Champion Thoroughbred: Brick Memorial’s Alec Donovan Wins the NJSIAA 145-Pound State Title
ATLANTIC CITY — The countless hours spent in the wrestling room honing his craft, the late-night and early-morning runs to stay on weight, and every other sacrifice Alec Donovan has made over the course of his wrestling career paid off in the biggest of ways on Sunday night at Boardwalk Hall.
The senior etched his name into the Brick Memorial record book when he held off Bound Brook sophomore Stephan Glasgow, 1-0, to win the NJSIAA 145-pound state championship. An escape in the third period was all Donovan needed to become the sixth wrestler in Brick Memorial history to claim New Jersey high school wrestling’s ultimate prize.
“Working out and doing the right things every day on and off the mat is what gets you where you want to be,” Donovan said. “It feels incredible right now.”
The best word to describe Donovan when he’s on the mat is relentless. He is unyielding on top and a velcro-like menace in scrambles. It was that tenacity that characterized his entire tournament and fueled the final three victories of his high school career.
After a scoreless first period, Donovan rode out Glasgow for the entire second period to keep the bout scoreless and turn the tide his way heading to the third. Donovan chose defense to start the third period, and Glasgow awarded him the free escape, preferring to work from his feet. Glasgow couldn’t penetrate Donovan’s defense, though, and after stopping a desperation leap by Glasgow in the closing seconds, Donovan ran across the mat and jumped into the arms of assistant coach Dean Albanese.
“I know the work he puts in and I’m proud of him,” said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Denver.
Donovan is Brick Memorial’s sixth wrestler to win a state championship (seven overall) and first since both Steve Santos and Mike Morales won titles at 152 and 130 pounds, respectively, in 2009. He also joins Bob Martin (1986), Nick Angen (1994 and 1996) and Steve Bruscino (1994) in the Mustangs’ pantheon of state champions.
Donovan’s run to a state championship began with a 12-3 major decision over Paramus’s Kyle Cochran in the pre-quarterfinals on Friday night. He made his move Saturday morning by pinning top-seeded Travis Vasquez of Delbarton with 30 seconds left in the third period in the quarterfinals. The fall was more of an exclamation point. Donovan had ridden out the returning third-place finisher and Beast of the East champ in the second period before scoring a reversal in the third to take a 2-0 lead.
To reach the final, Donovan used a reversal with seven seconds left to win 3-2 over High Point’s Jason Gaccione.
“That’s the way I was trained in the wrestling room: to take nothing for granted and to beat the (hell) out of people on top,” Donovan said.
With a state title now in hand, Donovan closes the book on what has been an incredible career. He is a three-time state qualifier and two-time medalist, a Region VI champion and a four-time District 23 champion. He helped the Mustangs capture a pair of team state titles in 2013 and 2015 and win three Shore Conference Tournament titles. His signature moment before Sunday was pinning Southern’s Matt Wilhelm to clinch the Group IV title in 2013. Now he’ll be most remembered for being a state champion.
There is a wall of champions inside the Shore Thing Wrestling Club with the faces of members that have won state championships, and Donovan has stared at it every time he’s walked through the doors. He always felt his picture would one day be there, and he left Boardwalk Hall Sunday night with that dream now a reality.
“It’s right in the front so you can’t miss it, and I walk by it every day saying there’s a spot and my picture belongs right there,” Donovan said. “Now it will be.”
Brick Memorial had four total finalists, which matched Bergen Catholic for the state-high. Both senior Cliff Ruggiero and sophomore Nick Rivera were big underdogs at 160 pounds and heavyweight, respectively, but both went down fighting against nationally-ranked opponents.
Ruggiero fell 7-2 to DePaul senior Dave McFadden, who won his second state championship and is ranked No. 5 in the nation. Ruggiero made an amazing run to the finals by pinning Clearview's Ed Lenkowski in the quarterfinals and defeating Phillipsburg's Max Elling 5-3 in the semifinals. It was Ruggiero's first trip to the state tournament, and he made it count by finishing second.
Rivera is ahead of the game as a sophomore heavyweight. He is the first heavyweight to reach the state finals as a sophomore since Manchester's Jimmy Lawson, who ended up being a three-time state champion. Chakonis took Rivera down in the first period and turned him for three near-fall points to take a 5-0 lead, and held on from there for his first state title.
Last season as a freshman Rivera was the only underclassman in the state tournament at heavyweight. This year he was one of just three sophomores in the field. Heavyweight is always dominated by the juniors and seniors, so Rivera is ahead of the game in that respect. He finished the season with a 32-2 record and will likely enter next season as the state title favorite.
In the 113-pound final, sophomore Gianni Ghione fell to Steinert junior Brandon Cray, 3-1. Cray's first-period takedown was all he needed to hold off Ghione and become the first Steinert wrestler to win a state title. In an interesting twist, Steinert is coached by former Brick Memorial star Adam Jankos, who was a state medalist in 1997.
Ghione was lights out in reaching the final with impressive wins over St. Peter's Prep's Alec Kelly and Morris Knolls' Garrett O'Shea. He dominated Kelly, who was the No. 1 overall seed, 16-5 in the quarterfinals before controlling O'Shea in a 6-4 win in the semifinals. He finished with a 35-3 record.
"Sunday was the cherry on top of a great season," said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Denver. "We'll go back with Gianni and Rivera and get better. We'll build on it."
"I'm definitely pumped about the way all my guys wrestled. People were saying we were underdogs in almost every match we had, so for all four to make it to the state finals shows the kinds of kids that are on the team."