Cloud 9: The Shore Conference has 9 wrestling state finalists in Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY – The Shore Conference put on a show on Friday night at Boardwalk Hall.
In one of the best state tournament showings in the history of the Jersey Shore, nine Shore Conference wrestlers advanced to the state finals at the NJSIAA Wrestling Championships in Atlantic City. It is the most since the Shore had 12 state finalists and seven state champions in 2008.
What has been an incredible tournament continued for Brick Memorial as freshman Anthony Santaniello (106) and juniors Vincent Santaniello (120) and David Szuba (195) each won their semifinal bouts to give the Mustangs three state finalists. The Santaniello brothers are the first brothers to reach the state finals in the same year since Dean and Luke Drugac of Morris Knolls in 2016.
Returning state champion Dean Peterson, the outstanding 120-pound junior from St. Vianney, reached his third straight state final, while Middletown North senior Tyler Klinsky at 113 and Howell senior Shane Reitsma at 170 returned to the championship bouts after finishing second last year.
Toms River North senior Nick Boggiano stunned the No. 1 seed with a second-period pin at 152 pounds to become Toms River North’s first state finalist since 2007. Colts Neck senior Luke Rada became the program’s second state finalist in history by winning an all-Shore battle at 182. Szuba also took out the No. 1 seed in a thrilling 195-pound semifinal and Southern Regional senior JT Cornelius reached the heavyweight championship match as the No. 7 seed.
It felt like the glory days.
The first wrestler to book his spot in the state finals was Anthony Santaniello, but to do so he had to go through his best friend, training partner and a fellow top-five nationally-ranked wrestler in the form of Brick sophomore Evan Tallmadge. Santaniello handed Tallmadge his only defeat of the season, 1-0, in the Shore Conference Tournament final. Santaniello has yet to taste defeat this season.
Just like the first bout it was a scoreless first period, but this time Santaniello didn’t shy away from getting to his offense. He escaped Tallmadge’s grasp in the second period and took him down to take a 3-0 lead into the third. Tallmadge escaped in the third period but Santaniello took him down again, rode him out and finished off a 5-1 victory to reach the 106-pound state final.
The difference this time?
“Offense,” Santaniello said. “I knew he was close to taking me down twice at Shore Conference so I wanted to control the ties and wrestle my match. If I’m winning 1-0 and get taken down that’s the match and I can’t have that. I had to get a lead.”
“Last time I was so nervous for his dump his double, his duck, but in this one I just said I want to wrestle my best and let it fly and not worry about what he does. Have an idea, but not make it my full concern. I wanted to be aware but wrestle my match and be aware of how good my offense is.”
Santaniello (37-0) will wrestle Kinnelon sophomore Evan Mougalian (43-0) in the 106-pound state championship bout. Mougalian defeated Santaniello in the middle school state final when Santaniello was in 7th grade and Mougalian was an eighth-grader. The stakes are much bigger now, but Santaniello knows he’s not the same wrestler he was two years ago.
“I didn’t know what he could do but now I do and I’m a lot better of a wrestler,” Santaniello said. “I train with my brother, Michael Richardson, Nick Torre. I think I have the best room in the state around my weight class.”
Vincent Santaniello could barely contain his joy after his younger brother won, but he knew his time was about to come. Shortly after Anthony Santaniello’s semifinal victory, Vincent Santaniello delivered a thrilling 4-3 victory over Emerson/Park Ridge senior Nick Babin to reach the 120-pound state final.
A reversal in the third period gave Santaniello a 2-1 lead but Babin escaped to tie it 2-2 and force overtime. After a scoreless sudden victory period, Santaniello hit another reversal to go up 4-2 in the first tiebreaker period. Babin escaped in the second tiebreaker period but Santaniello held him off to reach his first state final.
“When I was standing he would hook my two legs behind me and I didn’t know you could do that, I thought you had to have one leg on the ground at least but he had two feet off the ground,” Santaniello said. “So I just sat on top of him and then I would catch a leg. Me and Anthony work on this a lot where I will catch a leg and lift it up and just sit on guys, and it’s really hard to move.”
Poised has been the perfect word to describe the Santaniello brothers this season. Anthony has been the personification of calm since December and Vincent has now won three double or triple overtime bouts since the Region 7 final, including an ultimate tiebreaker win over Randolph’s Matt DeStefanis. He could have panicked when Babin was granted injury time as Santaniello was closing in a takedown, but he stayed focused.
