The Iceman Cometh: CBA freshman Bobby Duffy stuns returning state finalist, Colts repeat as Shore Conference Tournament champion
MIDDLETOWN -- Christian Brothers Academy assistant coach Vinnie DelleFave has a nickname for Colts freshman 113-pounder Bobby Duffy. He calls him "The Iceman".
On Saturday evening, the rest of the Shore Conference found out why.
In the final bout of the Shore Conference Tournament on Saturday at Middletown South, Duffy stunned returning state finalist Patrick O'Keefe of St. John Vianney, 6-1 in sudden victory, to claim the SCT 113-pound title in dramatic fashion. Tied 1-1 heading into overtime, Duffy countered a takedown attempt by O'Keefe, won the scramble, and came out the other side for a takedown and three near-fall points to clinch the title.
"He got to my legs, which obviously I didn't want, but I knew I could scramble through any of those positions," Duffy said. "The match is never over until the last whistle is blown. You can always come back, so you never stop."
"The biggest thing about Bobby is he gets excited to wrestle and he lets it fly," said CBA head coach Billy Ashnault. "I don't think he gets fazed by too much and once he shakes hands he lets it fly. He puts himself in position to win every time."
O'Keefe was the state runner-up at 106 pounds last season and ranked No. 1 in the state at 113 pounds by NJ.com. He won his first three bouts at the Beast of the East as the No. 6 seed before withdrawing from the tournament due to an injury. He then finished second at the Sam Cali Memorial Tournament, losing to Blair Academy's Leo DeLuca in the 120-pound bracket. Prior to Saturday's final, O'Keefe had been defeated by just two NSIAA wrestlers - Livingston's Aidan Carmody and DePaul Catholic's Adrian DeJesus (twice) - the latter of which came in the 106-pound state final, 3-2.
Dufffy, however, entered well-seasoned thanks to CBA's formidable schedule, armed with the confidence he could emerge as the SCT champion.
"I know I'm dangerous and I can keep up with any of these guys," Duffy said. "I know if I never stop wrestling I can put anybody to their back. I've wrestled with Pat a lot before in practices, grew up with him. I knew I could wrestle with any of those guys. I didn't believe it at first but in Sam Cali when I was competing with and beating some of the top guys and then today, I know I can beat anybody in New Jersey.
"His match poise is awesome," Ashnault said. "If he makes a few little changes here and there, technique-wise, he can stay top in the state for four years to come."
Duffy was seeded 10th in the tournament but that was clearly not a reflection of his abilities. The fact that he is a freshman with no prior postseason criteria, which is used in the seeding process, coupled with the fact that he had wrestled only one Shore Conference wrestler in the 113-pound bracket meant he received the No. 10 seed. He was not surprised.
"I kind of expected it to be low because I'm a freshman and I didn't wrestle anybody in the Shore Conference who was up there (seeded high)," Duffy said. "I just had to believe in myself and keep wrestling. Never stop."
Duffy was one of four champions for the Colts, who repeated as SCT champion by out-pointing second-place St. John Vianney, 196.5 to 180. The senior trio of Julian George (144), Tyler Barrett (150), and Zander Silva (157) also claimed titles. Senior Robert Canterino and senior Anthony Lawrence placed second at 215 pounds and 165 pounds, respectively, while senior Nick Stump was third at 175, sophomore AJ Falcone was fourth at 126, and junior Tyler Venet was sixth at 120. CBA's nine medalists is an SCT record and the four champions tied the SCT record equaled by Howell (2019) and St. John Vianney (2018).
The SCT individual format began in 2018 after running as a dual-meet tournament from 1975 through 2017. CBA won the SCT last season when it briefly returned to a dual meet format. The tournament was last held as an individual tournament in 2020, was not held in 2021 due to the altered schedule from Covid, and returned to the team tournament format last season because of logistical issues.
The Colts won the SCT without standout junior Alex Nini, who is out with an injury and will be re-evaluated this coming week, Ashnault said. Nini is a two-time state medalist, placing fourth in the state at 120 pounds last season. He is committed to Rutgers.
George, who was the state runner-up at 138 pounds last season, rolled to the 144-pound title with a fall, two technical falls, and a major decision. He won by 13-5 major decision over Long Branch's Joe Giordano in the championship bout and amassed 68 points in his quarterfinal, semifinal, and championship bouts.
At 150 pounds, Barrett used a takedown with under 30 seconds remaining in the third period to defeat Ocean's James Farina, 3-1. Barrett won his semifinal bout over St. John Vianney's Cole Stangle, 1-0, continuing his trend of excelling in close, low-scoring bouts. Barrett was third in the state at 150 pounds last season.
Silva also needed to win a pair of one-point bouts in the semifinals and finals to win the 157-pound title. He trailed Toms River East's Nick DeLorenzo 2-0 before rallying for a 3-2 victory in the semifinals. In the championship bout, Silva rode out Middletown South's David Hussey in the second period and then used an intentional escape to start the third to win 1-0. Silva was third in New Jersey at 157 pounds last season.
