Wrestling – District 23 Tournament: The Start of Something Special
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BRICK — For Wall sophomore Brett Donner and Brick Memorial junior Alec Donovan, last season’s trips to the state tournament were a great experience, but in the end left them unsatisfied.
Now, one year later, it’s a medal or bust for two of New Jersey’s very best.
Both Donner and Donovan captured individual titles on Saturday at Brick Memorial in the NJSIAA District 23 Tournament to advance directly to the quarterfinal round of next week’s Region VI Tournament. Donner, the No. 1 seed, dominated the 160 pound bracket, winning by fall and major decision before defeating Brick Memorial junior Cliff Ruggiero by major decision, 14-4, to win his second district title.
Donner is now 32-1 this season, his only loss coming by one point in double overtime to Riverside’s Christian Stackhouse. Last season he compiled a 34-4 record, placed third in Region VI at 152 pounds and reached the second round of wrestlebacks in Atlantic City. He knows he’s capable of much more in his second go-round.
“Last year I used to get nervous and caught up in the moment, and now I just want to go out and dominate and leave it all on the mat, win or lose,” Donner said.
Donner is currently ranked No. 4 in New Jersey at 160 pounds by The Star-Ledger. Logically, he expects to find himself high on the medal stand in two weeks.
“I know I’m top 3, 4, 5 in this weight class,” Donner said. “I don’t think there’s anybody that’s that much better than me. Every time I step on the mat I expect to win, and that’s the bottom line."
Donner is also riding the momentum from the best team season in Wall’s history. The Crimson Knights won the Central Jersey Group II title, the first in program history, to reach the Group II semifinals.
“Last year it was three weeks to a month away from districts and it was all I could think about,” Donner said. “It wasn’t even on my mind this time with the wins our team was putting up. All the momentum has carried over, and I feel great.”
At 145 pounds, Donovan edged Brick’s Will Scott, 4-2 in sudden victory, to win his third District 23 title. Scoreless after one, Scott chose defense in the second and scored with a reversal with under 15 seconds left in the period. Donovan evened the bout at two with a quick reversal to start the third period, then rode Scott out the rest of the way to force overtime. In the one-minute overtime period, Donovan scored early for his second win over Scott this season to keep his perfect record intact at 27-0.
“Wrestling him before got me ready for this match,” Donovan said of being prepared for Scott’s funky style. “I was kind of worried about the shot of the whistle (in overtime), but once he didn’t shoot I was confident in winning the match.”
With his lanky frame and great flexibility, Scott is a menace in the top position. The key for Donovan was not allowing him to settle in during the third period.
“I couldn’t let him throw in his boots and ride me,” Donovan said. “He’s a great top wrestler and rider. I needed to reverse him and not let him throw legs on me.”
The Star-Ledger has Donovan ranked eighth in a stout 145-pound weight class. Last season Donovan was one win away from a top-eight medal at 138 pounds in the state tournament. He lost both his bouts in Atlantic City by one point, ultimately falling to Ryan Burkert of St. Peter’s Prep, 5-4, in the third round of wrestlebacks.
He plans on things turning out much differently this season.
“I feel like I’m on fire right now, and that fire is going to continue until the state finals,” Donovan said.
Donovan was one of five individual champions for Brick Memorial, which sent 10 wrestlers into the finals and advanced a total off 11 wrestlers to the Region VI Tournament. Joining Donovan were seniors Joe Ghione (138), Nick Costa (182) and Tyler Poling (220), and freshman Nick Rivera (Hwt), helping the Mustangs (245 points) win their fifth title in a row and 28th overall. Brick Memorial has now had an individual district champ for 33 consecutive seasons.
Ghione and Costa each won their third titles, while Poling captured his second. Costa pinned Wall’s Tommy Wishart in 1:29 and Poling decked Wall’s Nick Van Glahn in 40 seconds. Ghione topped Wall’s Josh Glantzman, 7-2.
It’s been an odd season for Ghione, to say the least. The returning two-time Region VI champ and two-time state medalist missed most of the season with an elbow injury, and has been up and down since his return. He started to get the ball rolling with a win over Howell’s Kris Lindemann during the Central Jersey Group IV final, and kept moving with his third district title.
“It really was a strange year with a lot more setbacks than I anticipated,” Ghione said. “I’m still shaking off some cobwebs, but I feel the best is still to come.”
“Right now I’m looking at a clean slate, and in the back of my mind I know what I’m capable of doing.”
Wall (173 points) finished second with four champions and eight finalists while Brick (157.5) was third.
Point Boro senior Ryan Budzek was selected as the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. Budzek, the defending Region VI 126-pound champ, won the 126-pound bracket with a win over Neptune junior Nasiyr Brown, who had to injury default in the second period because of problems with his asthma. Budzek (20-1) was leading 7-3 at the time of the injury default, and the win avenged his only loss of the season, which came to Brown, 4-1 on Jan. 11. Brown was the eighth-place finisher at 113 pounds in last season’s state tournament.
Panthers junior Dan Nobbs won his second district title with a 14-4 major decision over Brick’s Thomas Wright.
Wall head coach Brian Fischer was selected as the District 23 Coach of the Year. Along with Donner, junior Denzel Tovar won the 113-pound bracket with a 15-6 major decision over Brick Memorial’s Luke Vescovi for his second title. Senior Tyler Romanelli edged Brick’s Ray Fattaruso, 3-2, for the 195-pound title, and freshman Chad McClelland defeated Brick Memorial sophomore Anthony Mitchell, 8-5, to capture the 132-pound title.
Group III finalist Brick had three champions crowned. Junior Kyle Wojtaszek won his first title with a 7-3 decision over Brick Memorial junior Rob Ruggiero at 152 pounds. Undefeated junior Dean Sherry (32-0) won the 170-pound title with a 2-0 decision over Wall freshman Matt McKenzie (29-3), and senior Dan Rackliffe (30-2) defeated Brick Memorial freshman Gianni Ghione (22-6), 8-5 at 106 pounds.
Eighth-seeded Jose Hernandez of Monmouth Regional, a senior, upset top-seeded Eliezer Santiago of Neptune 5-2 in the quarterfinals and advanced to the Region VI tournament by defeating Point Beach’s Zack Schaller, 2-1, in the 132-pound third-place bout.
Neptune junior Justin Patterson, the No. 5 seed at 160 pounds, defeated Brick’s Nick Pollara, the No. 2 seed, 6-5 in the third-place bout to advance. Point Beach’s John Finnerty was the fifth seed at 120, and defeated Brick Memorial’s Luis Bocalman, 6-2, to finish third.
The Region VI tournament will be seeded on Monday and the pre-quarterfinal round, which pits the second and third-place finishers from Districts 21 through 24 in an elimination bout, takes place Wednesday at Pine Belt Arena at Toms River North.