“I was ready to freak out, I’m not going to lie, but my coaches pulled me to the side and I looked over to my family, took a deep break and got back to work,” Santaniello said. “I was comfortable (in overtime). It made me feel better having been there before, here especially. I got my second wind when overtime came and I was ready for it.”
“They have ice in their veins those kids,” said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Kiley. “They’re so poised in pressure situations and they are just so impressive.”
Anthony and Vincent are the first brothers to reach the state finals together since the Drugacs in 2016, but they’d much rather be mentioned in the same sentence as the Worthys. Central’s dynamic duo of Mark and Maurice Worthy were the last to do such, both winning state championships in 1996.
“It’s awesome,” Vincent said. “The first day we get here we’re lying in bed and Anthony says ‘Hey Vin, I think we’re going to be the first brothers to be in the state finals’. Just nonchalant like we’re already in the state finals. That’s when it hit; let’s do this.”
“They’re special kids,” said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Kiley. “They’ve been working their whole lives for this. This is what they do. This is what the Santaniello family does.”
Santaniello will face a familiar foe in the 120-pound state final. It will be Dean Peterson vs. Vincent Santaniello round 5 on the center mat on Saturday afternoon. Peterson has won all four meetings, including three times in the Shore Conference Tournament finals. But this past SCT was the closest, a 5-3 win over Peterson where Santaniello took him down, which has happened just a handful of times in Peterson’s high school career. The gap appears to have tightened.
“Going into the Shore Conference Tournament finals I was a little timid at first and then I started feeling him out and I realized I’m a lot stronger than I was and a lot better than I was,” Santaniello said. “And I think he knows it, too.”
The celebration wasn’t over for the Mustangs.
At 195 pounds, Szuba stunned the No. 1 seed, Delbarton senior Luke Chakonis, 10-5, thanks to a reversal and three back points late in the third period. Szuba was down 3-1 entering the third period but escaped to make it 3-2 and took Chakonis down to take a 4-3 lead. Chakonis needed injury time and that resulted in Szuba being awarded choice. He took bottom, Chakonis awarded him an uncontested escape and he led 5-3 with 1:02 left.
Chakonis took Szuba down with 37 seconds left and threw a leg in, but Szuba was ready for it. He got to his base and started to shake Chakonis off before scoring a reversal with 25 seconds left to take a 7-5 lead. At the same time, he put Chakonis to his back for three nearfall points to win 10-5.
“When he took me down I knew I was getting out, no one can hold me down,” said a fired-up Szuba immediately following the match. “I knew he throws boots – I watched him wrestle (Camden Catholic’s Martin) Cosgrove in the summer. So I baited him and just jumped the gun and now I’m in the state finals.”
Since suffering a 10-3 to Jackson Memorial’s Kyle Epperly in the Shore Conference Tournament final, Szuba has been on a tear. He pinned Epperly in the Region 7 semifinals and ran through the state bottom bracket at 195 like a flamethrower.
“When I lost in the blood round to Misita (St. Augustine Prep’s Mike Misita) last year I was hitting springs and haven’t stopped since,” Szuba said. “Now I’m here and I gotta get paid.”
The only opponent to defeat Szuba since the SCT is Cosgrove, who won 10-9 in the Region 7 final. The rematch now comes with a state championship on the line.
“I feel like it’s going to be one hell of a match,” Szuba said. “I really want it and I know he wants it, too.”
To reach the state final at 152 pounds, Toms River North’s Nick Boggiano used a move he learned in his first high school practice.
Down 2-0 to the No. 1 seed, Lyndhurst/North Arlington’s Dylan Weaver, Boggiano hit a ‘spider’ and pinned Weaver in 2:48 to advance to the state final.
“Huber (assistant coach Josh Huber) showed me that freshman year actually,” Boggiano said. “We called it the spider. My back is pretty flexible so it’s kind of like a back bridge and I turn over with it. I’m pretty flexible and I don’t feel uncomfortable when kids throw legs. I know I’m going to get out or get a reversal.”
Boggiano was rolling along undefeated when he lost to Camden Catholic’s Brandon Mooney in the Region 7 final. It helped him hit the reset button.
“It helped me a little bit, brought me back down,” Boggiano said.
He was hoping to see Mooney again in the state final, but Paramus junior Aaron Ayzerov beat Mooney 2-1 in double overtime in the other semifinals.”
“One more to go,” Boggiano said. “I just have to keeping going.”