Canterino was defeated by Rumson-Fair Haven's Hudson Skove, 2-1 in tiebreaker, in the 215-pound final between two of the state's best. Skove is currently ranked No. 1 in New Jersey by NJ.com and Canterino is ranked sixth.
Lawrence lost by 20-8 major decision to St. John Vianney's Jasiah Queen in the 165-pound final. Queen was fifth in the state at 157 pounds last season.
"We have a really hard schedule this year and challenged these guys, which is important for our program and something we wanted to do," Ashnault said. "Here at Shore Conference, you get to wrestle for. team title and that's what these guys did. Down a man without NIni, these guys picked each other up."
He once hated wrestling. How he's an SCT champion
Jackson Memorial's Ryan Fischer remembers his first experience with wrestling. It did not go well.
"I was on the middle school team and then I quit because I was so bad," Fischer said. "I just got my butt whooped all the time and I said I'm done with this, I'll stick to football."
My how things have changed five years later.
Fischer claimed the 285-pound SCT championship on Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Wall's Keisun Sanders to remain unbeaten and continue a successful wrestling career that seemed unlikely when he entered high school. After escaping in the second period, Fischer rode out Sanders the entire third period to win the championship and remain undefeated. He is one of three remaining unbeaten wrestlers in the Shore along with Brick Memorial's Anthony Santaniello and St. John Vianney's Anthony Knox.
"We wrestle in practice sometimes - he goes to Shore Thing every once and a while," Fischer said. "I knew boots were coming, he knew boots were coming. I just came down to who practiced better, who worked harder for it, who wanted it more."
Fischer's change of heart began when Jackson Memorial assistant football coach Chris Rash told Fischer he would be joining the wrestling team. At the time, Rash was also an assistant coach for the Jaguars wrestling team.
"Coach Rash made me wrestle freshman year and I hated it," Fischer said. "He whooped my butt and he made me stick with it. And it made me better as a football player, which is what it was originally for."
Fischer was a two-year starter for the Jaguars as an offensive and defensive lineman.
"Covid year I started working my butt off, hitting the heavy bag every day and I lost a bunch of weight. Sophomore year was going to be my year. I thought I was going to start and then won the starting job, but I broke my hand before the Brick Township match and couldn't wrestle. Junior year it all started coming together and that was my work year. I beat some good kids but also lost to some bad kids."
Now, Fischer is an unbeaten Shore Conference Tournament heavyweight champion who plans on wrestling in college.
"I love it," Fischer said. "I love winning. Winning is fun."
Queen is King
St. John Vianney's Jasiah Queen was fifth in the state at 157 pounds, a remarkable season for one of the Shore's most exciting - and stylish - wrestlers at any weight class. This season, Queen has reverted to an old mentality to take his game to another level.
Queen dominated the 165-pound bracket at the SCT with three technical falls and one major decision, scoring an astounding 84 points in four bouts. In the championship bout, he won by 20-8 major decision over CBA's Anthony Lawrence.
"This year I'm just trying to score as many points as I can and that's what's helped me," Queen said. "When I was a kid I scored a lot but I stopped doing it. I came back to it this year because that's what's always helped me win."
Weight drop for title winners Santaniello and Zaleski
Anthony Santaniello knows what it looks like from the outside, but those opinions matter little in his quest for another state title.
Santaniello made the drop from 138 pounds to 132 this week, competed as such in the Shore Conference Tournament, and continued his dominant career by cruising to his second SCT championship. He won by medical forfeit over Howell's Giovanni Scafidi in the final after Scafidi aggravated a wrist injury during his semifinal victory. Santaniello, of course, would have been the overwhelming favorite despite Scafidi's talent and resume. Such is the case for a state champion and three-time state finalist seeking to conclude his career on top of the medal stand one final time.
"It looks like I'm running and I'm sure a lot of people think that but I'm light and it's a good move for us as a team, too," Santaniello said.
For some background, Santaniello was defeated in last season's 132-pound state final by Delbarton's Tyler Vazquez, 2-1. Vazquez is currently at 138 pounds. Vazquez also defeated Santaniello in last season's Beast of the East final, 6-5. A wrestler of Santaniello's caliber trying to avoid another wrestler who beat him by one point twice doesn't make much sense, but people will believe what they want.
"It is what it is," Santaniello said. "It's "team first" for us and we're all making moves (to get down a weight). I'm going to stay down at 132. I feel really good, my wrestling is still great, I feel strong, and I'm scoring points and having fun."
Santaniello won by technical fall in the first round, by fall in the quarterfinals, and by technical fall in the semifinals to improve to 21-0. He is one of three undefeated wrestlers left in the Shore along with St. John Vianney 120-pounder Anthony Knox and Jackson Memorial heavyweight Ryan Fischer.
As a senior who will continue his career at the University of Oklahoma next season, Santaniello is trying to savor every bout. When he heard that Scafidi had to medically forfeit, he jokingly (half-jokingly?) asked tournament officials if he could square off against the wrestler whom Scafidi defeated in the semifinals.
