ATLANTIC CITY – Thomas Poklikuha realized the enormity of what he had just accomplished after he took third-place in the 145-pound weight class of the NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championships Sunday at Boardwalk Hall with a 5-4 win over Edison’s William Povalac.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” Poklikuha, a senior at Pinelands, said. “
Poklikuha, who is Pinelands’ first state placewinner since two-time state runner-up Mike Molosky in 2002, was one of five Region VI wrestlers who finished third in their respective weight classes.
He did it the hard way, too. He won six straight bouts, including the first three which were elimination bouts, after he was defeated by Hanover Park’s Christian Bassolino, 9-7, Friday night in a preliminary-round bout.
“My original plan got a little derailed in that first match.” Poklikuha said. “It means a lot to prove to myself I can come back from that and make a great run, like I did. It does amaze me.”
In his first wrestleback bout Saturday morning, against Buena’s Mason Brestle, Poklikuha was 10 seconds away from being eliminated the tournament when he got a takedown to win 5-4. He won four wrestleback bouts Saturday
“The first one after you lose is the toughest because it is such a long road,.” Poklikuha said. “The journey of a thousand steps starts with one, and that’s always the hardest one.”
On his journey, Poklikuha (40-3) pinned last year’s state runner-up at 145 in St. Peter’s Prep Ryan Burkert, a past state fourth-place finisher at 145 in High Point’s Jason Gaccione, and won three bouts by one point.
“You get on a little roll and you get some confidence going and you’re back where you’re supposed to be. Now, I’m here,” Poklikuha said.
And who knows, if Poklikuha had defeated Bassolino Friday night, he might have been wrestling his good friend, Alec Donovan of Brick Memorial in the 145-pound state championship match Sunday afternoon.
“Mentallly, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and it obviously showed,” Polikuha, who will wrestle collegiately at Steves Institute, said.
But, mentally, Poklikuha was there the rest of the weekend. He will forever serve as an example for that a wrestler can recover from a loss in your first bout and finish third.
Also coming from a loss Friday night and finishing third was Brick senior Kyle Wojtaszek at 170 pounds.
Wojtaszek, who wrestled eight bouts in the tournament, the most one can wrestle, won six straight bouts after he was defeated by Bound Brook’s state finalist Josh Ugalde in the pre-quarterfinals. He concluded his run with a spectacular pin of Holy Cross’ Kenny Long with 1:24 left in the bout.
“That’s a lot of wrestlebacks, a lot of wrestling,” Wojtaszek said. “The first one is always the hardest one to see where you’re at mentally and to see if your head is going to be on straight for the rest of the tournament, or if you’re going to step back and say, ‘Forget it. I lost. I don’t even care’.”
Wojtazek (41-3), who is a two-time state medalist, has never been one to lose his focus in the wreslebacks. He has wrestled back to place in six tournaments during his career.
“It sounds funny, but I don’t mind being in the wrestlebacks at all,” Wojtaszek said.
In a 1-1 bout, Wojtaszek recorded the pin after Long was in on a shot. He lifted Long over his shoulder and put him to his back
“It’s called an ‘Elevator’,” Wojtaszek, said in describing the move. It’s basically a Lat Drop (Lateral Drop) for your rear end.”
Also finishing third was Southern senior Matt Wilhelm at 152.
Wilhelm defeated Paramus’ Joe Trovato to conclude a run that saw him win four straight bouts after losing to Delbarton’s state finalist Joe Tavoso in the quarterfinals. He is Southern’s highest medalist since two-time state runner-up Kyle Casaletto in 2011. He also finished two places higher than his older brother Zach placed last year at 145.
“The ultimate goal is to be a state champ, but sometimes stuff doesn’t fall your way,” Wilhelm, who wrestle collegiately at The College of New Jersey, said. “So, Saturday Tabb (Southern assistant coach and former Rams’ head coach Jerry Tabbachino) brought me back to the room and kind of told me, It’s just as good to take third as it is to win the tournament. It’s as good to come back and win as many matches as you can’.
“I kind of just made a goal for myself Saturday morning after I lost to win my way back here.”
Others who finished third were Brick’s Dean Sherry (182) and Jackson Memorial’s Brody Graham (heavyweight).
Those who finished fifth were Christian Brothers Academy’s Sebastian Rivera (113), Toms River South’s Owen McClave (120). Sixth-place finishers were CBA’s Richie Koehler (106), Jackson Liberty’s Mike Russo (126), Brick’s Will Scott (160) and Wall’s Matt McKenzie (195). Seventh-place finishers were Manalapan’s Jake Kaminsky (152) and Toms River North’s Mike Siwiec (220). Eighth-place finishers were Rumson-Fair Haven’s Marcus Iwama (132) and Toms River South’s Joe Salvato (182).