Don Bosco, DePaul teammates push each other to Sam Cali titles by Sean Farrell of The Record
WEST ORANGE — No, they aren’t brothers.
But Luke Chakonis and Peter Acciardi hear that every so often because when they walk side-by-side in stride, wearing the same maroon and gray practice gear and a mop of brown hair, the resemblance is uncanny. Just one weight apart, the Don Bosco teammates are two-of-a-kind on and off the mat.
“People say we look alike,” Chakonis said.
“We’re just really close,” Acciardi added.
Those two workout partners now own identical championship belts. The Ironmen upper weights were champions just minutes apart at the inaugural Sam Cali Invitational Wrestling Tournament on Sunday. The unseeded-Chakonis topped St. Anthony’s Matt Savarese with a 6-2 decision in the 195-pound final. Then he watched moments later as the top-ranked Acciardi followed suit to win at 220, scoring a 4-2 victory against Liridon Leka of Montville.
“When you have two guys competing against each other in practice like they do, they bring their level up,” coach Tom Farinaro said. “They always say whenever there’s one good kid in the room, there’s going to be another either one weight up or one weight down.”
Don Bosco’s 1-2 punch knew each long before high school.
They first crossed paths at a wrestling tournament when Chakonis was around 5, there to see one of his older brothers go head-to-head with his current teammate.
“Eric better beat this kid,” Chakonis remembers thinking.
“And he did,” Acciardi said, with a smile.
St. Joseph earned the overall team title with 160.5 points, just ahead of St. John Vianney and Don Bosco. Championships from Garrett Beam and Brian Sidle allowed the Green Knights to win even without Bergen County champion Sammy Alvarez, who made a visit to NC State.
DePaul came in fourth with the help of its own title-winning teammates, Ricky Cabanillas and Connor O’Neill, back-to-back champions at 145 and 152 respectively. Cabanillas of Whippany and O’Neill of Watchung Hills are also longtime acquantainces, though they had seldom wrestled each other before this year. But O’Neill jumped from 120 to 152 this season and in doing so, took on the Beast of the East champion as his challenger in practice. The Spartans’ sophomore is also one of the few who can easily tell Ricky apart from his twin brother Nicky, born three minutes later.
“By the ponytail,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill didn’t have it easy against Bishop Hendricken’s Devin Rivet, a two-time state champion from Rhode Island, whose brute strength was clear to see in the early going. Rivet jumped in front with two takedowns in the opening 25 seconds, only to let O’Neill take control in the second half of the match for a 5-4 decision.
“When you’re tired, you don’t want to go with an easy kid in the room,” O’Neill said. “You want to go with the best. In that third period, when I was tired, I knew that wrestling with Ricky prepared me for that.”
Their bond isn’t much different from the one at Don Bosco, just a state finalist and a protege.
Sunday’s action showed that two wrestlers are better than one.
“We go hard in the room,” said Acciardi, a Buffalo-bound senior. “I used to go with his brother. Well, his brothers. I’m that old. We always train hard, never take it easy. And we feed off each other. When he wins, I get out there and think, I got to win now. It’s a little competition.”
“They come in every day,” Farinaro said. “They give you everything they got. They work hard so on days like today, you enjoy watching them compete. As a coach, you can’t ask for anything more.”