Brawl at the Boardwalk: NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Tournament Preview
The Shore Conference will descend on Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City this weekend as 42 wrestlers will go for high school wrestling immortality in the NJSIAA Individual Tournament.
New Jersey's state wrestling tournament is one of the most prestigious in the nation as one of just three states to wrestle in a one-class state tournament (California and Indiana are the others). There will be 14 state champions crowned on Sunday afternoon, bring a close to what has already been a memorable season.
The Shore Conference has a handful of legitimate title contenders and a host of others who have a great chance to got on the medal stand by placing in the top eight in their respective weight classes. Right here we'll take a look at each weight class and offer some projections for what to expect this weekend.
Also, bookmark our State Tournament Central page and check back often for all of Shore Sports Network's coverage this weekend.
Region 6 champ: Luke Ecklof (St. John Vianney, Jr., 32-5)
Runner-up: Hunter Gutierrez (Lacey, Fr., 33-4)
Third-place: Darby Diedrich (Howell, Fr., 34-7)
Ecklof has a first-round bye as a region champion, and looks to have a good road to the quarterfinals. He will face the winner of the preliminary-round bout between Old Bridge's Jake Wiatroski and Jefferson's Mason Godfrey in the pre-quarterfinals. If he wins that bout he will likely be matched up with St. Peter's Prep sophomore Michael Kelly, who is the No. 2 seed in the bottom bracket, in the quarterfinals. The top quarter-bracket features Paulsboro's Nick Duca and South Plainfield's Troy Heilmann, so even if Ecklof can pull the upset over Kelly he has some tough sledding in front of him.
Gutierrez is in a pretty good spot in the top bracket with a prelim bout against North Bergen's Yousef Salem. The winner of that bout gets the winner of Hanover Park's Dom Difrancescantonio vs. Highland's Seth Henry. Likely lurking in the quarterfinals should Gutierrez win both outs on Friday will be Seneca sophomore Joe Manchio, who is 38-0 and the No. 1 seed in the top bracket.
Diedrich is in tough spot because, should he win his prelim bout against Passaic Valley's Kenny Kerwin, he will have to face Manchio in the pre-quarterfinals. Believe it or not, the top quarter-bracket with Diedrich and Gutierrez is actually less loaded than the other, which features East Brunswick's Mitchell Polito, Pope John's JoJo Aragona (No. 2 in the nation Paramus's Kyle Kaiser, Roselle Park's Chris Gural and Gateway's Dante Mininno.
This is a very deep bracket where the Shore has a chance for medalists, but a run to a state title would require several huge upsets.
Region 6 champ: Sebastian Rivera (CBA, Sr., 27-1)
Runner-up: Kyle Slendorn (Howell, So., 34-6).
Third-place: Nick Pellegrino (Jackson Liberty, Sr., 31-8).
Rivera is one of the Shore's state title contenders and the No. 2 seed in the bottom bracket. He awaits the winner of Cranford's Anthony Capece and West Orange's Victor Lopez for a pre-quarterfinal bout on Friday night. He will be favored, pretty heavily, through the quarterfinals. His semifinal opponent will be either Camden Catholic freshman Lucas Revano or St. Joseph (Montvale) seniors Jonathan Tropea, although don't discount Revano's pre-quarterfinal opponent, DePaul junior Daniel Percelay. Rivera already owns a 7-1 win over Revano this season.
The favorite to reach the final out of the top bracket is Delbarton sophomore Patrick Glory, who was the state runner-up at 106 pounds last season. Rivera defeated Glory, 9-7, to win the prestigious Super 32 title in October. CBA has not had a state champion since 1969, but Rivera, ranked No. 3 in the nation, looks like he's going to end that drought.
Slendorn faces Lenape Valley's Jacob Falleni and in the prelims and is favored in that bout. Pellegrino has a tough matchups right away with Phillipsburg senior Kyle Markus. If both Slendorn and Pellegrino win they will face each other in the pre-quarterfinals with the winner moving on to face, barring a shocking upset, Glory in the quarterfinals. Slendorn pinned Pellegrino in the first period in the Region 6 semifinals.
