Barnegat Resident Dean Peterson on Pace to Become St. John Vianney’s Best Wrestler

By DAVID BIGGY | Mar 20, 2019
Courtesy of: Richard O’Donnell Photography St. John Vianney wrestler and Barnegat resident Dean Peterson celebrates after capturing the 113-pound state title during the NJSIAA Championships on March 2.

Dean Peterson is well on his way toward becoming one of St. John Vianney High School’s best wrestlers in the program’s history. If he continues the torrent pace he’s established the past two seasons, the 16-year-old from Barnegat will be the Lancers’ best ever.

“I’m going to go into my last two seasons with the same mentality I’ve had for the first two,” said Peterson, a sophomore who on March 2 scored a 3-2 victory over Emerson/Park Ridge’s Nick Babin to win the NJSIAA 113-pound championship, becoming St. John Vianney’s first-ever state champ.

“The goal every season is to get out on the mat, score points and win as many matches as possible for my team and myself. For the next two seasons, my goals are to help my team go to the next level and put myself in a position to win multiple state titles and be a part of an elite group of wrestlers.”

Wrestling since the age of 4, Peterson grew up dreaming of becoming a state champion four times, a la Mike Grey, Andrew Compolattano, Anthony Ashnault and Nick Suriano. But after losing a 6-3 decision in last year’s 106-pound title bout to Hanover Park’s Joey Olivieri, Peterson had to regroup and go forward knowing he still could become part of a special group of three-time state champs – of which there are 27 as of the conclusion of this season.

“It’s definitely a motivation for me,” he said. “I’m not going to be a four-time champ, but I can still be a three-time champ, and it would be really nice to be on that list. Winning a state title was always one of my goals, and if I could have won four that would have been ideal. But since I can’t accomplish that, I’ll keep going after the next-best thing.”

After becoming Vianney’s first state finalist while going 36-2 as a freshman last season, Peterson returned to the Holmdel school’s squad and was thrust into a team captain role.

“I was OK with being in that role,” he said. “It was a bit strange being a captain as a sophomore, but I felt like I was able to help elevate the team to another level. It’s hard being a captain as a sophomore because a lot of older guys don’t really want to listen to a younger guy, but it worked out. We were successful, but we have room to grow and get better.”

While helping to lead the Lancers to a 9-4 overall record as well as a third-place finish in the District 17 tournament, Peterson maintained a winning streak for the entire season, going undefeated at 35-0 with 17 pins. He went into the individual state tournament as the top-seeded wrestler at 113.

Peterson blazed a path to the final with 9-0, 9-2, 12-1 and 7-2 victories before edging Babin, who Peterson knocked off in last year’s 106-pound quarterfinals, 2-1. Facing Babin in Boardwalk Hall for the title wasn’t as close as the score indicated, he said.

“I felt like I was more in control than when I faced him last year,” Peterson said. “And I think I was in his head a little bit, because I had beaten him before. I got a 3-0 lead and I was confident, given my offensive ability and strength on defense, that I could hold him. He scored a couple later in the match, but I knew he wouldn’t get any more.”

Peterson said the biggest difference between his state runner-up finish a year ago and this year’s state title run was his mindset.

“After I lost last year, I had a lot to think about and mentally toughen up,” he said. “This whole season, I was more mentally prepared to win. I cut weight better. I ate a lot better. I did a lot of things different because of my mentality. And instead of trying not to lose matches, I was more focused on wrestling to win matches.”

And so begins the journey of going after a second state crown next season, followed by another in 2021.

“It’s really surreal, even a couple of weeks later,” he said. “I still can’t believe it happened. The school’s been around for over 50 years and to be the first state champion is amazing. It still blows my mind.

“When I went to school the following Monday it was like everybody in the whole school came up to me to congratulate me. It was crazy. People I didn’t even know where coming up to me to talk about it. It was really cool.”

Of course, not only is becoming a three-time champion at Vianney a realistic possibility, but Peterson is on pace to be the Lancers’ career leader in victories. With a 71-2 record through two seasons, Anthony Castro’s 123 career wins – which has stood as the school record since 2004 – looks to be in jeopardy.

Beyond high school, Peterson certainly has bigger dreams. Besides studying to someday be a doctor, he wants to wrestle in college and possibly make a run at a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, much like his favorite wrestler, Jersey native Jordan Burroughs.

“The way he holds himself and how he stays humble is insane,” said Peterson, who is open to the possibility of following his older brother, Charlie, to Rider University or ending up in some other Division I program. “Burroughs is one of the best wrestlers to come out of New Jersey. But that’s the thing – New Jersey is one of the best wrestling states in the country, with a lot of great wrestlers, and that gives me a lot of confidence to pursue my biggest goals, knowing that I have a solid foundation by wrestling here.”

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