Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Wrestling: Ten best shots at medals in Atlantic City

Here is a look at the 10 wrestlers (cheated again, it's actually 11) from the Open Mike area who have the best chances at capturing a medal this weekend in the 82nd New Jersey State Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

In all, there are 27 qualifiers (down one from last year) among Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex schools.

Joe Renne (34-6), Hackettstown -- The junior made a believer out of folks at Region 1 by storming his way to the finals, where he became the Tigers' 13th champion with an impressive 7-2 win over West Morris' Dylan Luciano, avenging an 8-7 loss in the District 1 finals. A strong 120-pounder, Renne benefited from wrestling at 126 most of the season. In winning the Region 1 title, the No. 5 seed knocked off the Nos. 4, 1 and 2 seeds. Renne will face Edison's Robert Cleary in the pre-quarters, with the winner sure to face two-time state champ Nick Suriano of Bergen Catholic. Just form comparison sake, Luciano scored a technical fall win over Cleary on Dec. 27.

Career mark: 91-26.
Previous state appearances: None.

Ryan Pomrinca (36-0), North Hunterdon -- The senior captured his third District 17 and his second Region 5 title at 126 pounds, and now he is seeking a third state medal after placing seventh as a freshman and third as a junior. After reaching the semifinals at this weight last season, Pomrinca, who beat Monroe's Sal Profaci, 2-1 in overtime for the bronze, is bidding to become the Lions' 13th state champ and their first since Ricky Frondorf went back-to-back in 2002-03. As the No. 2 seed in the bottom bracket, Pomrica is likely heading for a quarterfinal showdown with DePaul's Matt Noble, a Region 1 champion, and seventh-place finisher two years ago. The last finalist for North Hunterdon was heavyweight Jack Delia (2010-11).

Career mark: 151-12.
Previous state appearances: Seventh at 113 in 2012, quarterfinals at 120 in '13, third at 126 in '14.

Dom Gallo (22-4), High Point -- After finishing third in a very tough class at Region 1, the senior earned his second straight trip to AC. Gallo has an extremely tough road in the upper half of the draw at 126, where he opens against Clifton's Kareem Askew. A win there would set up a match against two-time placewinner Peter Lipari of Bergen Catholic. Gallo dropped a 3-2 decision to Mike Russo of St. Peter's Prep in last year's pre-quarters.

Career mark: 104-28.
Previous state appearances: Pre-quarterfinals in 2014.

Max Nauta (30-6), Warren Hills -- The Blue Streaks senior is hoping the fourth time will be the charm after being shut out on the medal stand in three previous trips to AC. The four-time Region 1 finalist and two-time champ is as deadly as they come on the mat, with tremendous hips and a knack for wiggling his way out of trouble. Nauta, the No. 5 seed in the upper bracket at 132 and three wins shy of becoming the school's all-time leader, has twice finished one round shy of placing -- at 106 in 2012 and at 113 in '13. He reached the quarters two years ago, but was bounced in the opening round at this weight last season.

Career mark: 122-27.
Previous state appearances: Pre-quarterfinals in 2012, quarterfinals in '13 and preliminaries in '14.

Jared Kobis (30-0), High Point -- The talented junior could be a bracket buster in the upper half of the draw at 138. With no prior appearances, Kobis sits in the No. 8 spot awaiting the winner of the prelim between JT Beirne of Scotch Plains and Dylan James of Robbinsville. With a win, Kobis will likely see two-time state runner-up Kyle Bierdumpfel of Don Bosco in the quarters. Kobis is healthy and feeling confident heading to AC, and he said after the Region 1 finals on Saturday that the only wrestler he didn't want to see early was Clifton's Mohammed Farhan, who is an offseason workout partner. They would both need to reach the semis for that matchup on the winners' side.

Career mark: 70-4.
Previous state appearances: None.

Jason Gaccione (36-2), High Point -- The senior looked solid in winning his second Region 1 title this past weekend. Now, he is looking to match his uncle and 'Cats coach John Gardner (189 pounds in 1990) with a state championship. Gaccione's brother, Joe, finished third in the state in 2011, the last year that High Point had a state champ when Nick Francavilla, Drew Wagenhoffer, Ethan Orr and Billy Smith all claimed titles. Jason Gaccione is as good as they come in gaining an advantage off scrambles, where his tremendous athleticism comes into play. He bumped up earlier this season and secured a 1-0 win in the ultimate tiebreaker against Cranford's Gavin Murray, a runner-up last season. Gaccione just missed on the semifinals last season after a tough 4-2 loss in sudden victory to Delbarton's Dan Reed in the quarters.

