UNION TOWNSHIP (Union)
While the much-anticipated third meeting between South Plainfield High School senior wrestler and District 12 champ Corey Stasenko and Watchung Hills junior and reigning state champion Matt Magaldo certainly didn’t disappoint as the headline bout of Saturday’s final day of the Region 3 Tournament at Union High School, it certainly wasn’t the lone highlight for the Tigers or the five other local squads looking to punch tickets for the state meet next weekend in Atlantic City.
Stasenko was one of five South Plainfield wrestlers to claim region crowns Saturday, and one of eight locals who won titles, while nine other area grapplers locked up their trips to Boardwalk Hall.
Stasenko started strong in the 126-pound showdown, earning a 2-0 lead on a first-round takedown and taking a 4-1 advantage into the third period before finishing with a 5-2 victory.
Stasenko, who lost to Magaldo in the Morris Knolls Tournament before making it two straight victories against the junior the past two weekends, isn’t really concerned whether this second win legitimizes the first, considering Magaldo has two state-finals appearances, including a championship at 120 last season, while Stasenko hadn’t won a district or regional title prior to this year and has never finished higher than sixth in Atlantic City.
“I don’t really care how other people feel,” Stasenko said. “I know that I can do what my goals are and that is to be a state champ. I’m getting better every week, like you saw tonight. I’ve just got to wrestle perfect. I’m wrestling the same way that I have all year. I’m just working hard and it’s starting to work now.”
In all, nine South Plainfield wrestlers advanced, including 132-pound champ Scott DelVecchio and 152-pound winner Dylan Painton, both of whom won by decision. Joining them are two-time state runner-up Troy Heilmann, who won by fall in 1:57 at 145, and 138-pounder Anthony Ashnault, who pinned Watchung Hills’ Matt Coppola in 4:40 in the final and takes a perfect 166-0 career record to Boardwalk Hall. Ashnault will vie to become just the third wrestler in New Jersey history to win four state championships.
Watchung Hills ranks second among area teams in total wrestlers to advance from Region 3, as Magaldo and Coppola join 170-pound runner-up Mike Carroccia, who lost a 7-2 decision in the 170-pound final.
Three other locals won titles, including Governor Livingston’s Shane Haddad, who majored Parsippany Hills’ Nicholas D’Uva 14-4 at 195, and Westfield’s Brian Bulger, who avenged a loss to Brearley/Dayton’s Jeff Velez in the District 12 final with a 6-4 decision at 185 pounds Saturday.
“It’s revenge,” said Bulger, who fell in the opening round at Region 3 last year. “I was excited for this match all week, since districts. I was rooting for him in the semis.”
Scotch Plains-Fanwood senior heavyweight Anthony Tufaro won his second straight Region 3 crown with a 5-3 victory over Columbia’s Rodney Cenat in the final. This after Tufaro had pinned Westfield’s Kyle Kania in 1:46 during the semifinals Saturday morning. It was Kania who’d dealt Tufaro his only loss of the season, during a Dec. 19 dual meet.
“I’m very proud of it,” said Tufaro of his performance Saturday, which came after finishing eight in the state last season. “Last time he (Kania) pinned me, so I had to come out here and show everyone here who’s really coming out to win. And Rodney (Cenat) is a good wrestler, but I wanted it more.”
Other local state qualifiers include South Plainfield’s Daniel Hedden, who fell in the 113-pound final, as well as Tigers’ third-place finishers Tony Russell (220) and Inen Sikel (160).
Westfield’s Colin Barber (152) and Governor Livingston’s Jon Mele (120) also move on after finishing second, while Linden’s Nick Tekula advanced with a 4-3 decision in the 113-pound consolation final.