TR East’s Meyers Takes Second; Midd. North’s Vetrano, Wall’s McKenzie Place Third at State Tournament
ATLANTIC CITY — When Anthony Vetrano was a freshman at Middletown North he couldn’t even picture himself wrestling on the mats of Boardwalk Hall in the state tournament. Yet after the final bout of his high school career he had accomplished something no Lions wrestler had done in 16 years.
Vetrano defeated Ridgewood’s Kyle Inlander, 4-3, on Sunday afternoon at Boardwalk Hall to finish third at 182 pounds in the NJSIAA Individual Tournament. Vetrano became Middletown North’s first state medalist since 2010 and the Lions’ highest finisher since 2000. In reaching the state semifinals on Saturday evening, Vetrano also became the first Middletown North wrestler to advance that far in the championship bracket since 1974.
“Freshman year I never thought about this at all, so this is very amazing,” Vetrano said. “It’s an exciting moment.”
Vetrano was making his first appearance at the state tournament after capturing the Region 6 title at 182 pounds. With no prior state criteria he had a tough draw, getting returning state medalist Dominick Maniero of Queen of Peace, the Region 4 champion, as his first match. He started his tournament with a bang by pinning Maniero in 5:28 to reach the quarterfinals.
He became Middletown North’s first state semifinalist since both Ken Hopfsensperger and Bill Albert did so in 1974 by defeating Delbarton’s L.J. Castellano in an overtime thriller. Tied 3-3 heading into double overtime, Castellano looked like he had grabbed a victory when he scored a reversal in the first tiebreaker period. Undeterred, Vetrano scored a reversal of his own to knot the score again, 5-5, and get to the second tiebreaker period with a chance to take the lead. On defense to start the next 30-second period, Vetrano reversed Castellano to his back for a four-point move and a 9-5 victory.
He was defeated in the semifinals by eventual state champion Brandon Kui of DePaul, 10-4, but rebounded to take third by winning his final two bouts. In the wrestleback semifinals Vetrano defeated Bergen Catholic freshman Josh McKenzie, 4-3 in double overtime, to get to the third-place bout. In the consolation final he edged Inlander 4-3 with a takedown in the third period.
“Coming into the season I saw some of the kids at the weight, and having wrestled some of them during the summer and losing like 2-0, 2-1 I figured I could get at least fifth place,” Vetrano said. “When I came here and saw how good I was wrestling I felt confident I could get third, second and even first.”
Vetrano led Inlander 2-1 heading to the third period, but Inlander escaped to tie the bout 2-2. Vetrano was able to counter a shot and score to go up 4-2, and held on through a scramble in the closing seconds to claim bronze in his final high school match.
“He got in on a front head, and I’m pretty good there,” Vetrano said. “I dragged by and I got him right on the edge. It was an exciting moment to see that two go up.”
Vetrano helped the Lions to their best season in over a decade as they clinched a share of the Class A North division title by beating Shore Conference Tournament champion CBA during the regular season. Middletown North also reached the North Jersey 2, Group IV final against eventual Group IV champion Phillipsburg, and made the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament.
“‘We got to show Middletown North is a successful program, and maybe this will stop some kids in our town from trying to go to other schools,” Vetrano said. “We’re a good program and we can hang with everyone.”
Wall junior Matt McKenzie earned his second state medal by battling back to finish third at 195 pounds. McKenzie joined teammate Brett Donner, who was third at 170 pounds, on the medal stand.
McKenzie was fifth at 195 last season and reached the semifinals against Morris Knolls’ senior Dean Drugac. The bout was settled in ultimate tiebreaker where Drugac escaped to earn a 5-4 win and reach the semifinals.
“At first it really bothered me, but I shook it off to come back strong and take third,” McKenzie said.
In the wrestleback semifinals he defeated DePaul’s Joseph Soreco, 5-0, to advance to the third place bout. After wrestling in three straight one-point bouts in the championship bracket, McKenzie enjoyed some breathing room in his final two. After the shutout of Soreco, he took apart Pequannock’s Patrick Daly with a 13-2 major decision to secure third place. He got his top game working with a pair of tilts in the first period to open up a big lead.
“I really went after it like I had nothing to lose,” McKenzie said.
“Matt impressed me more in this tournament than I’ve ever seen him wrestle throughout my career with him,” said Wall head coach Brian Fischer. “He continued to get better and better as the matches got harder and harder. He actually improved in every aspect with each match he advanced.”
Reaching the state final at 152 pounds was Toms River East junior A.J. Meyers. A dark horse in the bracket even as the Region 6 champion, Meyers started his tournament with an 8-3 win over Roxbury’s Tommy Miller, the Region 1 champ. He followed that with a 7-4 decision over Queen of Peace’s Garrett Beam in the quarterfinals, and edged Holy Cross’s Avery DiNardi, 3-2, to reach the semifinals.
Meyers was Toms River East’s first state finalist since Vinnie DelleFave won his second straight state title in 2009. He will return next season as one of the Shore Conference’s top wrestlers and a state title contender.
“My goal was to make it to the finals this year, so it feels good,” Meyers said after his semifinal win. “I definitely surprised some people here, and myself too. I came in as a 10th or 11th seed and made the finals.”
Brick Memorial junior Gianni Ghione finished fourth in a brutal 120-pound bracket, falling to Bergen Catholic’s Gerard Angelo, 5-4 in double overtime, in the third-place bout. Ghione lost to Hanover Park freshman Nick Raimo, the state runner-up, 9-3 in the quarterfinals, but bounced back with two wins by fall and a 7-1 victory over West Morris’s Shane Metzler to reach the consolation final.
Toms River South senior Owen McClave finished fifth at 132 pounds, defeating St. Peter’s Prep’s Alec Kelly, 7-4, in the fifth-place bout. McClave reached the semifinals before falling to Phillipsburg’s Brandon Paetzell, 2-1 in double overtime. McClave finished his career as a three-time Region 6 champion and four-time finalist, and secured two state fifth-place medals.
Point Beach senior John Finnerty concluded a magical postseason with a sixth-place finish at 145 pounds. He made a cinderella run to the state semifinals by clipping Delran’s Phil Rogers, 7-5, in the pre-quarterfinals and edging Lenape Valley’s Nick Palumbo, 3-2, in the quarterfinals. He lost by fall in the semifinals to Hasbrouck Heights sophomore Mickey O’Malley.
Finnerty is Point Beach’s first state medalist since Matt Rega in 2005 and the Garnet Gulls’ highest finisher since Jon Butler took sixth in 2004. Finnerty is also Point Beach’s second state semifinalist in program history, joining 1998 state champion Jake Cairns.
Toms River South sophomore Cole Corrigan finished seventh at 138 pounds by pinning Pascack Hills’ Benjamin Brisman in 2:15.
Finishing in eighth place were St. John Vianney junior Luke Ecklof at 106 pounds, CBA senior Jack LaCorte at 195 pounds and Howell junior Eric Keosseian at 220 pounds. Ecklof is the Lancers’ third state medalist all-time and the first since 2004.