Redemption: St. John Vianney tops Camden Catholic in Non-Public B rematch to win first state title since 1995
PISCATAWAY -- Ryan Buchanan was running on fumes, his six-point lead having quickly evaporated in a heavyweight matchup with Lars Stegner during the Non-Public B state championship match between Saint John Vianney and Camden Catholic.
It was understandable why. The Lancers football standout had originally decided to forgo wrestling his senior year and was instead spending his time in the gym getting stronger for his college football career. There wasn't much cardio in his routine. In wrestling shape, he was not.
But here Buchanan was, three bouts into his brief and unplanned wrestling season locked in a critical bout in the state finals. He didn't have much gas left in the tank, but he knew it was enough to strike the final blow.
Clinging to a one-point lead late in the second period, Buchanan summoned his final reserves of energy to launch Stegner with a lateral drop and toss him to his back, completing the fall at the 3:42 mark to help send the Lancers on their way to a 33-24 victory over Camden Catholic in the NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship match on Sunday at Rutgers University's Jersey Mike's Arena.
It is St. John Vianney's second group state title in program history and first since 1995.
"I've been training strictly for strength lately, going 3 to 5 reps to try to get my numbers up so coming out here was a little tough," Buchanan said. "When he was getting those points on me I wasn't too worried because I knew I was going to pin him in the end. I was waiting for the opportunity."
"He was at the crossroads," said St. John Vianney head coach Chris Notte. "I don't even know if could have told you his address he was so tired. He's been trying to work out and get his body big and strong for football but he was there for us and he couldn't have come up any more clutch that he did. He had maybe one move left in his body and I said made this last one count."
Buchanan nearly ended the bout early when he took Stegner to his back with a headlock one minute into the first period. Stegner escaped and secured a takedown but Buchanan answered with a reversal to take a 7-3 lead into the second period. The furious pace of the first period in Buchanan's third bout of the season during a pressure-packed state final quickly took its toll in the second period. Buchanan opened the second with a takedown to forge a 9-3 lead but he abruptly hit a wall and could barely stay on his feet. Stegner escaped and took Buchanan down to close the gap to 9-5. Buchanan got to his feet but was hit with two stalling calls to give another point to Stegner. A takedown and an additional stalling point sandwiched around an escape left Buchanan desperately holding onto an 11-10 lead. Then came the knockout punch.
Buchanan may not even wrestle in the NJSIAA district tournament, but either way, his undefeated three-bout senior season will be one to remember.
"I had a shoulder injury during football season and was focused on getting ready for (college) football. I committed to West Chester this week," Buchanan said. "But you have all the guys hanging out with you every day trying to bring you back, coaches bringing you back. I came back for these past three matches and went 3-0. After being here last year on the losing side of it, losing my match and the state championship, getting back this year and winning both feels amazing."
Buchanan was one of several heroes for the Lancers, who won eight bouts, including the first three and the last two, and produced three clutch pins. Superstar sophomore Anthony Knox, a two-time state champion ranked No. 1 in the nation at 120 pounds, won by fall and sophomore John Saraiva essentially clinched the match with a pin at 165 in the penultimate bout. Sophomore Daniel Breen and senior Luca Minardo won toss-up bouts at 190 and 215 to start the match and help the Lancers build a 12-0 lead heading into 106 pounds. At 157, freshman Ryan "Bubba" Gavrish fought off his back and limited Camden Catholic standout sophomore Kage Jones to an 8-6 decision with two bouts left.
"It's about doing it for the guys next to you," Knox said. "Everyone fought throughout the season and we won as a team. How it was marked up is not how it went but guys found a way. Gavrish found a way to fight off that pin, John Saraiva got a pin, Cole Stangle went up and beat the No. 10 kid in the state, Ryan Buchanan looked like he was going to die and got the pin. Everyone put in maximum effort and I'm super proud of everyone."
"When you have some studs sprinkled around the lineup that's great and great for momentum, but the other guys in between are so important," Notte said. "For 365 days I've been telling these guys it's going to take a team effort and we were going to need a little bit more from everybody."
One of St. John Vianney's two lineup maneuvers was to move Breen up from 175 to 190 and it paid off when he opened the match with a 10-7 victory over Tristan Owen. Breen supplied all the offensive points in the bout with three takedowns in the first period and a reversal and a takedown in the third. Minardo followed with a 3-0 victory over Nelson Vidro at 215 before Buchanan's thunderous pin at heavyweight turned the lineup over with a 12-0 Lancers lead.
Camden Catholic got on the board at 106 when Chase Martino won 4-0 over Riley Correal. SJV answered right back with two of its hammers as sophomore Matthew Gould, last season's state 8th-place finisher at 106 pounds, won 4-1 in a marquee matchup with two-time state qualifier Dom Digiacomo and Knox pinned Noah Madomo at 120. The matchup SJV hoped to get was Knox on Camden Catholic standout sophomore Sammy Spaulding at 126, but the Irish made sure that couldn't happen by weighing Spaulding in at 132 pounds.
Vianney's lead was 21-3 through the first six bouts but they knew the match was far from over. Lazarus Joyce won by fall over Liam Steiner at 126 to pull the Irish to within 21-9 heading into a tremendous matchup at 132 between Spaulding and SJV junior Patrick O'Keefe, a two-time state medalist.
