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MEDFORD --  Alex Nini has always possessed the necessary talent to be one of the best high school wrestlers in New Jersey, and his earning of three NJSIAA state medals over his first three years serves as undeniable proof.

The top of the podium at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall is elusive by nature, a coveted prize that is the crown jewel of New Jersey individual high school championships. To reach the top requires talent, of course, but also much more. Mental toughness is at the top of that last and is a trait the Christian Brothers Academy senior also possesses. He battled back for third in the state after losing in the semifinals last season and did the same to finish fourth as a sophomore. The missing piece for Nini has been an unwavering belief in himself.

"I don't think this year is any different except that I feel like I'm the guy to beat," Nini said after winning his third region title during Saturday's NJSIAA Region 7 Tournament at Lenape High School. "Last year I earned that No. 1 seed (at the state tournament) but I think I felt that, for some reason, I didn't deserve it. I don't know why. This year I really feel like I'm the guy and people wake up and say 'Oh, I have to wrestle Alex Nini today'."

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Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

Nini looked unstoppable on Saturday afternoon when he defeated Southern Regional junior Wyatt Stout, 9-4, to win the 144-pound Region 7 title and become the fourth wrestler in CBA history to win three region championships (Dave Santamaria, Richie Koehler, Julian George). Nini was ranked No. 1 in the state at 144 pounds and Stout was ranked No. 2 by heading into the matchup. He was relentless from the opening whistle with a takedown in the first period, two more in the second, and another in the third while preventing Stout, who was sixth in the state at 132 pounds last season, from mounting any offense. It was Nini's A-game, but not an A-plus according to his toughest critic.

"To be honest, I was a little frustrated after the match because I felt like I could have put up more points," Nini said. "He's a great wrestler, one of the tops in the state, but what I took away from that match is that I was a little sloppy. If I'm wrestling like that and I feel in my head that I'm sloppy, imagine me when I feel I'm at my best. I think I'm going to be at my best next weekend and it's going to be fun for people to watch."

Nini was dominant in his three tournament bouts, winning by fall in the first period in the quarterfinals and semifinals, including a pin in 1:14 over Saint John Vianney standout junior and two-time state qualifier Desmond Lenaghan, before an ultra-impressive decision over Stout. He will enter the state tournament with a 28-2 record, his only losses this season coming in the semifinals of the Powerade Tournament and the semifinals of the Escape the Rock Tournament. That part isn't new.  He had just two losses heading to Atlantic City as a sophomore and as a junior. The difference is his level of confidence.

Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

"I feel like I matured a lot in the past year and it has made a huge difference," Nini said. "Now if I get taken down first there's no thought of losing. I just get back up and get it back."

Nini's mind is clear and calm as he heads to Boardwalk Hall one final time. He wants nothing more than to have his hand raised on the single, center mat on Saturday afternoon but the desperation that accompanied him the last two years isn't there, at least not in a way that can have a negative effect. He is wrestling without restraint.

"I'm going to Rutgers, I'm signed, and I'm really excited about that," Nini said. "So I don't need a state title. But I want one really bad."

Nini was one of 10 champions from the Shore Conference on what was a dominant day for area schools. CBA, Southern, and Saint John Vianney, the consensus top three teams in the Shore, won a combined nine region titles, led by Southern senior Matt Henrich and SJV junior Anthony Knox also winning their third region championships. Nini shared the spotlight with three of his teammates as freshmen Killian Coluccio at 106, Paul Kenny at 113, and Brock Oizerowitz at 175 secured the first region titles of their bourgeoning high school careers.

Ranked No. 1 in New Jersey at 106 pounds, Coluccio won by fall in the quarterfinals, defeated Haddonfield's Michael Lamb 12-6 in the semifinals, and blanked Shawnee's Jordan Segal 5-0 in the championship bout. He survived a momentary score when Lamb had him on his back in the second period of the semifinals but he was able to break free and add two takedowns in the third period.

Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

Coluccio is one of the favorites to win the 106-pound state title along with Delbarton freshman Cameron Sontz, whom Coluccio defeated 8-5 during the Non-Public A semifinals. Coluccio's only two losses this season came at the Powerade Tournament.

Another state title favorite is at 113 where Kenny continued his outstanding season by defeating Saint John Vianney sophomore Matthew Gould, 5-0, to secure his first region title. Kenny is a highly decorated wrestler who won a U17 world freestyle championship in Turkey in August and was the No. 1-ranked 113-pound wrestler in the country before a pair of losses to Notre Dame-Green Pond (Pa.) senior Ayden Smith, a Rutgers commit, in the Powerade Tournament semifinals (3-1 in sudden victory) and the Escape the Rock final (3-2).

"A region title is obviously a big deal and not a lot of people have one, so it's pretty cool," Kenny said. "I'm excited for states but I don't like to get ahead of myself. Every time I've been down there watching the state finals I've wanted to be there one day and now I have that chance."

Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

Oizerowitz was the first CBA wrestler to stand atop the medal stand on Saturday when he began the region finals with a 9-4 victory over Southern senior Mitch Bivona, who was the defending region champion. Oizerowitz had a first-round bye as a district champion and was seeded third. He defeated Holy Cross's Josh Wilkins, 5-2, in the quarterfinals before an impressive 11-0 major decision over No. 2 seed Grady Keebler of Moorestown.

In the final, Bivona struck first with a takedown to lead 2-1 entering the second period. Bivona had choice and chose defense, and the Rams' corner shouted to look out for Oizerowitz's tilt as the two settled for the restart. They knew what was coming but Oizerowitz hit it anyway, using a cross-wrist to turn Bivona for three back points and a 4-2 lead. Bivona got back to his feet but Oizerwitz was able to extend his lead with an escape and two more takedowns in the third period.

"I just knew I had to get to it and get the turn to (take the lead)," Oizerowitz said. "Once I got that I knew I had the momentum."

"They were yelling to watch the tilt but Brock stuck to his gameplan and got to it," said CBA head coach Billy Ashnault. "He stuck to what he's good at. It took him a little bit but he got to it."

Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

Finding success as a freshman upperweight where most of the opponents are upperclassmen and more physically mature is not an easy task. Oizerowitz took his lumps early in the season jumping between 175 and 190 against a tough schedule but began to settle in during the final week of January. He is 12-1 over his last 13 bouts with the only defeat coming to Delbarton senior and returning state champion Louis Cerchio.

"Brock is a strong, athletic kid but in an upper weight class as a freshman you have to compete with those (older) guys and be just as strong and be able to hold your own," Ashnault said. "Brock battled through it a little at the beginning of the year but he really bought in. He kept getting better and better in different positions and now his strength and athleticism have taken over and made him more confident."

"I knew I was going to be in the mix, I just had to go through every match one at a time," Oizerowitz said. "I'm not surprised I was able to do it but it feels great and I'm really happy."

The Colts will send a Shore Conference-high 11 wrestlers to Atlantic City with runners-up Bobby Duffy (120), AJ Falcone (138), and Nick Campagna (157), third-place finisher Randy Jenks (126), and fourth-place finishers Brendan Boyer (165) and Jacob Howland (Hwt) also qualifying for the state tournament. Duffy, a sophomore, will be making his second straight trip to A.C. while Falcone and Campagana will head south for a third straight year. Jenks, Boyer, and Howland are all first-time state qualifiers.

Jenks is the Colts' unlikeliest qualifier as the No. 11 seed at 126 pounds, especially considering he wasn't even in the starting lineup when the season began. He stunned both the No. 6 and No. 3 seeds on Friday night to move within one win of a state tournament berth. He lost by fall in the semifinals to No. 2 seed Dylan Vallone of Cinnaminson on Saturday morning but bounced back to win 3-2 over Toms River East's Jaton Wellington in the blood round and punctuated a great Cinderella run by pinning Lenape's Jay Campbell in 1:15 to place third.

