Wrestling: Ocean’s Poniros, Freehold Twp.’s Hillermeier Reach State Quarterfinals as No. 25 Seeds
ATLANTIC CITY – Being seeded in the bottom quarter of a bracket at the NJSIAA Wrestling Championships presents quite a daunting task, but for a pair of Shore Conference wrestlers it was just another obstacle to overcome.
Freehold Township senior Kyle Hillermeier and Ocean sophomore Alex Poniros didn’t let the odds faze them as No. 25 seeds, defeating the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in their respective brackets on Friday night to advance to the state quarterfinals at Boardwalk Hall.
“It’s scary seeing that 25 next to your name,” Hillermeier said. “I know I’m better than that but it’s like, ‘oh god, I have work to do’.”
Hillermeier, the No. 25 seed at 170 pounds, authored a night he’ll never forget by avenging two of his regular-season losses and also reaching 100 career victories. Hillermeier beat Rancocas Valley’s Ethan Craft, 9-3, in the first round before taking down Haddonfield’s Chris Bolletino, 3-2 in ultimate tiebreaker, in the pre-quarterfinals.
“It feels great, especially coming from the 25 seed,” Hillermeier said. “I took fourth in regions and didn’t wrestle my best, so it felt good to come out here and do what I had to do. I got my 100th win, and one more and I’ll be happy. I’m almost there.”
Hillermeier lost to Craft 3-2 in overtime and 3-1 to Bolletino during the regular season, so he was happy to have a chance for revenge.
“It works for some people to not look at (the brackets) but I like to know who I’m wrestling because I want to be prepared,” Hillermeier said. “I knew I had (Craft) so I got to look at the video and prepare with my coaches, and that’s why it wasn’t as close this time.”
“It felt great to get revenge on those guys when it mattered.”
Hillermeier is Freehold Township’s first quarterfinalist since Gene Accardi in 2007. He’ll face top-seeded Michael O’Malley of Hasbrouck Heights in Saturday’s quarterfinals. He’s also one win away from a state medal.
“I’ve put so much work into this sport and all season it felt like it wasn’t paying off,” Hillermeier said. “Now to get my 100th win after being under .500 as a freshman and to be one win away from my goal, it feels great.”
Poniros also knew his road to the quarterfinals was going to be tough, and he didn’t enter Friday feeling good about his chances.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I would get these two wins against two top guys, two great wrestlers,” Poniros said. “I didn’t think I would win the first match, but I ended up winning and that just built my confidence for the second one.”
After defeating Seton Hall Prep’s Charles Cunningham, 5-4 on a late takedown, in the preliminary round, Poniros knocked off Raritan’s Russell Benson, 7-4, to reach the quarterfinals. Poniros took Benson down twice in the first period to build a 4-2 lead, escaped in the second to go up 5-2 and added another takedown in the third to clinch the biggest win of his young high school career.
“I lost to (Benson) 3-2 earlier in the season so I thought I would take him down and beat him this time in a close match,” Poniros said. “After I took him down first, inside I was like ‘yeah, this is a good start to the match’. I kept the lead and I knew I’d be more dominant in the scrambles.”
Poniros needs one more win to clinch a state medal, but the odds of that victory coming in the quarterfinals are slim considering he has returning state champion Nick Raimo of Hanover Park. Even so, Poniros doesn’t care where his next win comes, as long as it comes on Saturday.
“He’s a state champ, the best of the best, so I’m just going to go out there and have so fun and work from there,” Poniros said. “All I came down here hoping to do was get a medal, and now I’m so close I want it more than anything.”
Hillermeier and Poniros were two of five No. 25 seeds to reach the quarterfinals. High Point’s Brandon LaRue at 113, Roselle Park’s Mark Montgomery at 126 and Carteret’s Frank Coghan at 220 also pulled consecutive upsets. West Morris’s Justin Lemay was the lowest seed to advance as the No. 26 seed at 152 pounds.
Holmdel’s Scott Dupont is the No. 6 seed at 152 pounds, so by that metric it shouldn’t be a surprise he won both of his bouts on Friday. But for a program that has had just two state medalists in history and none since 1983, Dupont reaching the quarterfinals is enormous.
After a 4-0 win over High Point’s Trey Osborn to open the tournament, Dupont used back points with under 20 seconds remaining to defeat Southern’s Nick O’Connell – a returning state medalist – by a 6-4 decision to reach the round of eight.
“I grabbed for a corkscrew when he was trying to tripod up, grabbed his triceps and his leg and tried throwing him,” said Dupont, describing the winning sequence. “I grabbed two arms on it and just starting turning him and he was almost stacked on his shoulders.”
“I was shocked. I didn’t think I was going to pull it out in the last 20 seconds. It was just awesome.”