Career mark: 140-21.
Previous state appearances: Fourth place in 2013, quarterfinals in '14.

Brian Smolinsky (36-2), North Hunterdon -- The junior finally got over the hump this season with a District 17 title and a third-place finish in Region 5. Smolinsky's lone losses this season are to Sean Glasgow of Bound Brook (11-3 on Feb. 2) and Bryan McLaughlin of Woodbridge (pin in the Region 5 semifinals) -- both wrestlers qualified in this weight class. Smolinsky has a prelim matchup against Jake Maxwell of Buena. A win there could put the Lions on a course for a rematch with McLaughlin in the quarters.

Career mark: 79-22.
Previous state appearances: None.

Max Elling (38-3), Phillipsburg -- The Stateliner stumbled in the Region 1 semifinals with a 6-5 loss to Roxbury's Craig Roumes. All of the talk leading up to that one was a potential showdown between Elling and four-time Region 1 champ David McFadden of DePaul. Now, Elling must refocus in his third trip to AC. Last weekend's third-place region finish will be a big motivator, with Elling lurking in the upper part of the bottom bracket at 160 pounds, where he will face St. Joseph-Montvale's Vin DiFilippo in the prelims. Elling went 2-3 overall in two prior state appearances.

Career mark: 123-36.
Previous state appearances: Preliminaries in 2012, pre-quarterfinals in '13.

D.J. Barrett (36-2), Lenape Valley -- Making his second straight trip to AC, Barrett, a Region 1 runner-up, is looking to become the Patriots' first medal winner since Peter Lipari finished seventh at 120 pounds in 2013. Barrett, who became the school's 13th 100-match winner this season, went 0-2 at this weight class last season after finishing third in Region 1. The senior's only two losses are to West Orange's Chris Morgan (10-5 on Dec. 20) and DePaul's Nick DePalma (7-1 in the Region 1 final). Barrett will face Allentown's Zach Turner (36-4) in the prelims.

Career mark: 106-44.
Previous state appearances: Preliminaries in 2014.

Gus Protogeropoulos (33-3), Newton -- The senior is coming off a tough 1-0 loss to Pequannock's Patrick Daly in the Region 1 finals on Saturday. Dropping to 195 after qualifying at 220 last season, Protogeropoulos moves well for big man and has quick feet. If he opens up, something he hasn't done on occasions this season, a state medal is within reach. The two-time District 3 champion will face Don Bosco's Jeff Lombardi in the prelims, where a win would likely put Protogeropoulos one win away from a rematch with Holy Cross' Matt Correnti in the quarters. On Jan. 31 at the Jack Welch Duals, Correnti prevailed, 5-1. Protogeropoulos scored a 5-3 win over Haddonfield's Frank Fortino, who also qualified at this weight.

Career mark: 102-36.
Previous state appearances: Preliminaries in 2014.

Andrew Pacheco (28-2), Warren Hills -- The big man is extremely agile for his size and is always dangerous with the throws. After placing sixth as a junior, Pacheco, a two-time Region 1 champ, is one of the wrestlers to beat at this weight class as the No. 1 seed in the bottom bracket. He is looking to become the school's first heavyweight to reach the finals since Dan Slack won it all in 1977. Jon Slack is the highest finisher among Blue Streaks heavies since with a third-place medal in 2010. Pacheco awaits the winner of the prelim bout between Union's David Brown and Delran's Calen West.

Career mark: 104-20.
Previous appearances: Preliminaries in 2013, sixth place in '14.

Other area qualifiers (16):

Delaware Valley -- Ryan Erwin (132)
Hopatcong -- Joe Aumann (113)
Hunterdon Central -- Hunter Graf (106), Peter Nace (113), Nick Suk (182), Nestor Crespo (195)
Kittatinny -- Austin Scrivani (132)
North Hunterdon -- Derek Ciavarro (145), Michael Sicola (160)
Phillipsburg -- Kyle Markus (106), Steve Friedman (145), Robert Melise (220), Kyle Nothnagel (285)
Pope John -- Jake Rotunda (113)
Sparta -- Gavin Lally (220)
Voorhees -- Kyle DiNapoli (120)

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