Wrestling: Howell, New Jersey’s Hunter Mays Dominates En Route to Central Region Title
FLEMINGTON – Hello, New Jersey. Hunter Mays has arrived.
The Howell junior is still mostly unknown around the Garden State, but that will be changing after his performance on Sunday afternoon at the NJSIAA Central Super Region Tournament.
Mays, who transferred to Howell after two years wrestling in Pennsylvania, dominated his way to the 160-pound title and finished off his region championship with an eye-opening 14-3 major decision over Hunterdon Central’s Colton Washleski in the championship bout. Washleski finished sixth at the NJSIAA Championships at 145 pounds last season.
Mays took Washleski down early in the first period and then hosted his very own tilt clinic, turning his opponent three times for a total of nine near-fall points. He led 11-0 after the first period, added a takedown in the second period and walked off the mat with a major decision that had everyone abuzz inside the Hunterdon Central Field House.
“It’s all business,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “He’s always working hard and trying to outwork everybody in the wrestling room and he keeps that same intensity in the matches.”
Mays is unbeaten this season at 12-0 with six pins, five technical falls and one major decision. He has only been taken down once, which came near the end of his victory over Washleski. He sets a relentless pace, transitions from one move to the next seamlessly and gets to his array of tilts at will.
“I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid since I was eight years old,” Mays said. “It’s like (Iowa three-time NCAA champion) Spencer Lee. They know it’s coming, the question is can they stop it.”
So far, the answer has been no.
Mays moved to Howell after two years at Conwell-Egan High School in Bucks County. He was 41-2 last season but both those losses came in the AA state tournament. He entered undefeated but had nothing to show for it in the end.
“I went in as a real high-ranked guy and didn’t have the best performance,” Mays said. “A lot of it was more mental than anything. I have a great support system now at Howell and Triumph Wrestling Club and that’s been the biggest difference.
Mays said his main training partners at Triumph are Rumson-Fair Haven 152-pounder Max Brignola and Southern Regional 138-pounder Eddie Hummel, both of whom won region titles this weekend. Combine that with Howell’s stable of wrestlers and coaches and Mays certainly has plenty of high-caliber drilling partners. He is committed to Rider University, as well, and regularly works out with some of the Broncos’ wrestlers.
“I work out with the Rider guys so a lot of this is from that,” Mays said. “When you work out with D-1 guys they’re going to be way more physical and wrestle a harder pace than the high school guys.”
“He’s just on the go every time,” Gagliano said. “He’s so competitive and he wants to win at everything. He’s powerful in all three positions.”
Next comes the NJSIAA Championships on April 24 and 25 at Phillipsburg High School. A preliminary look at the entrants looks like Mays could be the No. 4 seed. He has stamped himself as a state title contender after his performance at the Central Super Region.
“I think I’m in so much better of a mental place (than last year),” Mays said. “This is the first time I’ve really believed myself, the first season I’ve truly believed in myself and that I’m ready to do. I credit a lot of that to Howell and Triumph.”
“We know his capabilities,” Gagliano said. “The sky’s the limit for him.”
After going winless in his final state tournament appearance in Pennsylvania, Mays is planning on a much different showing in his Jersey debut.
“I think it’s time to redeem myself,” Mays said. “I’ve worked over a year for this and I think I deserve it.”
A Caseys’ Conquest
Red Bank Catholic sophomore Sabino Portella continued to alter the record books for the Caseys’ wrestling program on Sunday. In the 170-pound final, Portella scored a takedown with 10 seconds left in the third period to defeat Rumson-Fair Haven’s Shay Addison, 3-1, in a matchup of returning region champions.
“I knew he’s really funky on bottom and I wasn’t going to be able to ride him so I waited as long as possible to take the shot,” Portella said. “He’s really good at scrambling so I knew I had one shot and if I didn’t get it he was going to score on me.”
Portella shot a double leg, squeezed Addison’s legs together and secured the winning points as the seconds ticked off the clock in the third period. With the victory he became just the second two-time region champion in RBC history, joining Tom Seitz (1973 and 1974). It also avenged a loss to Addison (8-7) at last season’s Holmdel Christmas Tournament.
