ATLANTIC CITY – Aside from the five wrestlers to compete in Sunday’s state finals, the Shore Conference had 16 other state place-winners during this weekend’s NJSIAA Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall. Two of the highest finishers were St. John Vianney’s Nick Caracappa and Colts Neck’s Joey King, and both were emblematic of the perseverance required to earn a coveted spot on the medal stand.

Caracappa concluded his career with a 5-3 victory over Rumson-Fair Haven’s Nick Addison to go from a freshman who went 17-9 and lost on the first night of the District 21 Tournament to the third-place finisher in the state tournament at 170 pounds.

“I can’t even express the feeling,” Caracappa said. “I’m so excited for my parents to see the look on their face when I get up there.”

Caracappa reached the semifinals where he lost by 10-2 major decision to Bergen Catholic’s Chris Foca. To finish as high as possible following the defeat he had to go through a pair of Shore Conference wrestlers. First was a 4-3 decision over Howell’s Shane Reitsma in the wrestleback semifinals. Then it was round four with Addison after the two met in the Shore Conference Tournament final, the District 19 semifinals and the Region 5 final. Caracappa won the SCT final and the Region 5 title, while Addison took him out in the district semis en route to the championship.

“I think it’s because my coaches push me every day in the room to be a better wrestler,” Caracappa said. “Anyone can lose on any day and I think that’s how I go out there; wrestle my match and just win.”

Caracappa, who will continue his career at Johnson and Wales University, was a key part of St. John Vianney’s rise to prominence. The Lancers won the first division title in program history and also captured the team title at the Shore Conference Tournament. He credited legendary coaches Tony Caravella and Denny D’Andrea with helping him reach his potential.

“I couldn’t ask for better coaches to be around, their spirits are so high and good,” Caracappa said. “Every day they pushed me to be a better person and a better wrestler.”

King’s final high school wrestling match is something he’ll cherish forever. In the fifth-place bout at 120 pounds, King finally vanquished his longtime nemesis Richie Koehler with a dramatic 6-1 victory in sudden victory overtime. Tied at one after regulation, King came out on top in a scramble and put Koehler to his back, finishing off a victory he’d waited four years to get. He jumped into the arms of head coach Brett Jankos, who couldn’t help but shed tears of joy.

“I heard coach Jankos in the background saying, ‘Hip over! Hip over!’,” King said. “I wasn’t going to do it unless I heard it from him and I did. And thank god I did.”

King was 0-5 against Koehler in his high school career, losing three times in the Region 6 finals and twice more in regular-season bouts. Two came this season, including a 4-3 loss in the region final where Koehler won with a late takedown.

“Being right there every single time and always losing by a point in the last period, that killed me inside,” King said. “Going into this match I was a little nervous, but coach told me to have fun, to just go out there and do my thing.”

“My goal was to be on top of the podium but that didn’t work out, so I just had to keep fighting back,” King said. “Coming back and facing adversity to get that last one means a lot to me.”

“It’s been a frustrating battle against (Koehler) for a long time,” Jankos said. “Richie is an unbelievable wrestler and I’ve always known Joey was right there with him, we just came up short so many times. It’s just really nice to get the last one in his last match. It means the world to him and it means the world to me.”

King finished his career as a two-time district champion, a three-time region finalist and a three-time state qualifier. He is Colts Neck’s all-time wins leader with a 143-20 record.

“Emotions definitely got the best of me right there at the end,” Jankos said. “He’s one of the best kids to ever come through this program. He’s done everything we’ve asked and he’s bought in from day one. It’s nice to finally see him get that win he deserves.”

Finishing in fourth place were Lacey senior Luke Gauthier at 145, Addison at 170, Middletown North’ senior Nicko Cofone at 182 and St. John Vianney senior Steven Giannios at 220.

Gauthier reached the semifinals where he was defeated by Delsea’s Nick Bennett in controversial fashion. Bennett scored the winning takedown in sudden victory, but it appeared to come after time had expired even though the call was upheld. Bennett also took well over two minutes of injury time between the third period and overtime for which Lacey’s coaches were never given an explanation, according to head coach Tom Pfister.

Gauthier was able to battle back and pin Bergen Catholic’s Wade Unger to give himself a chance to wrestle for third. He lost to Hackettstown’s Alex Carida to finish third but still had a tremendous tournament.