A reversal by Spaulding early in the third period followed by an escape from O'Keefe sent the bout to overtime tied 2-2. After a scoreless sudden victory period, Spaulding had choice and started the first tiebreaker period on defense. O'Keefe was warned for stalling with 19 seconds left in the 30-second tiebreaker and Spaulding escaped with nine seconds left to take a 3-2 lead. In the second tiebreaker period, O'Keefe scored a reversal with 11 seconds left to take a 4-3 lead but Spaulding immediately countered to go up 5-4 and hold on in the final seconds.
With much of Camden Catholic's firepower yet to wrestle, Spaulding's victory looked like it could turn the tide back in the Irish's favor. SJV junior Jake Zaltsman won 7-0 at 138 to give the Lancers a 24-12 lead with five bouts left but Michael Craft edged Desmond Lenaghan, 2-1, in a matchup of state qualifiers at 144 pounds and Austin Craft pinned Abraham Adu-Amoako in 2:51 at 150 pounds to cut Vianney's lead to 24-21 with three bouts left.
As important as any of SJV's eight victories was Gavrish's gutsy performance at 157 against Jones. Camden Catholic needed bonus points and was likely expecting that from its dynamic sophomore, who reached the blood round at the state tournament last season and placed fifth at this season's Beast of the East Tournament. Jones struck quickly with a takedown and put Gavrish to his back with 23 seconds left in the first period, but the SJV freshman fought off the mat and survived into the second period. Gavrish got better as the match progressed, taking down Jones in the second period, although Jones clapped back with a reversal to lead 7-2 heading into the third period. A major decision seemed imminent, but a reversal from Gavrish in the third period and a late takedown prevented a major decision. By the time the buzzer sounded Gavrish was the one in control.
"I think he figured out midway through the second period he could actually be the dominant wrestler in that matchup," Notte said. "Jones has a lot of length and a lot of pins behind him so we knew we had to be smart. He fought off his back and that's a character move there. He wrestled his butt off and if it's not for that injury time or whatever that was, we broke that guy and we could have had him at the end."
The match was now tied at 24 with two bouts left. The Lancers had Stangle, a two-time state qualifier who reached the blood round at 150 pounds last season, waiting to close out the match, but they needed at least a win at 165 to make his job simple. Enter Sariava, who sent the St. John Vianney bench into a frenzy when he pinned Trevor DeSumma in 90 seconds to give the Lancers a 30-24 lead with one bout remaining.
"As soon as I broke him flat I knew I had to pop my head under, and once I was getting the backs I knew I was going to get the pin," Saraiva said. " That solidified it. I know Cole is a great wrestler and he was going to seal the deal at 175. Once we got to 165 I knew I had to come up big for my team. I love these guys. They're not my teammates, they're my brothers."
With a six-point advantage heading into the final bout, Camden Catholic's only hope was to pin Stangle and send the match to tiebreaking criteria. That was a pipe dream, however, and Stangle closed the books on SJV's first state title in 29 years with a 5-0 win over Jaden Simpson at 175.
"I think a big part of it was staying calm," Saraiva said. "We're a great team and they're a great team, but I knew if we stayed calm and poised we could bring it back."
The Lancers were on the brink of a state championship last season before losing four of the final five bouts in a 33-29 loss to Camden Catholic in the state final. Getting another shot at the Irish at Rutgers has been a driving force in their wrestling room ever since, and on Sunday afternoon they earned redemption.
"It's been on our minds every since," Saraiva said. "This whole season has led up to this point and I'm so happy that we got back here and finally got our revenge."
St. John Vianney 33, Camden Catholic 24
|Daniel Breen (Saint John Vianney) over Tristan Owen (Camden Catholic) Dec 10-7
|Luca Minardo (Saint John Vianney) over Nelson Vidro (Camden Catholic) Dec 3-0
|Ryan Buchanan (Saint John Vianney) over Lars Stegner (Camden Catholic) Fall 3:42
|Chase Martino (Camden Catholic) over Riley Correal (Saint John Vianney) Dec 4-0
|Matthew Gould (Saint John Vianney) over Dom Digiacomo (Camden Catholic) Dec 4-1
|Anthony Knox (Saint John Vianney) over Noah Madorno (Camden Catholic) Fall 4:11
|Lazarus Joyce (Camden Catholic) over Liam Steiner (Saint John Vianney) Fall 0:35
|Sammy Spaulding (Camden Catholic) over Patrick O`Keefe (Saint John Vianney) TB-1 5-4
|Jake Zaltsman (Saint John Vianney) over Eric Swanson (Camden Catholic) Dec 7-0
|Michael Craft (Camden Catholic) over Desmond Lenaghan (Saint John Vianney) Dec 2-1
|Austin Craft (Camden Catholic) over Abraham Adu-Amoako (Saint John Vianney) Fall 2:51
|Kage Jones (Camden Catholic) over Ryan Gavrish (Saint John Vianney) Dec 8-6
|John Saraiva (Saint John Vianney) over Trevor DeSumma (Camden Catholic) Fall 1:30
|Cole Stangle (Saint John Vianney) over Jaden Simpson (Camden Catholic) Dec 5-0