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ATLANTIC CITY — When Matt Wilhelm was getting ready for the state tournament this time last season, he saw his seed and let it psych him out. This time he's embracing every challenge that comes his way.

“Last year I had a rough pool, and right away seeing that you get down on yourself a little,” Wilhelm said of his matchup with eventual state champion Ronnie Gentile of Paulsboro.

“This year I knew I was going to get a better seed and when I saw it I was happy. It made me work that much harder.”

The Southern Regional senior, who had a bye into the pre-quarterfinals, defeated Passaic Valley’s Tyler Tepe 7-4 to reach the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Individual Championships on Friday at Boardwalk Hall. Now the stakes will be raised dramatically, as Wilhelm will wrestle top-seeded Joe Tavoso of Delbarton in the quarterfinals on Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

Southern Regional senior Matt Wilhelm defeated Passaic Valley's Tyler Tepe 7-4 to reach the 152-pound quarterfinals. (File photo by Ray Richardson).
Southern Regional senior Matt Wilhelm defeated Passaic Valley's Tyler Tepe 7-4 to reach the 152-pound quarterfinals. (File photo by Ray Richardson).

“I’m excited for it,” Wilhelm said. “A lot of people in school and around the state said I got a (bad) seed, but I honestly think I got the best seed in the entire bracket. I’m just real excited for tomorrow’s match."

Tavoso was fourth in the state last season at 152 and defeated Cranford’s Gavin Murray, the state runner-up at 138 pounds last season, in the Region III final. Whereas last year Wilhelm was down knowing he had to face Gentile, now he’s champing at the bit to get a shot at Tavoso.

“I believe I would have to face him in the finals if I was in the bottom bracket, and if I want to be a state champ I have to beat him anyway,” Wilhelm said. “Why not beat him tomorrow morning?

“My mentality is that everyone is beatable,” he continued. “Yeah, there’s studs in a weight class but once you get down here all 24 wrestlers can beat each other on any given day. It’s just who has the better day and the better weekend.”

Wilhelm is one of 16 Shore Conference wrestlers who have reached the quarterfinals. Brick Memorial has all four of its wrestlers still in the championship brackets, while Christian Brothers Academy, Toms River South and Brick each have two.

Brick senior Dean Sherry improved to 35-0 with a dominating 16-3 major decision over Hunterdon Central’s Nick Suk at 182 pounds. Sherry will wrestle DePaul’s Nick DePalma, the Region I champion, in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

The 182-pound bracket is one of the more wide-open weights in the tournament. There are several wrestlers that could take the title, and Sherry is one of them.

“I’m confident, but I’ll let the wrestling do the talking,” Sherry said. “It’s my last shot so I might as well go all out and end with a bang.”

Toms River South senior Joe Salvato also reached the quarterfinals at 182 pounds. After defeating Ridgewood’s Kyle Inlander 8-5 in the prelims, he edged Lenape’s D.J. Barrett 3-2 in the pre-quarterfinals. Salvato will take on St. Joseph-Montvale senior Vinnie Maniero, whom he pinned earlier this season, in the quarterfinals.

Sherry’s teammate, senior Will Scott, breezed into the quarterfinals with a 13-3 major decision over Whippany Park’s Joe Prato in the prelims and a 15-3 major decision over New Providence’s Daniel Kourakos in the pre-quarterfinals. The win over Kourakos was the 100th of Scott's career. He next faces Piscataway freshman Michael Petite in the quarterfinals as he attempts to reach the semifinals in his first state tournament appearance.

Joining Salvato in the quarterfinals is Toms River South junior Owen McClave, who beat Woodstown’s Patrick Higgins 9-2 in the pre-quarterfinals. This is McClave’s third straight year in which he’s reached the quarters, and he will look to advance to the semifinals for the first time when he takes on Hanover Park sophomore Lou Raimo.

CBA freshman Rich Koehler rallied from an early deficit against Highland’s Sean Henry to win by fall in 5:06 in the 106-pound pre-quarterfinals. He will face Paulsboro’s Nick Duca in the quarterfinals. Teammate Sebastian Rivera also reached the quarterfinals with a 13-3 major decision over Parsipanny’s Kevin Jones at 113 pounds. He will wrestle New Milford’s John Burger in the quarterfinals. Rivera was fifth in the state at 106 last season.

Brick Memorial saw sophomores Gianni Ghione and Nick Rivera, along with seniors Alec Donovan and Cliff Ruggiero, reach the quarterfinals. Ghione won by 11-5 decision over Cherokee’s Connor Cosgrove in the prelims before defeating Don Bosco Prep’s Evan DeLuise, 5-3, to reach the quarterfinals. He has a tough test against top bracket No. 1 seed Alec Kelly of St. Peter’s Prep.

Donovan had a bye into the pre-quarterfinals, where he handled Paramus’s Kyle Cochran 12-5. Like 182, the 145-pound title is up for grabs. Delbarton senior Travis Vasquez is the favorite to reach the final out of the top bracket, while St. Peter’s Prep’s Ryan Burkert is the favorite to advance out of the bottom bracket. Vasquez was third at 138 last season while Burkert was the runner-up at 145. Donovan, who was seventh at 145 last season, faces Vasquez in the quarterfinals.

Ruggiero also had a bye into the quarterfinals and made quick work of Lenape’s Kyle McIntyre, winning by fall in 1:23. He has a very tough quarterfinal opponent in Clearview’s Ed Lenkowski.

At heavyweight, Rivera pinned Barringer’s Victor Rivera in 2:31 to reach the quarterfinals where he will face River Dell’s Joe Longobardi.

Jackson Liberty senior Mike Russo was able to fight off a late takedown attempt from Somerville’s Evan Drill to win 1-0 at 126 pounds. He will wrestle Randolph’s A.J. Vindici in the quarterfinals.

Wall’s Brett Donner and Ocean’s Zach Hertling both advanced to the quarterfinals at 170 pounds. Donner beat JFK-Iselin’s Brandon Farrell 8-3 and will wrestle Wayne Hills’ Dan Kilroy in the quarters. Hertling had to gut his way through both his preliminary and pre-quarterfinal bouts while dealing with a hiatal hernia that has affected him all season. He beat Don Bosco Prep’s Peter Accardi 16-9 before hanging on to beat Rahway’s Evan Goodridge 9-5. Hertling had to be taking out of the arena on a stretcher, however, and Ocean head coach Cip Apicelli said he is 50/50 to wrestle on Saturday.

Keansburg’s Tyree Sutton cruised into the quarterfinals at 195 pounds with a 12-1 major decision over Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s Alex Mirabella. He will next wrestle St. Joseph-Montvale junior Michael Carfagno.

At heavyweight, Jackson Memorial senior Brody Graham joined Rivera in the quarterfinals. He beat Phillipsburg’s Kyle Nothnagel 1-0 for the second time this season in the prelims before winning 3-0 over Cinnaminson’s Keith Swartley in the pre-quarters. He will wrestle St. Peter’s Prep’s Jose Palomino in the quarterfinals. Graham defeated Palomino 3-1 earlier in the season.

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