“I’m a little riled up right now because I wanted to win that match,” Gauthier said following the third-place bout. “But when I’m up on that podium I’ll definitely feel very good about (the tournament).”

Gauthier, who plans on attending the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, finished the season with a 38-3 record. He concludes his career with a 124-27 record along with Shore Conference Tournament, District 27 and Region 7 championships from this season.

“I don’t have any regrets,” Gauthier said. “I worked as hard as I could for these past four years and ever since I started wrestling. I don’t regret what I didn’t do, but those what-ifs will always be there.”

Cofone gave Middletown North a state medalist for the third year in a row and also broke the Lions single-season record for wins with 45. His win over Raritan’s George Burdick in the blood round clinched a state medal, but it was his 6-4 wrestleback semifinal win over Paulsboro’s Santino Morina that meant the most to him. Morina defeated Cofone in overtime of the blood round in last season’s tournament and against in overtime at this season’s Mustang Classic.

“Last year in the blood round, that was tough losing in overtime,” Cofone said. “I had to get that monkey off my back to place, and to come back and beat the kid that took it from me last year felt even better.”

“It was an amazing feeling. I worked my whole life to get there. I wanted to place ever since I was a little kid. That medal is all I wanted and last year I came up short. I knew if I came up short again I would be so disappointed, so it’s such a relief.”

Giannios clinched a state medal with a 3-2 win over Westwood’s Benny Dahdah. He then defeated CBA’s Cameron DiGiorgio, 7-3, in the fifth round of wrestlebacks and edged Bergen Catholic’s Sage Mosco, 3-2 in ultimate tiebreaker, to reach the consolation final. He was defeated by Highland’s Devon Starks, 3-0, and finished fourth.

Addison’s fourth-place finish is tied with Patrick Berger for the highest in program history, and his 42 wins this season set a new program single-season record. He’ll enter his senior season with 97 career victories.

Finishing sixth were Koehler, Reitsma and Holmdel senior Scott Dupont. An injury forced Dupont to forfeit his two bouts on Sunday to drop to sixth, but that finish is still the highest ever for the Hornets. Dupont is Holmdel’s all-time wins leader with 146 and also set the program’s single-season mark by going 42-6 this season.

Reitsma was defeated by Addison in the quarterfinals but rallied with a 6-3 win over Governor Livingston’s Quinn Haddad to clinch his first state medal. He then beat Freehold Township’s Kyle Hillermeier, 8-0, to reach the consolation semifinals. He lost to Caracappa, 4-3, then lost to West Morris’s Marco Gaita, 5-3, to place sixth.

Ocean sophomore Alex Poniros was the No. 25 seed at 132 pounds and finished seventh in the state. He clinched a state medal with a thrilling 8-5 victory over Bergen Catholic’s Carmen Ferrante. Long Branch junior Kevin Cerruti finished seventh at heavyweight, clinching a state medal with a 3-2 win over Seton Hall Prep’s Nikolaos Diakides in ultimate tiebreaker.

Finishing eighth was Brick Memorial freshman Vincent Santaniello at 106, Howell senior Jerry Lleshi at 113, Hillermeier at 170, Long Branch’s Pete Wersinger at 195 and DiGiorgio at 220.  Santaniello won 3-0 over Emerson’s Nick Babin to clinch a state medal in a loaded 106-pound weight class. Hillermeier cradled and pinned Allentown’s Liam McDermott in the blood round. Wersinger beat Don Bosco Prep’s Luke Chakonis in double overtime to lock up a state medal. DiGiorgio won 5-0 over Carteret’s Frank Coghan in the blood round.

Lleshi’s 6-4 decision over Phillipsburg’s Cullen Day made him the unlikely lone state medalist from the Shore at 113. The weight class featured Lacey’s Hunter Gutierrez – a fifth-place finisher at 106 last year – along with returning state qualifiers Tyler Klinsky (Middletown North), Nico Messina (Freehold) and Ryan Zimmerman (Long Branch). Lleshi had never even made it out of the district tournament prior to this season.

“It’s honestly crazy,” Lleshi said. “I talked to some of my buddies and coaches and they were saying how people quit in the wrestlebacks and to just keep attacking. It’s not about technique at this point, it’s about who wants it more. I trusted them and came out as a placer.”

“It’s crazy, a dream come true.”


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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