Sunday, March 8, 2015

Wrestling: Pomrinca, Elling earn high marks in AC

ATLANTIC CITY -- Fittingly, North Hunterdon's Ryan Pomrinca and High Point's Jason Gaccione had their hands raised one last time to cap outstanding careers.

Pomrinca picked up his second straight third-place medal at 126 pounds -- to go along with a seventh-place finish as a freshman -- while Gaccione got his second medal, fifth at 145, on Sunday in the 82nd State Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall.

Joining them as winners in their finals bout were Phillipsburg's Max Elling (third at 160) and Newton's Gus Protogeropoulos (seventh at 195). A pair of underclassmen, Voorhees junior Kyle DiNapoli (eighth at 120) and P'burg sophomore Robert Melise (fifth at 220) rounded out the six wrestlers from the Open Mike area to earn some hardware.

Pride of the Lions

Pomrinca (40-1), one of the title favorites at 126, entered the tournament unbeaten and poised to become the school's 14th champ. But a tough 2-1 loss in triple overtime to eventual champ Patrick D'Arcy of Holy Spirit in Saturday night's semifinals ended that bid.

"It was difficult, but I had to get myself [mentally] together,'' said Pomrinca, who won twice on Saturday, including a 7-3 decision over DePaul's Matt Noble, who lost, 3-2, in their quarterfinal meeting. "I was too defensive [vs. D'Arcy] instead of going after it as much as I should have. I was a totally different wrestler [on Sunday]. I will learn from it."

The Lehigh-bound Pomrinca certainly made his mark in a career that included a Hunterdon-Warren record 155 wins, to go along with three District 17 and two Region 5 titles. He's the first North wrestler to win at least three state medals since four-time placewinner Ricky Frondorf, who finished fifth in 2000, third in '01 and first twice in 2002 and '03.

"I'm super happy to have been able to make some history at North," Pomrinca said. "Getting my name on the [practice room] [honor roll] wall. I'm hoping some of those records stay for awhile."

Needless to say, Pomrinca's absence will be felt next season. Win or lose, the senior always represented himself and the program with extreme class.

"He's in the top 3 [that we've had here during our time]. There's no disputing what Ricky did," said Lions coach Tim Flynn, who was an assistant under Jason Hawk during Frondorf's tenure. "[Pomrinca's] personality and the way he carries himself, he will be sorely missed. We were all busted up that he wasn't wrestling in the finals. But hopefully it will pay off for him down the road."

Get your two

Gaccione (39-4) earned a measure of bragging rights in a wrestling-rich family by claiming his second state medal, to go along with a fourth-place finish in 2013. His brother, Joe, finished third at 145 in 2011, while their uncle and 'Cats coach John Gardner won three state medals, including the 189-pound title in 1989.

"It really doesn't matter who is the best because I know my family always has my back," said Jason, who ranks second on the school's all-time wins list at 143-23. "I think I made my parents and coaches proud."

Like Pomrinca, Gaccione entered as one of the title favorites at 145, while also losing to the eventual champ -- 3-2 to Brick Memorial's Alec Donovan after giving up a reversal with just seven seconds left in the match.

"I fell a little short, but it's a good feeling that I didn't go out with a loss," said Gaccione, who will wrestle for Division II Millersville next fall. "I knew I had to come out with a win, no matter what it took."

Gaccione also is just the eighth High Point wrestler to earn at least two state medals -- joining Nick Francavilla, Billy Smith, Ethan Orr, Drew Wagenhoffer, Dave Zabriskie, John Shipley and Gardner. Francavilla, with three firsts and a seventh, is the only four-time placewinner.

Working up

Protogeropoulos (37-5) came a long way in the span of just four years, getting introduced to the sport as a freshman and going 6-17 in that rookie season. The Newton senior went 28-8 and 35-8 the next two campaigns, earning a trip to AC as a junior, and setting the stage for a memorable final season.

"I almost quit after that first practice [as a freshman]," said Protogeropoulos, a two-time District 3 champion and Region 1 runner-up this season. "I used to be a football player and it's not near as hard as wrestling. I don't know that anyone saw me coming this far. It's a bad feeling knowing it's all over."

