After dismantling his opponent in Saturday’s NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championship semifinals, East Brunswick High School senior Jonathan Schleifer walked off the mats at Boardwalk Hall with a look of sheer determination.
Clearly a man on a mission, Schleifer stared straight ahead, unintentionally oblivious to some of the hands extended to offer congratulations.
The 160-pounder, who finished second in the weight class a year ago to Roxbury’s Dillon Artigliere, is the lone Greater Middlesex Conference wrestler to reach the prestigious NJSIAA championship.
“A lot of people are rooting for Jon in the GMC,” East Brunswick head coach Matt Pazinko said. “A lot of people are coming up to me saying what a nice kid he is and how hard he works and how much he really deserves this. I agree with them.
“Jon is the favorite to win and hopefully he can come through and show that GMC wrestling may not be as strong, but we are still something to be reckoned with.”
Monroe’s Sal Profaci (126) and Edison’s Billy Povolac (138) are still in contention for a third-place medal, while Woodrbidge’s Bobby Jordan (113) will wrestle for seventh.
Schleifer will be joined in the finals by Franklin’s Ralph Normandia, who will battle Montgomery’s Anthony Cassar for the 195-pound title in the fourth meeting of the season between the two, the three previous of which Cassar has won.
Schleifer placed eighth in the state at 145 pounds as a freshman and third in the state at 152 pounds as a sophomore.
This season, however, he is wrestling on a completely different level with almost machine-like precision and intensity.
“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about him as a machine,” Pazinko said, “because he’s just so focused and he’s just so relentless. No matter what his opponent does, he has an answer for it and he is just constantly going after him.
“Jon is just on a different level. It just doesn’t matter what you throw at him. He’s seen it before and he can feel it while it’s coming. He’s just a really instinctual wrestler and he just really knows what’s going on out there.”
Schleifer, who has only yielded three escape points throughout the entire tournament, pinned Jackson Liberty’s Tim Liquori in the pre-quarterfinal in 3:18.
He advanced to the finals with a 10-1 major decision over Bergen Catholic’s Jordan Pagano and a 15-2 major decision over Howell’s Joey Schultz.
Owner of a 39-0 record, Schleifer, a four-time region champion, will face Bound Brook’s Josh Ugalde in today’s finals, which begin at 3 p.m.
Schleifer scored an 8-4 decision over Ugalde in last weekend’s Region V final.
East Brunswick’s coaching staff videotaped Ugalde’s 7-3 state semifinal win over Riverside’s Christian Stackhouse and planned to review the film Saturday night to see if Ugalde altered his style in the last few days.
“When we watch, we look at tendencies an opponent might have,” Pazinko said. “What foot they are going to lead with, what side they like to shoot to, what’s the first move from bottom, what’s the first move from top. We try to look at what’s there, so we prepare for it when gets out on the mat.”
Pazinko, however, said Schleifer, who will take his 4.31 cumulative grade-point average to Princeton University in the fall, is so intelligent that he is “prepared for almost anything.”
“Over the last three years Jon hasn’t lost to anybody who hasn’t been a state finalist. He’s just on that level. He’s been wrestling there all year, and if you are not a state finalist, it just feels like he has your number.”