A little of this and a little of that as we wrap up the NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championships.
A quick look at how Region VI did in the tournament would indicate it did not do well.
Region VI had only one champion, B.J. Clagon of Toms River South, who won his second state title with a dramatic 2-1 win over South Plainfield’s Troy Heilmann in the 145-pound final. Region VI had only one other finalist in Toms River South’s Kevin Corrigan at 113 pounds.
However, a look at the final medal chart shows Region VI held its own.
Region VI’s 15 medalists were tied for third with Region II among the eight regions. Region III led the way with 17 medalists. Region V was next with 16 medalists. Region VII had 14 medalists, Region IV had 13 medalists, Region I had 12 medalists and Region VIII had 10 medalists.
Region II, which had four finalists from Don Bosco Prep and two champions each from Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic, definitely had the most top-of-the-podium firepower. That region had five champions and seven finalists.
Region V had just one champion in Bound Brook’s Craig De La Cruz (120), but had six finalists. Region III, which had two champions from South Plainfield in the immortal four-time state champion and unbeaten-for-his-career Anthony Ashnault (138) and Scott DelVecchio (132) and four finalists from South Plainfield, had five finalists.
But, in some alarming news for Region VI, 11 medalists, including Clagon, Corrigan, Toms River East’s Rich Lewis, who was third at 138, and Manalapan’s John Appice, who was third at heavyweight, are seniors.
Region VI’s only returning medalists are sophomores Mike Russo of Jackson Liberty (fourth at 106), who is his school’s highest state placewinner; Nasiyr Brown of Neptune (eighth at 113), Zach Hertling of Ocean (fourth at 132), and junior Nick Costa of Brick Memorial (seventh at 182).
Of Region VI’s 42 state qualifiers, 22 were seniors, including all three at 145, 170 and heavyweight.
The NJSIAA’s decision this year to institute an additional wrestleback round for the losers of the preliminary round involving the region runners-up and region third-place finishers resulted in six wrestlers earning state medals who would not have in the past.
In past years, the losers of the preliminary round were eliminated from the tournament.
Those who were able to bounce back from a preliminary-round loss and earn a medal were Hanover Park’s Genaro Cuccolo (fourth at 126); Brick Memorial’s Matt Moore (fourth at 195); Brick Memorial’s Tyler Richardson (sixth at 170); St. Peter’s Prep’s Jordan Fox (sixth at 182); Wayne Valley’s Anthony Landberg (seventh at 195); and Lenape Valley’s Peter Lipari (eighth at 120).
Interestingly, St. Joseph of Montvale’s Dominic Carfagno, who pinned Moore in the preliminary round, did not medal.
While we have no problem with those who lose in the preliminary round getting a chance to wrestleback to as high as third, we do think the way the matchups of the first-round wrestlebacks are set up needs to be at least looked at.
The first wrestleback round pitted those wrestlers who had lost in the pre-quarterfinals, or the round of 16, against those who had lost in the preliminary round, or the round of 24. That means wrestlers who had either advanced into the pre-quarterfinals because they were a region champion or had won their preliminary-round bout were pitted against wrestlers who had not even advanced in the tournament yet.
The fix is not easy because there are only 24 wrestlers in each weight class and the brackets are set up as 32-man brackets, but somehow the solution, in our opinion, should be to have the preliminary-round losers wrestle against each other first before they earn the right to wrestle someone who got knocked into the wrestlebacks from a round ahead in the winner’s bracket.
And while we are at it, we would love to see a system, using the seeding criteria that is used now and still giving region champions a bye into the pre-quarterfinals, where the state tournament is seeded straight 1-24. It would be interesting to see if more head-to-head results came into play under a 1-24 straight seeding system.
And if wrestlers from the same region got pitted against each other in the early stages of the tournament, so be it. It happens in the wrestlebacks anyway. And wrestlers from the same district get matched up against each other in the early stages of the region tournament, so why should the state tournament be different?
Wrestling fans are among the best there is when it comes to celebrating a great achievement. The standing ovation Ashnault received from the sellout crowd of 11,149 after his hard-earned 4-2 win over Hunterdon Central’s Gary Dinmore sent the chills down the spine.
It is not the first time this has happened either. Delbarton’s Mike Grey and Bound Brook’s Andrew Campolattano received similar ovations when they won their fourth state championship, as did Jackson Memorial’s Scott Winston when he concluded his 137-0 career that included three state championships.
Also, kudos to both Dinmore and Lewis for making Ashnault really earn it in both the final and the semifinal.