Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wrestling: Ten best shots at medals in Atlantic City

Here is a look at the 10 (actually, I cheated there's 11) wrestlers in the Open Mike area who have the best chances at capturing a medal this weekend in the 81st New Jersey State Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

In all, there are 28 qualifiers (down two from last year) among Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex schools.

Brandon Paetzell (36-1), Phillipsburg -- The sophomore captured his second District 1 and Region 1 titles at 106 pounds in impressive fashion. After drawing Bergen Catholic's Nick Suriano, the 2013 champion at 106, in the opening round of last year's tournament, Paetzell, who is excellent on his feet, navigated his way through the wrestlebacks to claim his first state medal. He is just the second P'burg wrestler to win region titles in his freshman and sophomore seasons -- joining Rick Thompson (1970-71). Paetzell and Delbarton ace Ty Agaisse are the favorites in AC. Agaisse beat Paetzell, 1-0, on Jan. 2, 2013, at The Pit.

Career mark: 73-8.
Previous state appearances: Fifth at 106 in 2013.

Ryan Pomrinca (35-1), North Hunterdon -- The junior is seeking redemption in his third trip to AC after a hand injury derailed his bid to improve on a seventh-place finish at 113 pounds in 2012. Once again, Pomrinca had to navigate through a tough road at Region 5, beating Bound Brook state champion Craig De La Cruz in the ultimate tiebreaker, to win the 126-pound title at Hunterdon Central. Now, Pomrinca is housed in one of the deepest weights in this tournament, where he is the No. 2 seed in the top bracket. Marc Mastropietro of Hasbrouck Heights/Wood-Ridge and Don Bosco's Kyle Bierdumpfel (the top seed in the upper half) -- both state placewinners in 2013 -- are also in the top portion of the draw. Pomrinca's lone loss this season is 3-2 to Hillsborough's Jack Donnadio up at 132.

Career mark: 111-11.
Previous state appearances: Seventh place at 113 in 2012; quarterfinals, DNP at 120 in 2013.

Mike Derin (33-8), High Point -- The junior is a very dangerous opponent for those in AC, just ask Warren Hills' Max Nauta. Derin stuck the three-time state qualifier in the first period of their 132-pound title bout at Region 1 on Saturday. Derin doesn't usually let opponents off their backs. After being a round away from a medal as a freshman, Derin placed eighth at this weight a year ago. His draw this time around is tough right out of the chute with Paulsboro's Juan Rivera, a Region 8 champ, in the pre-quarterfinals. A win in that one could set up a rematch with Hunterdon Central's Dylan Nace in the quarters. Nace beat Derin, 6-2, in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex finals on Jan. 11. Derin has lost just twice since that one.

Career mark: 83-20.
Previous state appearances: Did not place at 120 (2-2) in 2012; Eighth at 132 in 2013.

Dylan Nace (38-2), Hunterdon Central -- Nace has enjoyed an outstanding four-year career for the Red Devils and would love to go out with his first state medal. His losses this season are to Watchung Hills ace Mike Magaldo -- 20-7 on Jan. 15 and 1-0 to talented Bound Brook freshman Mekhi Lewis in Saturday's Region 5 finals. Nace, whose father, Mark, was a North Hunterdon standout and state runner-up at 129 pounds in 1984, has wins over High Point's and Mike Derin and Kittatinny's Austin Scrivani. A very defensive wrestler, Nace is at his best when the opponent opens up. That could bode well for him this weekend. A win over Derin in the quarters would likely set up a rematch with Magaldo, who also beat Nace, 11-1, in last year's opening round, in this year's semifinals.

Career mark: 127-26.
Previous state appearances: Did not place (1-2) in 2013.

Jason Gaccione (35-5), High Point -- The junior is looking to better his fourth-place finish at this weight a year ago, following a great battle with DePaul's David McFadden, a two-time placewinner and finalist in 2012, in the Region 1 finals. Gaccione loves the spotlight and he really shined in AC as a sophomore, reeling off three wins in the wrestlebacks -- two over medal winners, including Trenton Central's Maaziah Bethea -- before being stopped by Camden Catholic stud T.J. Miller for the bronze. Gaccione's draw this year sets up well, though a potential quarterfinal with Delbarton's Dan Reed (34-3), a Region 3 champ, will be a tough one.

Career mark: 102-17.
Previous state appearances: Fourth at 145 in 2013.

Gary Dinmore (36-2), Hunterdon Central -- There wasn't a more anticipated rematch in AC last year than Dinmore's state finals clash with South Plainfield ace Anthony Ashnault, who won their two finals encounters in 2012 and '13. This time, everyone has Dinmore in the finals against St. Augustine Prep's Jack Clark, a former Maryland state champ and nationally-ranked wrestler. Dinmore, the No. 1 seed up top, has one loss this season -- up at 160 against East Brunswick's Jonathan Schleifer -- and another to Phillipsburg's Max Elling, who finished fourth in Region 1. He's looking to become Central's second three-time finalist -- joining Tom Gibble (1979-81) -- and first three-time placewinner since Pat Strizki (2005-07). Clark is in a loaded bottom half of the draw, along with Bergen Catholic's Joe Grello, North Hunterdon's Mike Ciavarro and Trenton Central's Maaziah Bethea.