Newton is one of the storied programs with a state record 82 champions. However, it's been 28 years since the last one, when assistant coach Andy Iliff won back-to-back in 1986 and '87. Every wrestler that enters the practice room at the Sussex County school is reminded of both facts, something that Protogeropoulos was striving to achieve the last few seasons.

"On our wall it has '82 champions ... and counting," he said. "I used to visualize changing that to 83 with my hand every day when I walked in there."

Iliff is part of a tremendous staff that includes state runner-up Ted Sibblies, the school's last finalist in 1989, along with head coach Eric Bollette, a placewinner at Kittatinny.

"I remember seeing [former Newton wrestler] Jake Connelly come down [to AC] 40-0 and saying, 'Why not me,'" said Protogeropoulos, who finishes his career at 106-38. "You see all of the accomplishments [by my coaches] and you want to follow in their footsteps. We all wanted to end that streak since coach Iliff won. To get 100 wins and a medal is an awesome feeling."

Max factor

Elling (43-4) wrapped up his career by decking Eastern's Brock Worrell for the bronze at 160. The four-year starter became Phillipsburg's all-time wins leader earlier in the tournament, finishing at 128-37.

"I wanted to get back [to AC] to redeem myself," said Elling, who missed the trip last year with a fourth-place finish in Region 1 after qualifying for states in his first two seasons. "I didn't want to go out on a losing note. I'm really happy about [being the school's wins leader]."

Elling placed his name among some of the great 100-match winners at the Warren County school, including three-time state champ John Barna and two-time winners Greg Troxell and Pete Poretta.

"They are all guys that I looked up to," Elling said.

Elling will aim for that kind of success in college next fall at Columbia University, where former Kittatinny state champ and Region 1 Hall of Fame member Roman Fleszar is an assistant coach.

"I can't wait to get up there," Elling said.

Back points

Keansburg, which started its program in 1978, made history on Sunday when senior Tyree Sutton claimed the school's first state title with a thrilling 5-3 win in sudden-victory overtime against Matt Correnti of Holy Cross. Sutton, who is the school's only placewinner with a sixth-place finish last season, is thrilled to be the face of the program.

"It feels amazing to do that," Sutton said of winning that first gold medal. "I know a lot of young wrestlers look up to me, and it's a great feeling to give them something to look up to."

In this day of top wrestlers leaving public programs that lack team success for non-public schools that resemble All-Star outfits, it's refreshing to see a kid stay at his hometown school. Sutton making history at home is great for the sport. And it's not like he didn't have offers to leave.

"I felt like a free agent over the summers," Sutton said when asked if other programs tried to acquire his services. "I had a couple of schools that wanted me. But I wanted to stay at Keansburg. We have a great staff of coaches. It's real special."

Sussex County has produced 113 state champs, which ranks behind only Union's total of 129. Bergen matched Sussex in winning six titles on Sunday, as Bergen Catholic won four -- Nick Suriano (120), Shane Griffith (132), Joe Grello (170) and Kevin Mulligan (182) -- to match what High Point did here in 2011, while Don Bosco Prep had two winners in Kyle Bierdumpfel (138) and Zack Chakonis (285).

Morris County, which had five finalists, crowned two champs in Hanover Park's Gerard Angelo (106) and Delbarton's Joe Tavoso (152). Angelo scored a 4-3 decision over Delbarton's Pat Glory, who was 4-1 vs. Angelo previously this season, including wins in the District 9 and Region 3 finals.

Hanover Park senior Anthony Cefolo and Summit's Craig De La Cruz were denied in their bids for a third championship.

Cefolo, who was bidding to join coach James LaValle as the school's only three-time winners, lost in controversial fashion when he gave up two questionable back points in overtime in a 4-1 loss to D'Arcy at 126 pounds.

De La Cruz, who dropped a 4-3 decision to Griffith in the 132-pound final, was trying to become just the second wrestler at the Union County school to win a title and the first since Enzo Catullo won back-to-back in 1984 and '85. Griffith earned the Donald Ringler Award as the outstanding wrestler.

Mercer County got its third state champion as Steinert's Brandon Cray won the 113-pound title -- joining Mark Savino of Lawrence (130 in 2004) and Ray Bethea of Trenton Central (152 in '12). Cray, who was fourth at 106 last season, is his school's lone finalist, while Dom Cuniglio (fifth/sixth in 1993) is its only other placewinner.

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