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FLEMINGTON – John O'Donnell and David Szuba know each other extremely well as friends and daily training partners, but at one point this season O'Donnell was beginning to wonder who the guy across from him really was.

"To be honest, the first time we wrestled I was very nervous because he had been on this tear, pinning everyone in 20 seconds, so it was a little in my head," O'Donnell said. "Is this the same David Szuba I wrestle every day at Shore Thing or is he this monster?"

Szuba won by fall when the two met for round one on April 1, but on Sunday at the Hunterdon Central Field House, O'Donnell turned the tables.

In the 285-pound championship bout at the NJSIAA Central Region Tournament, the Toms River North senior scored one of the biggest victories of super region weekend by defeating Szuba, 5-1, to win his second region title. Szuba entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in the state by NJ Advance Media and as a consensus top-10 wrestler nationally by various outlets.

"As soon as I lost that match two weeks ago I knew, listen, we're going to be close again and I'm not going to wrestle like that," O'Donnell said. "I need to wrestle like a heavyweight. I slowed it down and made him feel all 285 of me."

After a scoreless first period, Szuba took defense and O'Donnell used his 6-foot-4, 281-pound frame to flatten him and then began to run his signature power half. He stretched Szuba out and turned him for two near-fall points before the official whistled the sequence dead for a potentially dangerous hold as Szuba yelled out in pain. The usually soft-spoken O'Donnell loudly voiced his displeasure to the officials as Szuba's shoulder was tended to.

"I'm really sorry to the refs and David for screaming like that, but I think everyone here knew I had that first one over and he was probably going to be pinned," O'Donnell said. "And then the ref stopped it and I was upset in the moment."

Szuba was able to resume the bout and shortly after the restart escaped to cut O'Donnell's lead to 2-1. O'Donnell had choice in the third period, chose defense and escaped to increase his lead to 3-1. Szuba pushed the pace and continued to look for openings for a shot, but O'Donnell was able to hold him at bay. In the final minute of the third, Szuba appeared to attempt a high crotch but O'Donnell pushed forward with all his weight on Szuba and scored a takedown to go up 5-1.

"The first match I kind of rushed on top, got a leg in and didn't break him down for my power half," O'Donnell said. "He was still in a quadpod so he was able to sneak the one arm through and reverse me. This time I made sure he was flat first before I sunk that half, which is my move. I can say it here because everyone knows it already and it's hard to stop."

The win will likely give O'Donnell the No. 1 seed for the NJSIAA Championship's next weekend.

"It feels great and it builds up my confidence now," O'Donnell said. "We (Szuba) split and we're always going to be close. He pinned me, I just beat him and I think I have wins over every else (in the bracket) either last year or in the Mobbin' Classic."

There's a good chance O'Donnell and Szuba could meet again for round 3 with a state title on the line. If that happens, this time he knows how to slay the monster.


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