Rivera should at least be in the final and is my pick to win it all. Slendorn, who made it to the second round of wrestlebacks at 106 last season, is a pick to medal. Pellegrino has his work cut out for him to finish top eight.
Region 6 champ: Gianni Ghione (Brick Memorial, Jr., 31-1).
Runner-up: Richie Koehler (CBA, So., 25-4).
Third-place: Mike Spino (Jackson Memorial, Sr., 25-2).
The first of several loaded weights, the Shore Conference has some tough matchups early, but also a chance for a title and all three entrants to medal.
The biggest story after the state seeding meeting was the pre-quarterfinal matchups between Ghione and Hanover Park freshman Nick Raimo. Ghione, the state runner-up at 113 last season is ranked No. 20 in the nation by InterMat. Raimo, who was third at the Beast of the East where he suffered his only loss, is ranked No. 3. The fact that one of those won't be in the state final and that their bout was scheduled for Friday was insane.
However, Kingsway's Trace Kinner, a state medalist last season, was forced to withdraw from the tournament after suffering an apparent concussion in the Region 8 final. That resulted in a re-seeding of the bracket to moved Raimo up a seed. Ghione will now face the winner of Camden Catholic's Anthony Croce and Wayne Valley's Connor Murphy in the pre-quarterfinals. Raimo takes on the winner of East Brunswick's Mark Schleifer and Highland's Justin Cariss. The Ghione-Raimo bout will now likely take place in the quarterfinals. If Ghione wins that he'll probably have to take on Bergen Catholic sophomore Gerard Angelo, the reigning 106-pound state champion, in the semifinals.
Koehler, who was sixth in the state at 106 pounds last season, is a bit of a dark horse to make a serious run out of the top bracket. He faces Montclair's Tyreek Staton in the prelims with the winner taking on Delsea's Edison Echevarria, who upended Kinner in the Region 8 final. Should Koehler reach the quarterfinals he will likely have West Morris's Shane Metzler, a returning medalist. The top bracket quarterfinal will likely feature Steinert's Brandon Cray, last season's 113-pound state champ. Koehler has proven to be a great postseason wrestler, so I think we're going to see him pull off some big wins.
Spino has Cedar Grove's Anthony Clarizio in the prelims and with a win will face Bound Brook's Joe Casey in the pre-quarterfinals. Spino is a big 120-pounder and can be very dangerous here. A win over Casey would match him up with Cray in the quarterfinals.
I'll admit I'm being very generous to the Shore with these predictions, but I really feel like all three will medal and Ghione will win it all. Yes, the Brick Memorial junior will have to beat a pair of nationally-ranked wrestlers, including the super freshman Raimo, just to reach the final, but something tells me he's going to pull it off. Koehler has a great chance to medal, and I believe Spino will find his way there as well.
Region 6 champ: Matt McGowan (Jackson Memorial, Jr., 26-3).
Runner-up: Russell Benson (Raritan, So., 31-3).
Third-place: Matt Barnett (Southern, So., 23-9).
First off, this is Nick Suriano's bracket, so picking anybody but him to win it is pretty crazy. If you don't know about Nick Suriano (seriously?) he is a three-time state champion with a 155-0 career record, the No. 1 wrestler in the nation and the No. 7 pound-for-pound wrestler in the country. He's going for wrestling history, so good luck getting in his way.
McGowan is in the opposite bracket from Suriano, which is a good start. The bad news is that he awaits the winner of Butler's Garrett O'Shea and Verona's Frank Gabriele. O'Shea is a two-time state medalist, placing fourth at 113 last season. If McGowan can stun O'Shea there he'll likely have Kingsway's Quinn Kinner, another state medalist. Delbarton's Ty Agaisse is the top seed in the bottom bracket, so it's far from ideal even away from Suriano.
Benson received a very tough draw with Hanover Park's Lou Raimo in the prelims. If Benson wins there he'll face undefeated Voorhees senior Kyle DiNapoli. Get past him and it's a likely quarterfinal with matchup with Roxbury's Troy Stanich, who handed Brick Memorial's Gianni Ghione his only defeat. There's no way around it, Benson has a daunting task in front of him.