"I was focused on my own wrestling and not worrying about who my opponent was," Jenks said. "I really wanted to make it to states. I went out and did what I know I can do and it worked out in my favor."

"For someone like Randy, you tell him when he's out of the lineup that you have to be ready because you never know when your opportunity is going to come," Ashnault said. "As a coach I'm super proud of him that he stuck to that and believed us. Now he's taking third place in regions and heading to Atlantic City."

Southern was right behind CBA with three region champions and 10 state qualifiers. Henrich, last season's 150-pound NJSIAA champion, looked superb in securing his third straight region championship to become the sixth wrestler in program history with three region titles (Frank Molinaro, Luke Lanno, Glenn Carson, Kyle Casaletto, Conor Collins).

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Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |


The senior Virginia Tech signee rolled into the championship bout with first-period falls in the quarterfinals and semifinals. He was excellent in the final versus CBA's Nick Campagna, who placed eighth in the state two years ago and reached the blood round last season. Henrich opened a 4-1 lead after the first period, added a takedown in the second, and closed the matchup with three takedowns in the third period for a 13-4 major decision.

Four bouts earlier, junior Bryce Manera continued his ascent by topping Saint John Vianney junior Patrick O'Keefe, 5-2 in the 132-pound final, to win his first region title. Manera was up 1-0 entering the third period and secured two takedowns to defeat the two-time state medalist/two-time region champion and win his first region title.

Manera spent his first two years at Holy Spirit where he was a state qualifier and reached the blood round as a freshman. His four losses this season have all come against hammers up at 138, and since his descent to 132 pounds, Manera is 20-1 with 18 wins by bonus points.

Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

"I'm just working hard and listening to my coaches," Manera said. "I feel great and I'm hitting my peak."

Three bouts into the finals, senior Collin French repeated as region champion when he needed just 43 seconds to lock in a cradle and pin Lenape's Jackson Wheeler in the 215-pound final. French was the No. 1 seed and won by 9-0 major decision in the quarterfinals and by 7-1 decision over Paul VI standout freshman Anthony Jackson, who was undefeated, in the semifinals.

Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

Placing second for Southern were Bivona (175), Stout (144), and junior Hayden Hochstrasser, who lost to Gloucester City's Jacob Zearfoss 3-1 in sudden victory in the 165-pound final. Sophomore Anthony Mason wrestled back for third at 106 pounds after falling in the semifinals and freshman Cash McVey punched his ticket with a third-place finish at 113. Junior Scottie Sari finished fourth at 138 to reach the state tournament for the second straight year and senior Bradford Birch took fourth at 190 to become a first-time state qualifier.

Saint John Vianney was third in the team standings behind CBA and Southern with two region champions and six state qualifiers.

Superstar junior Anthony Knox, a two-time state champion and one of the top pound-for-pound wrestlers in the country, won his third region title with a 17-4 major decision over CBA sophomore Bobby Duffy in the 120-pound final. An imaginative scrambler, Duffy nearly put Knox in some precarious positions on the mat but Knox was able to showcase more of his arsenal by holding off Duffy's numerous attempts and piling on the points with seven total takedowns, including four in the second period, along with two back points.

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Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

Knox is now 102-1 for his career and the overwhelming favorite to win his third state title next weekend in Atlantic City. He also earned his 100th career win during the quarterfinals.

At 138 pounds, junior Jake Zaltsman won his first region title in his third finals appearance when he bested CBA's AJ Falcone, 1-0, in the 138-pound final. Falcone was a returning region champion while Zaltsman was a region runner-up each of the past two seasons.

A tremendous rideout in the second period keyed the victory for Zaltsman as he remained on top for the entire two minutes through several high-octane scrambles. He escaped with 1:20 left in the third period to take a 1-0 lead and held off a takedown attempt by Falcone in the closing seconds.

"Finally," Zaltsman said. "I wrestled him twice last year and I lost to him in states. I really wanted that match back. Seeing him in the finals this time, I feel like that was the best I've ever wrestled. He's obviously a really tough wrestler but I had a gameplan for him and it worked. The rideout gave me a lot of momentum. Last year he got out right away, so that was big."

Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

Zaltsman and Falcone both grew up in Howell and have wrestled countless times throughout their careers. The two are friends and still train together over the summer. That familiarity leads to close bouts, including two last season. Zaltsman won 3-1 during the Shore Conference Tournament but Falcone pinned him in the third period during the second round of wrestlebacks at the state tournament. That bout was 1-1 in the final minute.

"We've known each other since we were like 10," Zaltsman said. "It's hard to wrestle your friends but that's the sport of wrestling, you gotta do what you gotta do. We know it's going to be a close match every time. We're both good at what we do and he's a really tough kid, so I'm really happy to get the win."

Joining Knox and Zaltsman in Atlantic City will be 113-pound runner-up Matthew Gould, 132-pound runner-up Patrick O'Keefe, and third-place finishers Desmond Lenaghan (144) and Cole Stangle (165). Gould was eighth in the state at 106 pounds last season while O'Keefe is a two-time state medalist who finished second at 106 as a freshman and eighth at 132 last season. Lenaghan and Stangle are both three-time state qualifiers.


The Shore's other region champion was Toms River East junior James Lynch, who continued his dominant season by obliterating the heavyweight bracket to win his first region title. Lynch won by fall in all three of his bouts and spent a grand total of 4:09 on the mat. He pinned Rancocas Valley's Hunter Matthews in just 25 seconds in the championship bout.

Lynch reached the third round of wrestlebacks at the state tournament last season wrestling in the 215-pound weight class. He has put on around 30 pounds since and now has a great combination of size, speed, strength, and athleticism that has him thriving in the 285-pound division. He is 34-0 on the season with 32 wins by bonus points, including 27 pins, 23 of which have occurred in the first period.

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Bob Badders |
Bob Badders |

"The whole season I've been waiting for this," Lynch said. "You hear, 'this kid's better than you' or 'you're undersized' and it motivates you. I haven't really wrestled a (tough) match this year so I've been really looking forward to this time of year to prove myself, to show what I'm capable of against better competition and bigger guys."

Lynch is currently ranked in the top eight in the state at heavyweight by and has his sights set on a state medal.

"It was great getting there last year but this year I want to go deeper and place higher," Lynch said. "The goal after my last match last year was to come back and get on the podium, and I'm hungry for that."

The Shore Conference produced a total of 31 state qualifiers out of Region 7 as part of a whopping 94 Shore wrestlers who qualified for the state tournament out of regions 5, 6, and 7. CBA, Southern, and Saint John Vianney provided the lion's share of those qualifiers with Lacey sending two to Atlantic City and Barnegat sending one.

Lacey junior Brendan Schuler knocked off No. 2 seed Hayden Holmes of Paulsboro in the blood round and wound up finishing fourth at 113 pounds. Sophomore Aidan Flynn held off Seneca' Peyton Reese, 6-5, in the blood round at 120 pounds and ended up placing fourth.

Barnegat has its first state qualifier since 2020 thanks to a fourth-place finish at 215 pounds by senior Raymere Mahadeo. He defeated the No. 3 seed, Cherry Hill West's JoNathan Valentin, 3-1 in the blood round to qualify for the state tournament and earn his 30th win of the season.


Medal Matches


175: 3-Brock Oizerowitz (CBA) d. 1-Mitch Bivona (Southern), 9-4

190: 1-Kaleb Wright (Gloucester City) d. 2-Sam Myers (Audubon), 5-0

215: 1-Collin French (Southern) p. 7-Jackson Wheeler (Lenape), 0:43

HWT: 1-James Lynch (Toms River East) d. 3-Hunter Matthews (Rancocas Valley), 0:25

