Wrestling: The Shore Conference Had 23 State Medalists at the 2021 NJSIAA Championships
PHILLIPSBURG – Five Shore Conference wrestlers captured state titles at the 2021 NJSIAA Wrestling Championships and an additional 18 grapplers secured All-State status by finishing in the top eight in their respective weight classes.
Red Bank Catholic sophomore Sabino Portella finished as the 170-pound state runner-up to become the Caseys’ first state finalist since Tom Seitz in 1974. Seitz won consecutive state titles in 1973 and 1974 and is RBC’s only state champion.
Portella was seeded third in the tournament and earned two marquee victories to reach the state final one year after finishing one win short of a state medal. He defeated Rumson-Fair Haven’s Shay Addison, 2-0, in the quarterfinals to follow up his 3-1 victory over Addison in the Central Super Region final. In the semifinals, he hit a four-point move in double overtime to win 5-1 over Bergen Catholic’s Justin Onello and reach the state final.
In the championship bout, Portella ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Paramus's Aaron Ayzerov. The Columbia-bound senior was the state runner-up at 152 pounds last season and earned redemption by defeating Portella, 8-2, in the title bout. Ayzerov is ranked No. 10 in the nation by TrackWrestling.
Portella was disappointed but by no means devastated following the defeat. If anything, it showed him he has the potential to become a state champion over the next two years.
“I’m proud of myself,” Portella said. “I wrestled hard today and this is a tough tournament. He’s a returning finalist, he’s been here before and he knows what it’s like. It was a great tournament and I had fun, but I’m not satisfied. The goal is to come back next year and put myself in the same position.”
Southern’s Eddie Hummel finished his career as a three-time state medalist by finishing second at 138 pounds. He put together a great tournament before falling in 3-2 in ultimate tiebreaker to Hanover Park’s Joey Olivieri, who became a three-time state champion. Teammate Conor Collins, a sophomore, earned his first state medal with a runner-up finish at 113. Collins was defeated by Brick Memorial's Evan Tallmadge, 8-7 in double overtime.
Toms River North's John O'Donnell was defeated in the heavyweight state final by Brick Memorial's David Szuba but earned his first state medal and gave Toms River North a state finalist for the second year in a row.
Rumson-Fair Haven senior Jack Kelly finished third at 182 pounds to become Rumson’s highest state place-winner in program history. Kelly was the No. 2 seed at 182 pounds but was defeated in the semifinals by Shawnee’s Isaac Dean, who hit an ankle pick and put him to his back for a fall in the first period. Kelly was able to shake off the loss and win his next two bouts to finish third. He capped his career by pinning Seton Hall Prep’s Conner Decker to finish third.
“It’s one of the toughest tournaments in the country and obviously it stung losing in the semis,” Kelly said. “I had confidence in myself and my gameplan but Isaac was the better man, plain and simple.”
“A saying that I’ve always followed is when you get knocked down you have to get back up and I’ve done that in life and in wrestling, and that was just another example of that today,” Kelly added. “Going from freshman year when I lost in the first round of districts to placing third in the state, it ain’t the best but it ain’t bad at all.”
Kelly concluded his career as a two-time district champion, a region champion and a two-time state medalist. He was fifth in the state at 170 pounds as a junior. Kelly finished his career with 96 wins and will head to Penn State where he will have an opportunity to compete for a roster spot.
Seven seniors also earned their first state medal in their final attempt. In addition to O'Donnell, Toms River East’s Michael Conklin placed third at 145, Manalapan’s Gavin Claro was fifth at 195, Ocean’s Joe Teresi placed fifth at heavyweight, Lacey’s Vin Ceglie was sixth at 195, Howell’s Paul Jakub took seventh at 152 and Howell’s Nieko Malone was eighth at 126 pounds.
Conklin was a four-time state qualifier for Toms River East, a three-time district champion, a two-time region champion and finished his career with 130 victories.
After losing in the quarterfinals, Claro rebounded to defeat Rumson freshman Hudson Skove, 10-5, in the blood round to clinch a state medal. It was revenge for Claro, who lost to Skove, 3-2, in the Central Super Region semifinals.