Barnett has some winnable bouts on Friday night and it's not out of the question he reaches the quarterfinals. His opponent there would be Suriano, so unless he pulls the greatest upset in the history of the state tournament he will have to work his way through the consolation bracket.
All three of the Shore's qualifiers will likely find themselves in the wrestlebacks on Saturday morning. There's a chance for a medal, but in a pretty deep weight there will have to be an upset or two along the way.
Region 6 champ: Owen McClave (Toms River South, Sr., 34-1).
Runner-up: Jake Benner (Ocean, So., 34-1).
Third-place: Anthony Gagliano (Howell, Sr., 39-2).
Welcome to Thunderdome. This is the best bracket from top to bottom I have every seen in my 15 or so years following and covering the state tournament. It's absolutely loaded. The good news for everybody is there isn't one clear favorite. I count 12 wresters I feel can legitimately win the title. This will be fun.
McClave has a first-round bye as a region champ, but will have a big-time battle on his hands in the pre-quarterfinals against undefeated Haddon Township senior Chris Wolf. The winner of that bout likely gets Bergen Catholic freshman Christopher Foca in the quarterfinals. The favorite to reach the semifinals out of the bottom quarter-bracket is Phillipsburg senior Brandon Paetzell, who returned for the individual postseason after missing much of the season with a hand injury. Paetzell, a Rutgers recruit who was second in the state as a sophomore, missed last year's postseason with a hand injury.
Gagliano has Hopatcong's Anthony Mastroeni in the prelims with the winner facing St. Peter's Prep's Alec Kelly, a two-time state medalist and the top seed in the top bracket. Gagliano is good enough to win there, but he'll have to be on top of his game. In fact, everyone will have to be on top of their games to win bouts here. There is no easy matchup.
Benner has probably the hardest draw of any of the 336 wrestlers in the tournament. He has to face Ramapo senior Wilfredo Gil, who is 41-1, in the prelims. THE PRELIMS. The winner there gets rewarded with Clearview senior Zack Firestone, a two-time state medalist who is 34-0. If I absolutely had to name a favorite in the weight it would be Firestone. The crazy thing is that Benner is talented enough to win both those bouts. If he can do that he'd likely face Delbarton's Nick Farro, another two-time medalist, in the quarterfinals. I told you this bracket is insane.
I have no idea what's going to happen here, and anyone that does is either a pre-cog or completely lying. McClave has been on a tear since losing in the first tournament of the season, and at regions had a look in his eye that said no one is stopping him. Gagliano and Benner have very tough draws, but they are among those 12 I think can take the title. How they fare in the wrestlebacks, should they fall in the championship bracket, will be as dependent on their mental state as their skills on the mat.
Region 6 champ: Kris Lindemann (Howell, Sr., 26-1).
Runner-up: Cole Corrigan (Toms River South, So., 31-2).
Third-place: Luke Vescovi (Brick Memorial, Sr., 25-4).
Lindemann, a state medalist as a sophomore, has to face another region champion in his first bout when he squares off against South Plainfield sophomore Kyle Bythell in the pre-quarterfinals. A win there will likely match him up with Kittatinny's Austin Scrivani in the quarterfinals. Lindemann is in the top bracket with Bergen Catholic sophomore Shane Griffith, who was the 132-pound state champion and Most Outstanding Wrestler last season. Griffith was injured for the most of the season before returning during the Crusaders' run to their fifth straight Non-Public A title. He hans't been overwhelming upon his return, but he's still ranked in the top five in the nation for a reason.
Corrigan faces Paramus's Nick Ciambrone in the preliminary round with the winner moving on to face St. Peter's Prep's Nick Santos in the pre-quarterfinals. That winner will almost certainly face undefeated Clearview senior Mike VanBrill in the quarterfinals.
Vescovi has Pompton Lakes' Chris Grecco in the prelims, and the winner gets Camden Catholic's Mark McCormick, who is a two-time state medalist and the No. 1 seed in the top bracket.
A medal or two out of the Shore Conference is definitely possible here because the depth isn't as great. Lindemann is the most battle-tested of the group, but will have to go the Griffith to reach the final. Corrigan and Vescovi have a shot to medal, but it will require great runs through the wrestleback rounds.