106: 1-Killian Coluccio (CBA) d. 3-Jordan Segal (Shawnee), 5-0

113: 3-Paul Kenny (CBA) d. 1-Matthew Gould (SJV), 5-0

120: 1-Anthony Knox (SJV) md. 2-Bobby Duffy (CBA), 17-4

126: 1-Luke Sherlock (Shawnee) d. 2-Dylan Vallone (Cinnaminson), 8-4

132: 2-Bryce Manera (Southern) d. 1-Patrick O'Keefe (SJV), 5-2

138: 2-Jake Zaltsman (SJV) d. 1-AJ Falcone (CBA), 1-0

144: 1-Alex Nini (CBA) d. 2-Wyatt Stout (Southern), 9-4

150: 1-Drew Roskos (Delran) d. 7-Chris Ahrens (Shawnee), 5-0

157: 1-Matt Henrich (Southern) md. 2-Nick Campagna (CBA), 13-4

165: 2-Jacob Zearfoss (Gloucester City) d. 1-Hayden Hochstrasser (Southern), 3-1 SV


Third Place

106: 2-Anthony Mason (Southern) d. 4-Michael Lamb (Haddonfield), 6-3

113: 4-Cash McVey (Southern) d. 5-Brendan Schuler (Lacey), 2-0

120: 3-Aundre Hill (Paulsboro) p. 6-Aidan Flynn (Lacey), 2:53

126: 11-Randy Jenks (CBA) p. 5-Jay Campbell (Lenape), 1:15

132: Jackson Weller (Delran) tf. Owen Entrekin (West Deptford), 2:07 (18-3)

138: 5-Logan Sichelstiel (Paulsboro) d. 3-Scottie Sari (Southern), 2-1

144: 4-Desmond Lenaghan (Saint John Vianney) d. Kristian Lenny (Chery Hill West), 5-0

150: 3-Chase Bish (Paulsboro) d. 2-Tyler Venet (CBA), 10-2

157: 3-Roman Onorato (Paulsboro) p. 5-Jake Bartletta (Rancocas Valley), 0:31

165: 3-Cole Stangle (Saint John Vianney) md. 4-Brendan Boyer (CBA), 8-0

175: 2-Grady Keebler (Moorestown) p. 6-Josh Wilkins (Holy Cross), 0:20 (100th career win)

190: 3-Andrew Tighe (West Deptford) d. 4-Bradford Birch (Southern), 7-6

215: 4-Anthony Jackson (Paul VI) p. 8-Raymere Mahadeo (Barneget), 0:55

HWT: 2-Donovan Wilkinson (Cinnaminson) p. 5-Jacob Howland (CBA), 0:54


Fifth place

106: 8-Travis Bauer (Seneca) by forfeit over 7-Ricky DeLorenzo (Toms River East)

113: 2-Hayden Holmes (Paulsboro) d. 6-Owen Boyle (Lenape), 4-0

120: 4-Peyton Reese (Seneca) d. 5-Dominic Marino (Cinnaminson), 3-1

126: 4-Jaton Wellington (Toms River East) d. 3-Ismael Maldonado (Rancocas Valley, 12-5

132: 7-Will Sakoutis (CBA) d. 3-Keros Cooper (Paulsboro), 6-5

138: 6-Thiago Maldonado (Rancocas Valley) d. 8-Trevor Lundfelt (Weset Deptford), 7-1

144: 6-Hutch Rhyne (Haddonfield) by forfeit over 3-Richie DeFulvio (Holy Cross)

150: 4-Matt Gauthier (Lacey) p. 5-Joe Dietz (Haddonfield), 3:16

157: 4-Caden Langan (Toms River South) d. 6-John Saraiva (Saint John Vianney), 8-6

165: 7-Matt Malinowski (Collingswood) p. 9-Kyle Stickel (Seneca), 1:49

175: 5-Jason Chiodi (Gloucester City) d. 4-John Hangey (Cherokee), 4-1

190: 5-Dante Mortellite (Manchester) d. 6-Khalil Watts (Lenape), 8-3

215: 2-Anthony Fideli (Seneca) p. 3-JoNathan Valentin (Cherry Hill West), 1:19

HWT: 6-Jayden Trace (Haddon Heights) d. 4-Ross Worlds (Cherry Hill West), 3-2



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