“It’s awesome to be a part of (RBC history),” Portella said. “We’re building and we’re getting there. We have four guys at regions and we haven’t had that in a while. Eventually, RBC is going to be known as a wrestling school, that’s what the goal is.”
Last season, Portella reached the fourth round of wrestlebacks at the NJSIAA Championships, one win short of a state medal. Now he knows what it takes to break through that barrier.
“I went out there first match, freshman nerves, and lost, came back and won a few, but you take things for granted,” Portella said. “You learn more when you lose, and it made me hungrier to come back this year and get on the podium.”
Two More for Rumson
After going the first 41 years of the program’s existence without a region champion and then 11 years between region champions, Rumson-Fair Haven has opened the floodgates with seven region champions in the last seven years. On Sunday, the Bulldogs had two region champions crowned for the second season in a row.
At 152 pounds, senior Max Brignola controlled Shore Region senior Mike McGhee and came away with a 5-0 decision to win his first region title. Brignola had a takedown in the first period and another in the third and kept McGhee at bay the entire bout.
“It means a lot, I really wanted to capture a region title,” Brignola said. “But states are my biggest goal. It’s all about states now. It doesn’t matter what happened here, any seed can upset any seed in states.”
Senior Jack Kelly also won his first region title and did so in dominant fashion. Kelly won by fall in just 44 seconds over Wall’s Brendan Newbury to claim the 182-pound championship. He pinned all four of his opponents in the first period and his longest bout lasted just 1:10.
Kelly was fifth at the NJSIAA Championships at 170 pounds last season.
“After my freshman year when I didn’t make it past districts it flipped a switch in my head,” Kelly said. “I got tired of being happy for my friends being on the podium, tired of congratulating other people. I was done with that. I wanted to be the one who’s in the paper, the one who everyone is talking about. That’s where my mentality came from.”
The favorite at 182 pounds is High Point junior Brian Soldano, a Rutgers commit who is a returning state champion. Kelly knows if he is going to win a state championship he’s going to have to go through him.
“I have a grudge match in mind, if you will,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of great wrestlers but I have my mind on Soldano. He’s the top dog and a wise man once said, ‘To be the best you have to beat the best’. I’m coming for him but I’m not letting my guard down. Anything can happen at the state tournament as history has shown. I’m going to be ready and focused and go get my hand raised on top of the podium.”
Punching Their Tickets
A pair of double-digit seeds put together great tournament runs to reach the state tournament. Howell sophomore DJ Henry was the 13 seed at 170 pounds but defeated the No. 4, No. 5 and the No. 7 seeds on his way to finishing third (via forfeit. Matawan’s Adam Coleman did the same but as the 12 seed at 160 pounds. Coleman beat the No. 5 seed in the first round and the No. 4 seed in the quarterfinals. He then pinned the No. 7 seed, Ocean’s Shane Cartagena-Walsh to clinch a state tournament berth and pinned CBA’s Zander Silva in the third-place bout.
152: 1-Max Brignola (Rumson-Fair Haven) d. 2-Mike McGhee (Shore), 5-0
160: 2-Hunter Mays (Ocean) md. 1-Colton Washleski (Hunterdon Central), 14-3
170: 3-Sabino Portella (Red Bank Catholic) d. 1-Shay Addison (Rumson-Fair Haven), 3-1
182: 1-Jack Kelly (Rumson-Fair Haven) p. 6-Brendan Newbury (Wall), 0:44
152: 3-Tanner Peake (Hunterdon Central) d. 4-Paul Jakub (Howell), 3-1 in sudden victory
160: 12-Adam Coleman (Matawan) p. 9-Zander Silva (CBA), 2:22
170: 13-DJ Henry (Howell) by forfeit over 2-Norman Cella (Hunterdon Central)
182: 2-Josh Beigman (Hopewell Valley) p. 4-Jared Tracey (Ocean), 3:39
152: 5-Tyler Barrett (CBA) d. 7-Jack Bailey (Point Boro), 2-1 TB-2
160: 6-Jarazell Bull (New Brunswick) d. 7-Shane Cartagena-Walsh (Ocean), 4-2 in OT
170: 7-Mike Malucelli (Marlboro) md. 5-Chris Fanelli (Monroe), 11-1
182: 9-Brian Christian (St. Joseph-Metuchen) p. 3-Luke DuPont (Holmdel), 3:21
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