Region 6 champ: John Finnerty (Point Beach, Sr., 33-3)
Runner-up: Teddy Caporrino (Southern, Sr., 21-5).
Third-place: Rob Kanniard (Wall, Fr., 32-4).
Finnerty will be tested right away with Delran's Phil Rogers, the Region 7 champion with a 39-1 record, as his pre-quarterfinal opponent. The winner of that bout likely gets Don Bosco Prep's Taylor Shay, who is a great pinner, in the quarterfinals.
Caporrino has a very tough bout with Paramus's Brandon Loftiss in the preliminary round, while Kanniard has Haddonfield's Christopher Bolletino.
Capporino's aggressive style and great conditioning make him an interesting wrestler to watch here. In a tournament where a lot of wrestlers slow the pace and wrestle not to lose, Capporino could make a run to a medal.
Kanniard has wrestled in several big bouts this season and is one of just three freshmen state qualifiers at the weight. If he wins his prelim bout he will have to face Clearview senior Stanley Atkinson, however, in the pre-quarterfinals.
This is a sneaky-good weight, so it doesn't look promising for any of the Shore's wrestlers to reach the semifinals. The wrestlebacks are a bear, of course, but it's not out of the question one of the three finds their way onto the medal stand. None are considered favorite to place in the top eight, however.
Region 6 champ: A.J. Meyers (Toms River East, Jr., 33-1).
Runner-up: Giancarlo Crivelli (Point Beach, Sr., 34-2).
Third-place: Pat Mooney (Southern, Sr., 25-7).
Meyers was probably the most dominant, yet under-the-radar wrestler in the Shore Conference this year, and he is probably the wrestler in this weight that no one expects anything out of. That would be a mistake. Meyers, a state qualifier last season, has the goods to get all the way to the final. His road will be tough, starting with Roxbury's Tommy Miller in the pre-quarterfinals. Meyers' half of the bracket also features Paramus's Alex Sebahie, Delsea's Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bergen Catholic's Brady Ford and Holy Cross's Avery DiNardi, but he is as good as any of them.
Crivelli has North Warren's Anthony Duardo in the prelims, and the winner will face bracket favorite Stephan Glasgow in the pre-quarterfinals. The Bound Brook junior was the runner-up at 145 pounds last season.
Mooney squares off against Shawnee's Isaiah Bryant in his preliminary-round bout. With a win there he will face South Plainfield's Dan Hedden, the Region 3 champion, in the quarterfinals. There's an outside chance Mooney could reach the semifinals against Glasgow, but he would also have to defeat either Don Bosco Prep's Dominick Mandarino or Phillipsburg's D.J. Wissing.
I think Meyers has a great chance to reach the final and can even win it all. Not many experts will be picking him to do so, but he definitely has the goods to get it done. Mooney could make a run at a medal, while Crivelli will likely have a long battle in the wrestlebacks to place top eight.
Region 6 champ: Josh Glantzman (Wall, Sr., 27-4).
Runner-up: Tyler Kalmowitz (Jackson Liberty, Sr., 36-3).
Third-place: Garrett Fitzgerald (CBA, Sr., 12-4).
Glantzman received the worst draw of any region champion, as he gets returning state champion and bracket favorite Kyle Bierdumpfel of Don Bosco Prep in the pre-quarterfinals. Ouch. If he somehow wins that bout and sends shockwaves through the state, he has a clear path to the final.
Kalmowitz is in a tough spot with returning state medalist Kyle Cochran of Paramus in the prelims. The winner of that bout faces undefeated Roxbury senior Craig Roumes in the pre-quarterfinals.
Fitzgerald made a great run to reach Atlantic City as the No. 12 seed in the Region 6 Tournament, but as such has little to no criteria for state seeding. He is matched up with Old Tappan's Tyler Mullen, the fifth-place finisher at 160 last season, in the preliminary round. Mullen was second in Region 2 to Bierdumpfel. The winner of that bout gets Delsea sophomore Billy Janzer, the Region 8 champion.