Colts Neck’s Luda Rada reached the state tournament as a freshman when he was at Howell. As a sophomore, however, he didn’t have a spot in the lineup when the individual postseason rolled around. It made him savor the moments in Boardwalk Hall the last two seasons with Colts Neck.
“When I didn’t come down here sophomore year I knew you can’t take any moments down here for granted,” Rada said. “And that’s what I’ve been thinking about all tournament.”
Rada used two nearfall points in double overtime to defeat Wall junior Jake Whitworth, 5-3, and advance to the 182-pound final. He is Colts Neck’s second state finalist in program history and first since Tyler Fraley made the 106-pound final in 2010 and lost to South Plainfield’s Anthony Ashnault.
“I feel like I’ve been putting in the right work and my coaches and teammates believe in me,” Rada said.
The bout was tied 2-2 heading to the third period. Rada escaped to go up 3-2 but was hit for a second stalling call to knot the bout 3-3 and force overtime. Rada got the turn and punched his ticket into the state final.
“I just sunk a half and sat to the other side to a quick tilt,” Rada said. “It’s something I work in the room with my coaches every day and it just panned out.”
Rada will meet Colonia’s John Poznanski in the state final. Poznanski, a Rutgers recruit, is a two-time state top-three finisher, including second last season at 182. He is 39-0.
“I haven’t watched him too much but obviously I know he’s a real tough wrestler,” Rada said. “I’m just happy about this now and I’ll worry about him tomorrow.”
Going Out With a Bang
Southern’s JT Cornelius knew regardless of what happened this weekend it would be the last time he’d be putting a singlet. His future is on the gridiron at Monmouth University.
“When I was leaving school to come down here I was talking to the teachers and saying it’s my last high school tournament so I might as well make it a good one,” Cornelius said.
He’s certainly done that.
Cornelius won 3-1 in sudden victory overtime over Dwight Morrow’s Hector Lebron to reach the heavyweight state final. Seeded No. 7, Cornelius beat the No. 2 seed, returning state medalist Marcus Estevez from Franklin, in the quarterfinals, as well.
Tied 1-1 after regulation, Cornelius felt a window to find the winning points.
“He was getting tired and I knew he would start coming to my head,” Cornelius said. “I had that collar set and as soon as he planted I threw him.”
Cornelius started the season at heavyweight but went down to 220 in January. He decided to go 285 for the individual postseason. He isn’t the heaviest heavyweight at 225 pounds, but his 6-foot-6 frame makes him tough to wrestle for the big guys.
“It’s weird jumping from 220 to heavyweight because it’s a completely different style,” Cornelius said. “You just have to do your own thing and hope it works out for you.”
So far, it absolutely has.
Cornelius will face talented St. Joseph (Montvale) freshman Jim Mullen in the final. Mullen was seeded 13th beat the 4, 5 and 8 seeds to reach the final. He pinned Howell’s Justin Wright in 43 seconds in the semifinals. He too is a lighter heavyweight coming in at around 240 pounds.
“Every wrestler works towards this goal and to make it here is unbelievable,” Cornelius said.
Taking Care of Business
The Shore Conference’s three returning state finalists all made it back to the state championship round.
Middletown North senior Tyler Klinsky won 7-2 over Bergen Catholic’s Joe Cangro in the 113-pound semifinals. The most impressive part of the win was that Klinsky, who is excellent on his feet and won by technical fall in his first three bouts, won without scoring a takedown. He had reversals in the first and second periods and turned Cangro for two back points in the third.
Klinsky will meet Don Bosco Prep’s Kelly Dunnigan in the 113-pound state final. Dunnigan handed Klinsky his only loss of the season, 10-5, in the final of the Sam Cali Memorial Invitational.
At 120, Peterson cruised to a 3-0 shutout over Bergen Catholic’s Nick Kayal to reach his third straight state final. Since taking second in the state as a freshman Peterson has won 71 straight matches. He will face Brick Memorial’s Vincent Santaniello in the 120-pound state final. It will be the fifth meeting between the two and Peterson has won the prior four, including 5-3 in this year’s Shore Conference Tournament final.
Howell’s Shane Reitsma was in a slugfest with Rumson-Fair Haven junior Jack Kelly but survived, 6-4, on a takedown with eight seconds left in regulation, to get back to the 170-pound state final. Reitsma is a three-time state medalist and two-time finalist who took second to Paulsboro’s Brandon Green last season. Reitsma will face DePaul senior Connor O’Neil, whom he defeated earlier this season at the PowerAde Tournament.
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