It was a great final session and a tremendous three days of wrestling overall. You can't beat the outstanding wrestlers, coaches, fans and hosts here at Wallkill Valley Regional High School.
One guy that High Point senior Kyle Stoll wanted to beat happens to reside in his own family. With his second straight Region 1 title at 195 pounds -- pinning Wayne Valley's Anthony Landberg in 3:09 -- Stoll doubles the total his father, Joe, won as a heavyweight for Vernon. Joe Stoll won his only region title for the Vikings in 1984.
"It's always nice. It started out with the whole district thing," said Kyle, who owns a 3-0 lead over his dad for number of District 3 titles in the family. "I like to bust his chops. But my dad has always been there [supporting me]."
High Point supports each other as well. No one was happier than Stoll for junior Mike Derin, who won his second title at 132 pounds -- decking Warren Hills junior Max Nauta, a returning champion, in 1:36. Derin also earned the Outstanding Wrestler Award for his efforts. Joining Stoll and Derin for next weekend's state tournament in Atlantic City are runners-up Dom Gallo (120) and Jason Gaccione (145).
"We are a group, not just individuals," Stoll said. "We all feed off each other."
High Point's four wrestlers are among 13 from Sussex County to earn a trip to AC. Warren County's total of four -- two each from Phillipsburg and Warren Hills -- make it 17 from this region who reside in our coverage area to qualify for states. Stoll's win over Landberg was the only finals rematch from a year ago. Stoll defeated Landberg, 3-2, in the 2013 finals and 9-6 earlier this season in a dual meet.
Derin (33-8) came out on top at one of Region 1's toughest weight classes. Facing Nauta, a three-time finalist and champ at 113 last year, was sort of wrestling a mirror image as both he and Derin make their living as outstanding mat wrestlers. Needless to say, the pin and OW Award were both pleasant surprises.
"To get a pin in the finals -- I'm really excited about that," said Derin, who pinned his way through last year's tournament -- a total of three -- and had two falls in this one. "[Nauta] tried to muscle me and that's my preferred style of wrestling."
Gallo (31-8), who was fourth last year at 106, navigated his way to the finals at arguably the toughest weight class. A 3-2 loss in the ultimate tiebreaker to Jefferson's Bryan Damon was Gallo's third overtime bout in the tournament and second straight decided in the UTB. Earlier in the day, Gallo pulled off one of the biggest upsets -- a 2-1 win over Randolph's A.J. Vindici, the No. 1 seed and two-time state placewinner who finished third at 113 in AC last year.
Gaccione (35-5) came up short in a tremendous final -- a 3-2 loss to three-time winner David McFadden of DePaul in one of the most anticipated bouts between state placewinners. Gaccione, who finished fourth in the state as a sophomore, was the champ at this weight class last season.
Cougars answer Saturday bell
A year ago, the final day at Region 1 was no walk in the park for Kittatinny coach John Gill and his wrestlers -- going 2-4 in the semifinals and 4-7 in the wrestlebacks, while not producing at least one champion for only the fifth time since 1998.
But the Cougars atoned for that this weekend by advancing a District 3-best five wrestlers to the state tournament, including 152-pound champion Nick Romyns, a No. 5 seed who became the school's 33rd winner and first since Clarke Moynihan in 2012. It was sweet redemption for Romyns, who finished third in the district last weekend after winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and '13. During his run to the region title, he avenged a loss to High Point's Chris Auer in the district semis with a 4-3 decision in the quarters.
"I had a goal to make regions and win a title," said the soft-spoken Romyns, a runner-up at 145 last year who will attend Roger Williams University next fall. "It was a matter of wrestling hard and being smart. I just tried to take it one match at a time."
Joining Romyns at states are fellow seniors Christian Silva (126), Kieran Gerrity (170) and Garrett Armstrong (195), along with sophomore Austin Scrivani (132). All four finished third. Gill, while pleased to be sending five to AC, couldn't help but lament just missing out on a sixth, as senior Dylan Wunder (182) finished fourth for the second straight year.
Pacheco reverses course
With one loss this season left to avenge, Warren Hills junior Andrew Pacheco settled a score by knocking off previously-unbeaten Noa Merritt of Pope John -- 5-2 in an entertaining 285-pound final. It was the same score that Merritt defeated Pacheco by in their Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final on Jan. 11.
Pacheco (33-2), who atoned for a 3-2 loss to Delaware Valley's Marek Tomanek with a win by the same score over the Region 5 third-place finisher on Jan. 17, wrestled a much smarter match against Merritt (27-1) this time around, getting a takedown with 41 seconds left in the third period to ice it.
Pacheco is the fourth heavyweight in Washington/Warren Hills history to win a region title -- joining Dale Baldwin (1967, '69), Dan Slack (1975-77) and Jon Slack (2010). Dan Slack, a 1977 state champion and Region 1 Hall of Fame member, was in attendance and did a fine job presenting legendary Blue Streaks coach John Goles, who died in 2003, for induction into the Hall of Fame prior to the finals.
Brandon Paetzell pushed Phillipsburg's region-leading total to 115 champions with his second straight title at 106 pounds. Paetzell (36-1), who finished fifth in the state last season and heads to AC as one of this year's title favorites, joins Rick Thompson (1970-71) as the only Stateliners to win titles their freshman and sophomore seasons.
Pope John's Austin Sisco (113), Lenape Valley's D.J. Barrett (182) and Newton's Gus Protogeropoulos (220) are other Open Mike area wrestlers moving onto AC with third-place finishes.
Roxbury senior Dillon Artigliere capped a fine career in Region 1 with his third title -- scoring a 5-3 win over Phillipsburg's Jake Kocsis in the 170-pound final. Artigliere, who was second as a sophomore, joins Bill Henderson (1963-65) and Tom Sloand (1975-77) as the only Gaels to win three region titles. Artigliere (39-0), who is 153-8 overall, takes an 83-match win streak to AC, where he will compete for a second state championship. His last loss was 6-0 to Moynihan in the 2012 consolation semifinals at Boardwalk Hall.
Wayne Hills got its first champion as junior Mojahed Hamdeh earned a 4-3 decision over Lakeland's Dan Kee in the 113-pound final. The Passaic County school, which started wrestling in 1967, was just one of two left in this region to not have a champ, along with Morris Catholic. In fact, Wayne Hills had two in the finals for the first time, as sophomore Daniel Kilroy finished second at 160.
Fittingly, DePaul advanced a tournament-high six wrestlers to Atlantic City, including champions Matt Noble (126), Brandon Kui (138) and McFadden, on the same day that legendary Spartan Gene Mills was inducted into the Region 1 Hall of Fame. Mills was the school's first champ in 1974. DePaul now has a total of 17, as McFadden joined Steve DePetro (1980-82) as its only three-time winners. McFadden will attempt to become just the fourth wrestler in this region to win four in 2015.
Mendham's Sam Button (182), his school's first champ since Ryan Harrington in 2012, was among four winners from District 1, which advanced nine wrestlers to the state tournament. Districts 3 and 4 also had four champs, while District 2 had two. District 3 advanced the most with 13, one ahead of District 4's total of 12. District 2 sends eight to AC.
West Morris ended its championship drought as senior Jesse Windt captured the title at 220 -- the Morris County school's 12th winner overall and first since Dillon Landi in 2006. Windt (35-1), a 3-1 winner over Wayne Valley's Justin Walker, began his career as a 119-pounder.
Following P'burg and Washington/Warren Hills (53), High Point now sits in third place in this region with 43 champions -- moving past Randolph (42), which hasn't had a winner since Mike Suk in 2008. Newton and Roxbury are tied for fifth with 34 champions.