This is the first weight where all three of the Shore's representatives look like long shots to medal. All three will probably have to win multiple bouts in the consolation bracket to finish top eight.
Region 6 champ: Brett Donner (Wall, Sr., 35-0).
Runner-up: Peyton Blauvelt (Southern, Sr., 24-6).
Third-place: T.J. Saldutti (Ocean, Sr., 23-2).
Donner is one of 25 undefeated wresters in the state tournament, and one of the Shore's best hopefuls to take home a state championship. A Rutgers recruit, Donner is ranked nationally and on a mission to win a state championship. He was third as a sophomore, but an injury-plagued junior season ended in disappointment when he was stunned in the quarterfinals and was forced to injury default in the medal round.
Donner is the top seed in the top bracket, and should at least reach the semifinals. He will likely meet Wayne Hills' senior Dan Kilroy in semifinals, which would be a rematch he would love. It was Kilroy that shocked Donner with a pin in last season's 170-pound quarterfinals. Kilroy ended up finishing fifth. The favorite in the bracket is Bergen Catholic senior Joe Grello, who is the defending champion and a future teammate of Donner's at Rutgers.
The withdrawal of Region 1 third-place finisher Jarod Ostir because of an injury means Blauvelt will now face fourth-place finisher Al Falco of Sparta. You have to like Blauvelt in the bout, and a win there would give him the winner of Delsea's Brad Dobzanski and Paul VI's Jordan Sciamana. Either would be a winnable matchup for Blauvelt, but lurking in the quarterfinals will be Grello.
Saldutti gets DePaul's Spencer Carey in the preliminary round, and there's a big question of whether Carey will be at 100 percent after having to injury default to Kilroy in the Region 1 final. The father to the quarterfinals for Saldutti isn't that daunting, and a trip to the semifinals could be in order would he upset either Passaic Valley's Jala'a Darwish or Bound Brook's George Walton.
Donner has been an animal all season and was dominant in winning his third region title. His focus appears laser-like and he is better than ever. On his feet, he's as good as there is in the entire tournament. I like Donner to avenge last year's loss to Kilroy before defeating Grello in the finals to become Wall's first state champion since Nick Roy in 2002.
Saldutti and Blauvelt are both capable of getting on the medal stand.
Region 6 champ: Anthony Vetrano (Middletown North, Sr., 34-2).
Runner-up: Chris Nielsen (Pinelands, Jr., 29-4).
Third-place: Dean Helstowski (Brick, Jr., 32-1).
Vetrano is on a 30-match winning streak and coming off a great showing at the Region 6 Tournament. He has a matchup with another region champ right away, however, in facing Queen of Peace junior Dominic Maniero in the pre-quarterfinals. Maniero was eighth in the state at 170 last season. Vetrano is certainly capable of winning the bout, and if he does he has a nice path to the semifinals. The top seed in the top bracket is DePaul junior Brandon Kui, who doesn't look like he'll be tested much until the semifinals.
Nielsen will be the favorite in his prelim bout against Nutley's Justin Bivona (19-17), but will then have to face undefeated Bridgewater-Raritan senior Kyle Murphy. The likely quarterfinal opponent in that bottom-half quarter-bracket will be Cranford's Niko Cappello. Murphy was seventh and Cappello eighth at 182 last season.
Helstowski, who was defeated by Nielsen 6-5 in the region semifinals for his first loss of the season, has Caldwell's Ryan Schaffer in the prelims. The winner faces the winner of Morris Knolls senior Luke Drugac and Northern Burlington's Fred Miller. If Helstowski can won both his bouts on Friday he will face the winner of St. Augustine Prep's Jose Tabora and Bergen Catholic's Josh McKenzie in the quarterfinals. McKenzie is the younger brother of Wall's Matt McKenzie.
The road is predictably toughest for Nielsen and Helstowski as region second- and third-place finishers. While Vetrano has the most difficult opening bout, a win there really opens things up for him. I'm going with a top-five finish for Vetrano, which means I'm banking on him winning his first bout and reaching the semifinals. Nielsen and Helstowski could both medal, but it depends how the consolation brackets shape up for them.
