points in from bottom, and then he waited for his moment and got a takedown and carried that to the end.”
Collins shocked the Atlantic City crowd with a 3-1 sudden victory win over Angelo in overtime. It ensured him a top-four finish and memory for a lifetime.
“It was a big deal,” Collins said. “I was super hyped. I was like, this really just happened. I could hear the whole stadium go quiet after I won my match.”
Collins credited his success in part to the experience that he gained from states last year. “Last year, I was just in awe by all of it. This year, I was like, I’m used to it so I just have to go out there and wrestle.”
Dalessio could not have been prouder of the way that Collins handled himself.
“It’s probably the coolest moment that I’ve been a part of as a coach,” Dalessio said. “The crowd of 8,000-10,000 people reacted to his takedown like he hit a home run in the World Series. That’s what it felt like. I think it took him a second to realize what happened. His reaction was priceless.
‘I always work hard… Everything was paying off for me, all my hard work.’
Collins lost in the semifinals in a tight match against Cole Corrigan of Toms River South, won by forfeit over Scott Dupont of Holmdel and then came up just short in a 3-1 loss to Joe Casey of Bound Brook for third place, but earned his fourth-place medal with an impressive showing.
“I’m pretty pleased with it,” Collins said. “You always want to do more.”
That drive to do more is what pushed him through the offseason and through oftentimes two workouts a day during the season. Collins had come back from last year when he broke through at the state level to advance out of regions for the first time to the state tournament and finish 37-4. It wasn’t quite good enough for him.
“After my junior year, I wanted to get better and get on the podium,” Collins said.
To do so, Ewing tried to make sure that he was better prepared for the toughest wrestlers in the state. Collins gave praise to James Kim for pushing him in the wrestling room every day as his training partner. In matches, Dalessio moved Collins when he could in order to get the best competition.
“It helped me make sure I’m in check,” Collins said. “Last year, I was undefeated until districts. Districts is when I got someone to challenge me for the first time that year. My coach made it his goal to make sure he challenges me during the year. He always gave me the harder matches to wrestle.”
He lost on the very first weekend at the Ewing Tournament because he moved up to take on Ethan Craft, the 170-pounder from Rancocas Valley. He was lighter than Dupont when he lost to him at 160-pounds when they met in early January.
“He didn’t necessarily get the competition in Mercer County that he should,” Dalessio said. “Through it, we always kept positive, reminded him after the tough losses that, ‘Your goal wasn’t to win this match. It’s to be on the podium at states so keep on working.’ We used it to get him better and he constantly had that mindset that he wanted to be on the podium at states and wanted to get better each day. He wrestled a tougher schedule and he had that focus and knew what he wanted.”
Said Collins: “I always had confidence in myself that I can be as good as I want to be. I always work hard. I do the most in our wrestling room. I go to two practices almost every day. Everything was paying off for me, all my hard work.”
The work helped to transform Collins into a more complete wrestler. His improved conditioning this year was the biggest change.
“He did everything he was supposed to do winning the county title again, and in districts against Xavier Kelly, Xavier wanted to tire him out because the M.O. on Lavinsky was keep it tight and push him in the third period and that’s when you could get him,” Dalessio said.
“There was no getting him in the third period this year,” the coach said. “That’s when he went after it. He attacked. He had a motor that wouldn’t stop going forward in the third period. That just comes from him pushing himself when we run stairs, when we’re in the room, going to club wrestling three and four nights a week, that just got him ready to go.”
It built Collins into a dominant wrestler from a relatively humble beginning. He started wrestling when he was 8 years old, and wrestled for two years win the Trenton recreation program before picking up wrestling for Ewing at Fisher Middle School. Now he is debating where to pursue his college career with Rider and Nebraska already accepting him.
“I didn’t think about being that good of a wrestler until my freshman year,” Collins said. “I didn’t know about states or anything. The years before I was doing wrestling for fun. I was thinking football was my main sport, and then I figured out wrestling was.”
Ewing is hoping that others can follow his lead. He is an inspiration to young Ewing wrestlers.
“Last year, in the offseason I had Lavinsky as the only club wrestler,” Dalessio said. “This year, I know I already have six kids doing club wrestling. They see the results. It might not be the extent that Lavinsky saw success because they’re starting a little late, but they understand if you put this work in good things will happen.”