Career mark: 131-14.
Previous state appearances: Quarterfinals, did not place at 112 in 2011 (1-2), second at 126 in 2012, second at 138 in 2013.

Mike Ciavarro (31-6), North Hunterdon -- First trip to Boardwalk Hall for Ciavarro, who finished fourth in the region last year and has followed Central's Gary Dinmore here as the runner-up in District 17 and Region 5. In all, Ciavarro has five losses to Dinmore this season -- 5-0, 5-2, and 5-3, during the regular season, and 7-1 and 3-2 in the postseason. The North Hunterdon senior's only other loss is to Phillipsburg's Jimmy Schuitema, 2-1, in overtime. There's something to be said for having been to AC before, but Ciavarro has the talent to do well in his rookie appearance. He's likely on a collision course with Trenton Central's Maaziah Bethea in the quarterfinals.

Career mark: 102-34.
Previous state appearances: None.

Jake Kocsis (36-3), Phillipsburg -- Kocsis went 1-2 in his first trip to AC a year ago, but the senior has evolved into one of the top 170-pounders this season. He showed it on Saturday by driving right through Roxbury state champion Dillon Artigliere for a takedown in a 5-3 loss in their Region 1 final -- Kocsis' first loss to a New Jersey opponent. Kocsis also knocked off Kittatinny's Kieran Gerrity for the second time this season, 5-4, in the region semifinals. Kocsis drew the No. 3 seed in the bottom half of the state draw, where Delbarton's Josef Johnson resides as the No. 2 seed. They could meet in the quarters. North Hunterdon's Joe Guzzo, who has had an amazing season, also is in the bottom bracket and meets Gerrity in the first round on Friday.

Career mark: 86-28.
Previous state appearances: Did not place (1-2) at 160 in 2013.

Kyle Stoll (35-5), High Point -- The senior  was very impressive in rolling to repeat championships at District 3 and Region 1. Stoll, whose father, Joe, won a region title for Vernon in 1984, one-upped the old man with a second region title. For the second straight year in AC, Stoll will have a tough one out of the gate against St. Peter's Prep's Christian Colucci (30-3). They have one common opponent in Bound Brook's Ronald Picado, who dropped a 3-1 decision to Colucci and was pinned by Stoll. A win over Colucci would likely set up a showdown with Franklin's Ralph Normandia, third at 220 last year, in the quarters. It's a brutal draw for a semifinalist at 195 in 2013.

Career mark: 103-24.
Previous state appearances: Did not place (0-1) at 182 in 2012, Semifinalist, sixth place at 195 in 2013.

Andrew Pacheco (33-2), Warren Hills -- Only a junior, Pacheco is without a doubt one of the most athletic heavyweights in the entire state. Boy, can he move for a big man. He's avenged both of his losses this season by identical scores -- 3-2 over Delaware Valley's Marek Tomanek and 5-2 over Pope John's Noa Merritt, the latter in Saturday's Region 1 finals. The 285-pound class, which also features those two wrestlers, is one of the most wide open in recent years. Pacheco has pinned St. Joseph-Montvale's Kevin Wilkins, who was fourth last year, this season and will open against Howell's Kyle Cocozza. A win would almost certainly set up a showdown with Hanover Park's Nick LaShell in the quarters. LaShell won, 3-2 in UTB, when they met in last year's wrestlebacks.

Career mark: 74-15.
Previous state appearances: Did not place (1-2) in 2013.

Noa Merritt (27-1), Pope John -- Speaking of athletic heavyweights, the Pope John senior is heading to Boston College on a football scholarship next fall. The Lions haven't produced a state champ since Brian Unkert (1990) and haven't won a medal since Devin Perez finished second at heavyweight in 2003. Merritt's match with Warren Hills' Andrew Pacheco in Saturday's Region 1 finals was epic, and unfortunately marred by ridiculous stall calls. Merritt, who sets up in the bottom half opposite Pacheco, could be on a collision course with St. Joseph-Montvale's Kevin Wilkins in the quarterfinals. Bound Brook's Stephen Johnson, who was fifth last year, is the No. 2 seed in the bottom half.

Career mark: 79-34.
Previous state appearances: Did not place (2-2) in 2013.

Other area qualifiers (17):

Delaware Valley -- Kody Eichlin (182), Marek Tomanek (285)
High Point -- Dom Gallo (120)
Hunterdon Central -- Collin Boylan (145)
Kittatinny -- Christian Silva (126), Austin Scrivani (132), Nick Romyns (152), Kieran Gerrity (170), Garrett Armstrong (195)
Lenape Valley -- D.J. Barrett (182)
Newton -- Gus Protogeropoulos (220)
North Hunterdon -- Michael Sicola (160), Joe Guzzo (170)
Pope John -- Austin Sisco (113)
Voorhees -- Kyle DiNapoli (113), Cody Ihling (120)
Warren Hills -- Max Nauta (132)

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