"I'm just trying to enjoy it," Santaniello said. "I just love wrestling so much and I'm happy to be back; grateful to be healthy. It was a little scary in the beginning of the season when sometimes my elbow (Santaniello injured his elbow at Fargo Nationals in the summer) would feel weird and I'd get worried, but now I'm here wrestling and having fun."
Middletown South Jack Zaleski also dropped down a weight from 132 to 126 and understands that similar questions will be asked. He didn't care, either.
"I'm going to have to beat good guys either way to win a state title," Zaleski said. "I'll have to beat them anyway so I don't really care who's in what weight."
Competing in his home gym for what could be the final time, Zaleski won the 126-pound SCT title with a 3-1 victory over Howell's Sebastian Ortega. After a scoreless first period, the Rutgers signee escaped and scored a takedown to build a 3-0 advantage. He then rode out Ortega for the entire third period, a penalty point for an illegal hold accounting for Ortega's only point. He is the first male to win an SCT title for Middletown South, adding to his impressive list of accomplishments as one of the best wrestlers in program history.
Zaleski is a three-time state medalist, a two-time region champion and three-time finalist, and a two-time district champion (districts were not held during his sophomore year in 2021). He was was fifth in the state at 106 pounds as a freshman, fourth at 120 as a sophomore, and fourth at 126 last season. There has been only one four-time state medalist in program history - the legendary Glenn Priztlaff, who finished fifth as a freshman and then won three state titles.
"The ultimate goal is to win a state championship," Zaleski said. "This is the best I've been feeling and I'm excited for Atlantic City."
Knox, Reilley, Ludington, Henry, Skove, Klinsky win gold
Rounding out the group of 14 champions were St. John Vianney sophomore Anthony Knox, Brick Memorial sophomore Harvey Ludington, Howell senior DJ Henry, Rumson-Fair Haven junior Hudson SKove, and Middletown North junior Brady Klinsky.
Knox, last season's 113-pound state champion who is ranked among the top pound-for-pound wrestlers in the country, was untouchable in his run to the 120-pound championship. He won by technical fall in the first round, by fall in the quarterfinals, by technical fall over Region 6 champion Tyler Venet of CBA in the semifinals, and by 22-7 technical fall over Howell standout sophomore Xavier Ortega in the final.
Ludington was equally as dominant in the 175-pound bracket. The defending state champion at the same weight won by fall in all four bouts of the tournament and only one lasted into the second period. He pinned Holmdel freshman Alexander Reyes in 1:34 in the championship bout.
Raritan junior Zach Reilley won the 138-pound title by medical forfeit over Freehold's Angelo Messina to become the Rockets' first SCT champion in program history. The final was one of the most anticipated bouts of the championship round but Messina had to pull out at the last minute with an unspecified injury. Reilley won by fall in 12 seconds in the first round and by 29 seconds in the semifinals. Sandwiched between was a 7-2 victory over Donovan Catholic's Richard Davis. He is 25-1 this season and looking to return to Atlantic City after advancing to the second round of wrestlebacks last season.
Messina was the top seed and reached the finals via a first-round fall, an 8-1 win over Point Boro's Nate Fletcher in the quarterfinals, and an 8-5 victory over Rumson's Cole Pangborn in the semifinals. Messina is a two-time state qualifier who reached the third round of wrestlebacks at 126 pounds last season. He is 22-3 this season.
Henry's dominance in the top position was on display early against Lacey's Matt Coon in the 190-pound final. Henry scored a quick takedown and worked a tilt for two back points to lead 4-0 after the first period. A reversal in the second period pushed his lead to 6-0 but Coon battled back with an escape and a takedown to cut the advantage to 6-3. Coon escaped again in the third and got to Henry's legs twice, but the Howell senior was able to avoid giving up a takedown and held on to clinch the title.
At 215 pounds, Skove and CBA senior Robert Canterino were locked in a low-scoring battle. Skove emerged the victor in the double-overtime tiebreaker by riding out Canterino in the first 30-second tiebreaker and then escaping with 22 seconds left in the second 30-second tiebreaker to win, 2-1. It was Skove's second win of the season over Canterino including a 4-2 triumph in the Sam Cali semifinals.
Both Skove and Canterino finished one victory short of a state medal last season and both are having tremendous seasons. Skove finished second at the Beast of the East, won the Sam Cali Memorial Tournament, and is ranked No. 1 in the state. Canternio is currently ranked sixth at 215 and has notable wins over St. Joseph's (Montvale) Aidan Schlett (7th in NJ at 215 last season) and Bergen Catholic's AJ Fricchione (2nd in NJ at 195 in 2021, 3rd at 215 last season).
In the penultimate bout of the tournament, Klinsky made a first-period takedown hold up in a 3-2 victory over St. John Vianney freshman Matthew Gould to win the 106-pound championship. Klinsky won by fall in each of his first two bouts and then defeated Wall's Michael DiBiase, 8-3, in the semifinals.