District 21 Recap: CBA wins team title, Alex Nini returns, Jackson Liberty’s Jake Klein continues hot streak, building blocks for Manasquan
POINT PLEASANT BORO -- Over the past two seasons, Jackson Liberty's Jake Klein has bounced between the 190 and 215-pound weight classes in order to help his team win dual meets and simultaneously figure out his ideal postseason weight.
Despite a trip to the state tournament last season, it's been a work in progress for the talented senior. Heading into this season's district tournaments, he feels as good as ever and is ready to make a run at a state medal.
On Saturday during the NJSIAA District 21 Tournament at Point Boro's Memorial Middle School, Klein secured his first career district championship by winning both of his bouts by fall to capture the 190-pound title. After receiving a bye into the semifinals as the No. 1 seed, Klein pinned Steinert's Dream Hemingway in the first period and then won by fall over Christian Brothers Academy's Peter Grippo in 4:52 in the championship bout.
The title is the first for Klein, who finished third at 160 pounds as a freshman and second at 215 pounds as a junior. He was one of two champions and six finalists for the Lions, who set a program record with nine medal winners and a second-place finish in the team standings.
Last season, Klein reached the second round of wrestlebacks at the state tournament competing in the 215-pound weight class. The success was there, but he had a good idea he either needed to bulk up or drop down a weight class for his senior year. So it was time to experiment.
"What I needed last season was to be a little heavier," Klein said. "I weighed about 188, 190 the whole time. Before the season I was 205, then got sick and got to 195, and since we didn't really. have a 190-pounder I said I can cut down and do both so we can get more points for the team."
"The Shore Conference Tournament was the real decider of what weight I wanted to go. I wanted to see what I could do at a high level and wanted to wrestle (CBA's Robert Canterino and/or Rumson-Fair Haven's Hudson Skove). That was my goal. I realized 190 is the best spot for me, strength-wise and being able to move a lot better and ride on top a lot better."
If he was still hesitant, his performance during the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 3 sectional tournament sealed the deal. He won by fall over Lacey's Matt Coon, a fellow state qualifier last season, to propel Liberty into its first sectional final. The Lions were no match for reigning and eventual Group 3 champion Delsea in the sectional final, but Klein scored a huge individual victory when he defeated Danny DiGiovacchino, 10-8 in sudden victory. DiGiovacchino placed eighth in the state at 190 pounds last season.
After some trial and error, Klein is ready to end his career on the medal stand.
"We found out this season that 215 was a little too much for me," Klein said. "At 190 I think I can do some damage this year."
Joining Klein as a district champion for the Lions was senior heavyweight Luis Valente, who won 2-1 over returning champion Jacob Howland of Hamilton West. Finishing second for Jackson Liberty were freshman Armani McCann (106), junior Anthony Urso (113), freshman Tucker Pazinko (120), and senior Max Bandelt (157). The Lions finished second in the team standings behind CBA for their highest finish in program history.
CBA's Alex Nini returns after month-long hiatus, wins District 21 OW
When the Shore Conference Tournament was seeded in late January, it was immediately noticeable that CBA junior Alex Nini, a two-time state medalist and Rutgers recruit was not entered in the 138-pound weight class. Head coach Billy Ashnault confirmed an unspecified injury and, at the time, said he hoped to get Nini back the following week.
A week turned into a month before Nini would step on the mat again, but there was no way he was going to miss the individual postseason. Nini looked sharp on Saturday and rolled to the District 21 138-pound title with two first-period falls and a 13-2 major decision over Point Boro's Nate Fletcher in the championship bout. He was voted the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler by the coaches.
"I was just a little banged up, don't want to get too much into it," Nini said of his injury. "I think a lot of people in my position maybe wouldn't wrestle, but I know I can get through it and it's not going to affect my wrestling much. I can deal with the pain."