“Me and my coaches had a gameplan going in, we watched film from the previous match to see what to work on,” Claro said. “The week leading up to today was all about focusing on fixing the mistakes from the region tournament.”
Claro then defeated returning state medalist Cody Thurston of West Deptford to secure a top-six finish. After a loss in the wrestleback semifinals he closed out his career with a 9-3 victory over Ceglie.
“All the hours I put in, it feels great that it finally pays off,” Claro said.
Ceglie also had a phenomenal tournament by coming from the No. 16 seed to place sixth. He shocked the No. 1 seed, St. John Vianney’s Blake Clayton, 6-4 in overtime, in the opening round. After a loss in the quarterfinals, he won his match in the blood round and then beat Kingsway’s Kevin Pandorf, a returning state medalist, to clinch a top-six finish.
After falling just short of a state medal over the past two seasons, Teresi finally broke through as a senior. After losing in the quarterfinals, Teresi won a dramatic bout over North Hunterdon’s Liam Akers, 3-1, with a takedown in the final seconds. He used his signature “JoJo Roll” to score the winning takedown, which secured the state medal and also marked his 100th career win.
“I felt it earlier in the match and knew if I needed it, it would be there,” Teresi said. “I took a bad shot, which I shouldn’t have, and he put his arm over and then I hit the roll.”
He then won 3-2 over Warren Hills’ Tyler McCatharn in the fifth-place bout. It was sweet redemption for Teresi after losing in wrestleback round two last season and in the blood round as a sophomore.
“It makes this so much better,” Teresi said. “I came so close the past two years and in my senior year I wanted to leave it all out there, and I did.”
Jakub was a state qualifier as a freshman and a sophomore but did not participate in the state tournament last season. In his final go-around, he secured a state medal and went out on a win, as well. He hit a throw and won by fall to place seventh at 152 pounds.
“I love my throws and it was a great way to end it,” said Jakub, who will continue his career at Belmont-Abbey. “This is the first year I really felt like I had a lot of fun. It was almost like I didn’t care what happened. I just put in my work and let the results show.”
Rumson’s Max Brignola (4th at 152), Middletown South’s Jack Zaleski (4th at 120), Shore’s Jack Maida (7th at 132) and CBA’s Garrett Totten each earned their second state medals. Maida became Shore’s first two-time state medalist in program history.
CBA sophomore Julian George (8th at 132), CBA freshman Alex Nini (8th at 113) and Howell freshman Sebastian Ortega (5th at 113) also made the top-eight in their respective weight classes.
Notes: CBA had three state medalists for the first time in program history…Howell’s four state medalists is a program record…Zaleski became Middletown South’s first multiple-time state medalist since Blair Tugman in 1997…Teresi is Ocean’s first heavyweight state medalist.
Shore Conference State Medalists
113: Evan Tallmadge, Jr., Brick Memorial
120: Anthony Santaniello, So., Brick Memorial
126: Vincent Santaniello, Sr., Brick Memorial
160: Hunter Mays, Jr., Howell
285: David Szuba, Sr., Brick Memorial
113: Conor Collins, So., Southern
138: Eddie Hummel, Sr., Southern
170: Sabino Portella, So., Red Bank Catholic
285: John O’Donnell, Sr., Toms River North
182: Jack Kelly, Sr., Rumson-Fair Haven
120: Jack Zaleski, So., Middletown South
145: Michael Conklin, Sr., Toms River East
152: Max Brignola, Sr., Rumson-Fair Haven
113: Sebastian Ortega, Fr., Howell
195: Gavin Claro, Sr., Manalapan
285: Joe Teresi, Sr., Ocean
195: Vin Ceglie, Sr., Lacey
120: Garrett Totten, Jr., CBA
132: Jack Maida, Sr., Shore
152: Paul Jakub, Sr., Howell
113: Alex Nini, Fr., CBA
126: Nieko Malone, Sr., Howell
132: Julian George, So., CBA
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