Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wrestling: High Point trio bolsters HWS medal count

It wasn't 2011 all over again -- that special season when High Point amazingly crowned four state champions. But this time around was pretty sweet for the Wildcats, who finished with an Open Mike area best three state placewinners on Sunday.

Sophomores Mike Derin and Jason Gaccione, and junior Kyle Stoll, all claimed their first medals on the final day of action in the 80th New Jersey State Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall.

In addition, Phillipsburg's Brandon Paetzell, Delaware Valley's Mike Pongracz, Lenape Valley's Peter Lipari and Newton's Josh Sibblies added to the list of medal winners from Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex counties, which includes state finalists Gary Dinmore of Hunterdon Central and Jadaen Bernstein of Voorhees.

'Cats on the prowl

Gaccione earned a fourth-place finish at 145 pounds, the highest individual finish in Sussex, while Paetzell, Pongracz, Sibblies and Stoll all placed fifth. Lipari was seventh and Derin eighth.

"It was great for Sussex County," Gaccione said of the team's three medal winners and the county's total of five.

Gaccione, Region 1 champion, wrapped up his sophomore season by joining his brother, Joe, and his uncle, High Point coach John Gardner, as state medal winners. Joe finished third at 145 pounds in 2011, while Gardner, one of the program's legends, won a state title for the 'Cats at 189 pounds in 1990.

"Just to see the smile on Gardner's face [was great]," said Jason Gaccione, who was pinned by former Camden Catholic state champion T.J. Miller in their third-place consolation final. "I don't have bragging rights yet, but I've got two more years. If you want it bad enough you can get it."

Gaccione enjoyed an amazing run through the grueling wrestlebacks -- knocking off 2012 state placewinner Maaziah Bethea of Trenton Central (4-3 in the consolation semis) and Howell's Ashanti Maurice (6-4), who finished fifth and seventh, respectively at 145.

Derin also was pinned -- in 2:26 by Connor Burkert of St. Peter's Prep. The bout was scoreless before Burkert got a reversal into the low-leg cradle for the quick fall. Stoll, a semifinalist at 195, dropped a 10-5 decision to Hawthorne's Evan Ramos in their fifth-place showdown.

Sibblies gets his reward

It's been a tough couple of years for Sibblies, who missed most of the previous two seasons with knee injuries. He didn't let another one curtail his run at fifth place, as Sibblies cruised to a 3-1 win over Jordan Fox of St. Peter's Prep.

"It was just the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae," Sibblies said of the state medal. "I didn't know until they told me yesterday that I was the first semifinalist since my dad [Ted in 1989]."

Sibblies (37-6), the Region 1 champion and its Outstanding Wrestler, who finished with a 52-26 career mark, tweaked his left knee in the consolation semifinals -- a tough 8-7 loss to New Egypt's Brad Schwarze. He is the fourth Newton wrestler to medal in five years, joining Austin Alpaugh (seventh in 2008), Kevin Churchill (seventh in 2009 and third in 2010) and heavyweight Evan Chrustic (seventh in 2011).

Braves coach Eric Bollette now has six medals overall, including Trevor Braxton's fourth-place finish in 2002.

Capping a fine career

Delaware Valley senior Mike Pongracz concluded one of the finest careers at the Hunterdon County school with his third state medal -- beating 2012 runner-up David McFadden of DePaul, 4-2, in the fifth-place bout at 126 pounds.

Pongracz (35-2), who was eighth as a sophomore and fifth as a junior, is Hunterdon-Warren's all-time wins leader with a final mark of 148-16. Pongracz will wrestle next season for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

"If you look at the names [at Del Val] who have placed three times. It's sweet," said Pongracz, a three-time District 17 and two-time Region 5 champion. "I'm one of those. It's a pretty cool feeling."

Pongracz is only the third Del Val wrestler to place three times in the state tournament -- joining former state champions Brent Conly (fourth-1991, first-1992, first-1993) and Dan Kelly (fifth-2005, second-2006, first-2007).

Bright futures

Paetzell is the first freshman at Phillipsburg to medal since Mike Fania finished sixth at 130 pounds in 2000. Paetzell (37-7), the District 1 and Region 1 champion, also is the school's record holder for single-season wins as a ninth grader.

Lipari (31-10) took full advantage of the new rule this year that allowed all first-round losers to enter the wrestlebacks with a chance to finish as high as third place. The Lenape Valley sophomore converted a throw in sudden victory to beat Nutley's Robert Trombetta, 6-4, for seventh place.

Lipari lost, 7-5, to Livingston's Tommy Heller in the preliminaries, then rolled off three straight wins -- going 4-1 overall -- in the wrestlebacks to earn a medal. He's Lenape Valley's first medal winner since Billy Hagany finished seventh at 103 in 2009.

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