The time away from the mat wasn't ideal, but it may end up being a blessing in disguise. Nini finished eighth in the state at 113 pounds as a freshman and placed fourth at 120 last season. He is a state title contender once again and, if he can repeat as Region 6 champion, could be the No. 1 overall seed at 138 in the state tournament.
"Honestly, my mindset is a little bit different," Nini said. "I feel fresh. A lot of kids don't get a break like that mid-season. I feel pretty healthy and I'm ready to go. I'm excited to wrestle again.
Nini was one of 10 individual champions for the Colts, who rolled to the now-unofficial team championship with 287 points and equaled their program record for district champs set last season. The NJSIAA halted its official recognition of district team championships this season, so, although the Colts were announced as the team champion, there was no trophy.
Seniors Julian George (144), Tyler Barrett (150), and Zander Silva (157) each won their third district championships (there were no district tournaments held during the 2021 season), seniors Robert Canterino (215), Nick Stump (175) and Anthony Lawrence (165) and junior Tyler Venet (120) repeated as champions, and sophomore AJ Falcone (120) and freshman Bobby Duffy (113) secured their first titles.
George and Duffy had the most intriguing championship bouts. At 144, George used a first-period takedown to defeat Ocean's James Farina, 3-1. George was the state runner-up at 138 pounds last season and Farina, a junior, is a two-time state qualifier. The final bout was at 113 pounds between Duffy and Jackson Liberty junior Anthony Urso. An early takedown gave Urso a 2-0 lead but Duffy countered with a reveal to tie the score heading into the second period. Duffy took the lead with another reversal in the second period and held on for a 4-2 victory through a scoreless third period.
Senior Peter Grippo finished second at 190 and sophomore Alex Provines was third at 106 to give CBA 12 Region 6 qualifiers.
Another step forward for Manasquan
I may not look like much to those outside the program, but Manasquan wrestling under head coach Justin Barowski continues to raise the bar for itself.
The Warriors had two finalists and will send a total of three wrestlers to the Region 6 Tournament. They also finished fifth in the team standings for their highest district finish since 1982, according to the team. It is the first time Manasquan has had two district finalists since 2017 and the first time since 2005 it will send three wrestlers to regions. Additionally, Barowski was selected as the District 21 Coach of the Year.
"I really wanted to break that streak - I think it's 19 seasons without a district champ - but having a couple guys in the finals and getting three guys through is great," Barowski said.
Senior Torey Falkingburg continued his breakout season by placing second at 132 pounds. Sophomore Michael O'Connor was second at 126 pounds and reached the final via a dramatic 7-5 victory in the semifinals in which he rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the third period. Junior Noah Mammeri finished third at 285 pounds.
A former standout at Point Beach where he was a three-time district champ (2003-2005) and the 2005 Region 6 152-pound champion, Barowski also spent time as an assistant coach at Point Boro before behind hired to lead Manasquan's wrestling program three years ago. He is used to success and is trying to bring that same winning attitude to a Manasquan program that is light on wrestling accolades.
"We're trying to make the most of what we have," Barowski said. "We're a competitive team now with kids who have only been wrestling for a year or two. The kids bought in and we have a to of support from the community, the administration, and the parents. To come in and really have to be patient is hard sometimes, but the most rewarding part is that I'll be able to watch this thing grow."
Barowski also runs the Manasquan rec program and started up a team in the Jersey Shore league.
"We're growing this from the ground up. It's pretty special but I have one foot on the ledge some matches," Barowski said. "I have to call and talk to Brady (Point Boro head coach Pat Brady) and he has a ton of wisdom. I look up to that guy and I'm grateful I got to coach with him and (Brian) Grainer at Boro. They've helped me a ton."
While most of his wrestlers are learning on the job, so too is Barowski. He wants to set reasonable yet aggressive expectations and let his wrestlers see he is there to help them become the best they can be.
"You see how I coach, I'm super passionate and sometimes I can get on the refs, and it's not because I'm a jerk or I don't like them, but I think the kids see that and they return it 100 percent," Barowski said. "I'll fight tooth and nail for them."