Dupont is already among Holmdel’s greatest wrestlers and owns many No. 1 spots in the Hornets’ record book. He is their career wins leader with 144 and counting and his 40th win of the season, earned Friday night, is also the high-water mark breaking the old record of 39 he set last season. Now he’s hoping to add another accolade as Holmdel’s highest state medalist. John Mullan finished seventh/eighth in 1983 and Mark Buczynski was seventh/eighth in 1981. One more win will do the trick.
“I think it would be awesome,” Dupont said. “Kids in Holmdel have always had doubts of being good and now after this, they can say If he had a shot and did it then I can have a shot. I just want to do it for the town.”
“It’s been so cool because we’ve broken so many records – teams wins, made it to a sectional final – and this is one of the last pieces,” said Holmdel head coach Danny Franke. “If we get that medal winner then we can keep climbing. It’s great for the program to have someone on a pedestal to chase.”
Dupont will face Bound Brook’s Joey Casey in the quarterfinals. Casey is undefeated and beat Dupont, 7-1, in the Region 5 final.
“Anything can happen,” Dupont said. “I’m going to get a good night sleep and get ready for tomorrow. I’m going to put it all out there.”
A total of 19 Shore Conference wrestlers advanced to the quarterfinals, led by four at 170 pounds.
St. John Vianney’s Dean Peterson defeated Allentown’s Joey Lamparelli, 8-3, at 106 pounds. He will face the No. 2 seed, Emerson/Park Ridge’s Nick Babin, in the quarterfinals.
Christian Brothers Academy’s Richie Koehler and Colts Neck’s Joey King both advanced at 120. Koehler pinned Camden Catholic’s Kody Walsh and King squeaked by Hunterdon Central’s Jack Bauer, 1-0. Koehler gets undefeated East Brunswick senior Mitchel Polito and King has Bergen Catholic’s Robert Howard, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Howell senior Kyle Slendorn joins Poniros in the 132-pound quarterfinals after two pins, including a fall over Highland’s Justin Cariss. Slendorn, a returning state runner-up, has Perth Amboy’s James Rodriguez, who upset Bergen Catholic’s Carmen Ferrante.
Returning state champ Jake Benner from Ocean, the No. 2 seed at 138, won 4-1 over Toms River North’s Nick Boggiano and will wrestle Camden Catholic’s Anthony Croce in the quarterfinals. Lacey’s Luke Gauthier escaped in the ultimate tiebreaker to defeat Paulsboro’s Gabe Onorato, 3-2, and advance to face Hackettstown’s Alex Carida in the 145-pound quarterfinals.
Along with Dupont, Toms River South senior Cole Corrigan remained undefeated with a major decision and a 58-second pin. Corrigan, the No. 4 seed, gets Paulsboro’s George Worthy in the quarters.
Wall’s Rob Kanniard cruised into the 160-pound quarterfinals with a pair of major decisions. He will take on Robbinsville’s Garrett Bilgrav in a rematch of the Region 6 final won by Kanniard, 12-10.
It’s a Shore Conference party at 170 pounds with Hillermeier, St. John Vianney’s Nick Caracappa, Rumson-Fair Haven’s Nick Addison and Howell’s Shane Reitsma reaching the quarters. Caracappa won 9-2 over Northern Highland’s Gabriel Robles, Addison bested Mahwah’s Travis Arata, 7-2, and Reitsma defeated St. Peter’s Prep’s James Cruz, 3-1. Addison and Reitsma will square off in one quarterfinal in a rematch from the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, won by Reitsma. Caracappa has West Morris’s Marco Gaita.
At 182, Middletown North’s Nicko Cofone won 1-0 over Holy Spirit’s Michael Waszen and Howell’s Christian Murphy won 1-0 over the No. 4 seed, Collingswood’s Aaron Carter. Cofone has returning state champion Billy Janzer in the quarters while Murphy has Kittatinny’s Zach Mafaro.
Long Branch’s Pete Wersinger, the No. 12 seed, beat No. 5 Scott Fernandes, 4-3, to advance at 195. He’ll get Sparta’s Robert Gennat in the quarterfinals.
In a rematch of the Region 5 final, St. John Vianney’s Steven Giannios defeated Raritan’s Ethan Wolf, 7-3. Wolf won 4-3 last week. Giannios, the No. 4 seed, faces Penns Grove’s Tyreke Brown, the No. 12 seed.
Long Branch’s Kevin Cerruti, the No. 2 seed at heavyweight, pinned Egg Harbor’s Jefferson Dejean to reach the quarters. He will take on Manville’s Michael Tyle.
Wrestling resumes Saturday morning with wrestleback rounds one, two and three at 9 a.m. The quarterfinals are scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
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