Region 6 champ: Jack LaCorte (CBA, Sr., 30-2).
Runner-up: Matt McKenzie (Wall, So., 31-2).
Third-place: Will Farparan (Manchester, Sr., 35-2).
There are two heavy hitters in the bracket with returning state champion Kevin Mulligan of Bergen Catholic and Morris Knolls' Dean Drugac, who is nationally ranked and undefeated at 35-0.
LaCorte awaits the winner of Delaware Valley's Kyle Schlittler and Pequannock's Patrick Daly for a pre-quarterfinal bout, and has a good chance to reach the quarterfinals. There he would likely face Hasbrouck Heights junior Michael O'Malley, who is 41-1. LaCorte is in Mulligan's half bracket, so the Bergen Catholic senior will likely be waiting there for whomever merges.
McKenzie is the top seed in the bottom bracket and has a rematch with Brearley's Saverio Salcfas in the prelims. McKenzie defeated Salcfas 4-2 in the finals of the Mustang Classic. McKenzie, who was sixth at 195 last season, is favored to reach the quarterfinals where he will likely face Woodstown junior Chad Watt.
Farparan has Passaic Valley's Christopher Armagno in the prelims with the winner advancing to face Watt.
LaCorte has a good shot at reaching the semifinals, which would guarantee a top-six finish. The same would go for McKenzie. I would expect both to medal, and it's possible McKenzie finds his way to the final, although that would take handing Drugac his first loss. Farparan is in a very tough spot and not favored to medal.
Region 6 champ: Eric Keosseian (Howell, Jr., 38-2).
Runner-up: Joey Jasio (Long Branch, Sr.., 29-2).
Third-place: Chris Hayes (Brick Memorial, Sr., 26-4).
Keosseian reached the second round of wrestlebacks last season and is poised to make a run at the podium as a junior. His early draw is manageable as he awaits the winner between Clearview's Vito Nucci and Caldwell's Matthew Maddaloni. His quarterfinal opponent, however, would be Holy Cross senior Matt Correnti, who is the heavy favorite to win a state championship.
Jasio has a tough first bout with Monroe's Nick Goff, and the winner gets Phillipsburg's Robert Melise, who was fifth in the state last season. Hayes wrestles Collingswood's Dashon Burdett with the winner facing St. Augustine Prep's Jim Brady.
All three wrestlers have very tough paths and are likely looking at an early exit to the consolation bracket. All three, however, are capable of earning a medal. I like Keosseian to get on the medal stand, while the chances for Jasio and Hayes depend on who they draw in the consolations.
Region 6 champ: Nick Rivera (Brick Memorial, Jr., 26-1).
Runner-up: William Oxley (CBA, Sr., 27-5).
Third-place: Micah Clark (St. John Vianney, Jr., 32-4).
Rivera was the state runner-up at heavyweight as a sophomore, and as so is the favorite to reach the finals out of the bottom bracket. He will have a tough first-round bout, however, likely against River Dell senior Joe Longobardi. Longobardi was eighth last season. It's heavyweight, so anything can happen, but Rivera has the talent and experience to get back to the final and take the title. A pair of undefeated wrestlers are in the bottom bracket - Cinnaminson's Keith Swartley and Union City's Jonathan Beltre - so it won't be a cakewalk for Rivera by any means.
Oxley is in a very good spot in the top bracket as he won't have to face a region champion until the quarterfinals. As far as technical skills go, Oxley is among the best at the weight. The problem for him is giving up upwards of 75 pounds. That could cost him, but he could also make a very deep run.
Clark has West Orange's Brian Velez in the prelims, and the winner faces Sayreville's Anthony Porcaro, the fifth-place finisher last season, in the pre-quarterfinals. If Clark beats Porcaro he gets the winner of High Point's Kevin Lewis and Don Bosco Prep's Eric Chakonis. The only wrestler to defeat Rivera this season was Chakonis, who did so in the finals of the Mustang Classic.
Once again, at heavyweight many things are possible. Rivera is the clear frontrunner of the group, but Oxley and Clark are both good enough to made a run at a top-eight medal.
Wrestling editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.