Point Boro, Toms River North keep district streaks intact
Point Boro and Toms River North each had a district champion to extend their decade-plus runs with at least one district champion.
Sophomore Joey DeAngelo won his first district title by wrestling to a 14-4 major decision over Jackson Liberty's Armani McCann in the 106-pound final. His victory made it 26 years in a row the Panthers have had at least one district champion. That is tied with Southern for the second-longest active streak in the Shore Conference, according to ShoreConferenceWrestling.com. The Panthers were third in the team standings for their seventh straight top-three finish.
At 132 pounds, Toms River North junior Joe Dolci won 3-0 over Manasquan's Torey Falkinburg to repeat as district champion. The Mariners have now had a district champ for 10 straight seasons.
District 21 - At Point Pleasant Boro Memorial Middle School
120: 2-Tyler Venet (CBA) d. 1-Tucker Pazinko (Jackson Liberty), 7-2
126: 1-AJ Falcone (CBA) md. 2-Michael O'Connor (Manasquan), 9-1
132: 1-Joe Dolci (Toms River North) d. 2-Torey Falkinburg (Manasquan), 3-0
138: 1-Alex Nini (CBA) md. 2-Nate Fletcher (Point Boro), 13-2
144: 1-Julian George (CBA) d. 2-James Farina (Ocean), 3-1
150: 1-Tyler Barrett (CBA) d. 2-Ryan Acquisto (Point Boro), 6-3
157: 1-Zander Silva (CBA) p. 3-Max Bandelt (Jackson Liberty), 1:40
165: 1-Anthony Lawrence (CBA) p. 2-Michael Poniros (Ocean), 1:37
175: 1-Nick Stump (CBA) md. 2-Dontae Bryan (Hamilton West), 14-2
190: 1-Jake Klein (Jackson Liberty) p. 3-Peter Grippo (CBA), 4:51
215: Robert Canterino (CBA) p. 2-Louis Bilardo (Steinert), 3:09
285: 2-Luis Valente (Jackson Liberty) d. 1-Jacob Howland (Hamilton West), 2-1
106: 1-Joey DeAngelo (Point Boro) md. 2-Armani McCann (Jackson Liberty), 14-4
113: 1-Bobby Duffy (CBA) d. 2-Anthony Urso (Jackson Liberty), 4-2
106: 3-Alex Provines (CBA) p. 4-Justin Penta (Ocean), 1:58
113: 2-Frankie Burgio (Point Boro) p. 5-Joseph Mahon (Steinert), 0:20
120: 3-Saul Marin (Lakewood) d. 4-Luke Meehan (Toms River North), 9-8
126: 3-Peter Abline (Jackson Liberty) p. 4-Steven Perez (Ocean), 1:59
132: 3-Boomer Volek (Ocean) d. 4-Devin Liriano (Steinert), 8-4
138: 3-Tristan Pedre (Toms River North) p. 4-Michael McNulty (Manasquan), 0:35
144: 4-Sam Scaturro (Point Boro) p. 3-Matthew LaBianca (Jackson Liberty), 1:19
150: 3-Jordan Ayyash (Jackson Liberty) md. 4-Justin Espinoza (Hamilton West), 9-0
157: 2-Jack Thompson (Point Boro) p. 4-Josh Calixte (Ocean), 2:15
165: 3-Tyler Criscuolo (Point Boro) p. 4-Mark Gustelia Toms River North), 2:42
175: 4-Elliot Morris (Steinert) d. 3-Brian Lee (Manasquan), 8-4
190: 4-Dream Hemingway (Steinert) d. 2-Xavion Moore (Lakewood), 5-0
215: 3-Kareem Fayed (Jackson Liberty) d. 4-Guy LaBranche (Hamilton West), 6-5
285: 3-Noah Mammeri (Manasquan) d. 4-David Dominguez (Lakewood), 9-5