Both Max Nauta of Warren Hills and Max Elling of Phillipsburg took that next big step with wins in the pre-quarterfinal round of the 82nd State Wrestling Championships on Friday night at Boardwalk Hall.
Nauta earned a 4-0 decision over Eastern's Brandon Barbella at 132 pounds. Making his fourth tournament appearance, Nauta (31-6), a four-time Region 1 finalist and two-time champ, is looking to make his final time in AC count after reaching the quarterfinals as a sophomore at 113, before a first-round loss last year, 4-2, to Seton Hall's Anthony Canfora at 132. In 2012 and '13, Nauta ended up one round away from earning a state medal.
"I was talking to my dad [Ron] before the tournament, and he said, 'All the work you've put in is for this tournament,'" said Nauta, who is 123-27 overall and is one win shy of matching three-time state placewinner Dave Richmond (124-17 from 2002-06) for the school record. "This is definitely my time. I want to make it as far up the podium as I can."
In all, nine wrestlers from the Open Mike area will compete in Saturday's quarterfinals at 10 a.m., with the semifinals slated for 5 p.m. There are 18 wrestlers from Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex still going in the wrestlebacks, with a chance to place as high as third.
Nauta will meet Monroe's Sal Profaci in the quarters. Profaci (38-0), who finished fourth at 126 last year, is among those being pegged to win the gold medal at this weight class. After winning three district and two region titles, a state championship is the only goal left for Nauta.
"It's the only thing I strive for -- a state title," said Nauta, who joined Richmond as the only Blue Streaks to appear in four region finals. "I want to get that medal."
Elling cruised into the quarterfinals for the first time in his three trips to states with an impressive 14-0 thumping of Becton-Wallington's Roy Forys at 160. Elling (40-3), who earlier became the Stateliners' all-time wins leader (125-36) by decking St. Joseph-Montvale's Vin DiFilippo in the prelims, needs no extra motivation after finishing third in Region 1 last weekend, while missing out on the fun here as a junior when he placed fourth in the region.
"I'm definitely ready for this," said Elling, who will get a Region 1 rematch in the quarters with Roxbury's Craig Roumes, who earned a 6-5 win in their semifinal matchup last weekend. "I'm ready to go for the gold."
Phillipsburg sophomore Robert Melise joined Elling in the quarters with a 9-1 major over Brearley/Dayton's Saverio Salcfas at 220. Melise (35-7) will face Bergen Catholic's Conner O'Brien in the Round of 8.
Sussex in the house
High Point's Jared Kobis (138) and Jason Gaccione (145) advanced to the quarterfinals, as expected, while Newton's Gus Protogeropoulos followed suit at 195. It was a rough night for the county, which qualified a total of nine for the tournament.
Lenape Valley's D.J. Barrett dropped a 3-2 decision to Toms River South's Joe Salvato in the 182-pound pre-quarters, while Pope John freshman Jake Rotunda was injured 12 seconds into his 113-pound bout and had to default against Steinert's Brandon Cray.
Kobis (31-0), a Region 1 champion, will be involved in one of the most anticipated quarterfinals against two-time state runner-up Kyle Bierdumpfel of Don Bosco Prep. Kobis cruised into the quarters with a 5-3 win over Robbinsville's Dylan James.
Gaccione (37-2), a two-time Region 1 champ who finished fourth as a sophomore at 145, had little trouble advancing as he racked up an 11-2 major over Rutherford's Mohamed Abdelhamid.
Protogeropoulos (35-3) needed two wins to reach the quarterfinals for the first time -- 5-2 over Jeff Lombardi of Don Bosco Prep and 3-2 over Mauro Altamura of Hasbrouck Heights/Wood-Ridge. Protogeropoulos earns a rematch with No. 1 seed Matt Correnti of Holy Cross, who earned a 5-1 win over the Newton senior during the regular season at the Jack Welch Duals.
Hackettstown's Joe Renne (120) and Warren Hills' Andrew Pacheco (285) are on major rolls right now, as both moved into the quarterfinals in impressive fashion.
Renne stuck Edison's Robert Cleary with a sweet lateral drop in sudden-victory ovetime, while Pacheco also won by fall in 47 seconds against Delran's Calen West.
Renne (35-6), who won his first Region 1 title as a No. 5 seed last weekend, was in a dogfight during regulation as he traded second-period reversals with Cleary, who got a questionable escape with one second left on the clock to take a 3-2 lead into the third period. Renne escaped to tie it and force OT.
"We liked the spot [in the bracket], even though he has [two-time unbeaten state champ Nick] Suriano [116-0] in the quarters," said Tigers coach Frank Rodgers. "Last week he was on fire and this is his first time down here. He had a tremendous regional tournament and we hope it carries over."
Cleary was tech-falled earlier this season in the John Goles finals by West Morris' Dylan Luciano, who dropped a 7-2 decision to Renne in the Region 1 finals.
Pacheco moved closer to possibly joining several other Blue Streak heavyweight state champs as he moved into the quarters for the second straight year. He's looking to become the school's 47th champion and first since Justin Colaluce won back-to-back titles in 1997-98 -- which would place his name alongside some of the school's other legendary heavyweights, like Pete Perini, Bill and Johnston Oberly, Dale Baldwin and Dan Slack.
North Hunterdon ace Ryan Pomrinca (37-0) is in new territory here as one of the title favorites at 126. The two-time placewinner, who finished third last year, wasn't thrilled about his 3-1 win over Avery Shay of Don Bosco Prep in the pre-quarterfinals.
"My first match wasn't my best," said Pomrinca, who is Hunterdon-Warren's all-time wins leader at 152-12. "I should have been more offensive. Hopefully, I got my one bad one out of the way. My conditioning helped a lot. I got that takedown [in the second period] and that was a big part of the match."
It appeared as if Pomrinca had that first takedown much earlier in the bout, but the first period ended 0-0. He also came very close to getting another in the third period, but to no avail.
"I thought I had two [in the first period], I had both legs and we were in [bounds]. I guess [the officials] call them a little different here than other places."
Regions by the numbers
Region 2 has the most quarterfinalists with 25, but Region 1 had an excellent showing with 20. The two regions were head-and-shoulders above the rest, as Region 6 came in third with 16, followed by Region 4 with 12, Region 3 with 11 and Regions 5 and 8 with 10 apiece. Region 7 is in last with eight.
Region 4 earned one of the night's best wins when Connor Burkert of St. Peter's Prep decked Camden Catholic's Mark McCormick in OT at 145 pounds.
Region 1 has all three of its 160-pounders in the quarters, as champ David McFadden of DePaul joined Elling and Roumes. Region 2 moved all three of its wrestlers into the quarters at 120 and 138. No other regions have a weight with all three still going for a title.
Quarterfinals matchups (HWS only)
120 -- Renne vs. Suriano
126 -- Pomrinca vs. Noble
132 -- Nauta vs. Profaci
138 -- Kobis vs. Bierdumpfel
145 -- Gaccione vs. Dominick Mandarino, Don Bosco Prep
160 -- Elling vs. Roumes
195 -- Protogeropoulos vs. Correnti
220 -- Melise vs. O'Brien
285 -- Pacheco vs. Porcaro