Klinger became just the third wrestler and first from Sussex County to win three individual titles by claiming the 132-pound championship at the seventh annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hunterdon Central Field House. It also helped Kittatinny and coach John Gill claim its first team championship as the Cougars edged five-time champion Phillipsburg, 201-194.
"It feels good. I've worked so hard since last year," said Klinger, who scored a 6-4 decision over Delaware Valley's Matt Kolonia in the finals. "I know I can compete with the best in the state. I'm right there with anybody."
Kittatinny crowned two other champions as senior Austin Scrivani (138) won his second title, while freshman Zach Mafaro won his first. Scrivani decked North Hunterdon's Cole Marra in 3:06, while Mafaro earned a thrilling 3-2 win over Phillipsburg's Dan Fisher with a reversal in the second tiebreaker. Peter Lipari of Lenape Valley (2012), Brandon Paetzell of Phillipsburg (2013) and Joe Aragona of Pope John (2016) are the only other freshmen to win HWS titles.
"I'm very proud. What a difference a year makes," said Gill, whose team finished ninth in the 18-team field and 107 1/2 points behind champion P'burg in 2015. "I'm going to have bad days this year and this is a good day. I'm going to enjoy every second of it."
Scrivani's pin was big in the team race as Kittatinny split with P'burg in the championship round. Stateliners senior Kyle Markus decked Mark DiGeronimo in the 113-pound final. Third-place finishes by Dylan Minter (152) and Josh Klimek (170) also boosted the Cougars' points total.
Klinger (13-1), who joined North Hunterdon's Ryan Pomrinca and Voorhees' Jadaen Bernstein as three-time HWS champions, also avenged his only loss of the season by pinning Hunterdon Central freshman Vincent Romaniello in 1:02 in the quarterfinals. Romaniello decked Klinger in the Caldwell Tournament finals last month. Klinger, who converted two takedowns in the win over Kolonia, said he thought about dropping to 126 for this event. But cutting weight wasn't something that helped him last season as a 120-pounder.
"I'd be like 128 before weigh-ins and I let it get to me," said Klinger, a District 3 champion. "It was like a yo-yo with my weight and I couldn't do it. This year is going to be different. I'm barely cutting any weight."
Mafaro's win essentially iced the team championship. After trading escapes in regulation, Fisher nearly had a takedown twice in the one-minute sudden victory period and escaped in the first 30-second rideout. Mafaro went down to start the next 30-second period and got the winning reversal just seven seconds in.
'Liners not short on champs
Despite missing four starters, Phillipsburg came down to the wire in the team race with a tournament-high four champions -- Markus, Drew Horun (195), Robert Melise (220) and Kyle Nothnagel (285).
Coach Dave Post's team, which was seeking a sixth team championship trophy and some 70-odd individual plaques to commemorate that feat, was without Cullen Day (106), Tom Kosar (120), Paetzell (132) and DJ Wissing (160), all sidelined by injuries. After being shut out in the first tournament in 2010, P'burg has had at least two champs every year since, while also crowing a program-best four in 2014.
The Stateliners now have an HWS-best 17 champions overall, just ahead of North Hunterdon (12) and Hunterdon Central (9).
Valli is Outstanding
Warren Hills junior Matt Valli prevailed in arguably the toughest weight class of the tournament and in exciting fashion. His 6-5 win over Pope John stud freshman Robert Garcia at 126 pounds was easily the most entertaining of the 14 championship bouts.
In a matchup that featured a number of great scrambles, Valli converted a second-period takedown that proved to be the difference. In the first period, Valli scored first on a takedown, but Garcia got a reversal and two back points to take a 4-2 lead.
Valli, a runner-up in 2014 who missed last year's tournament with an injury, is Warren Hills' seventh HWS champ and ran its streak of at least one winner to three straight years. Valli is the first at his school to win the Outstanding Wrestler Award.
In another wild matchup in the semifinals, Garcia, the No. 5 seed, knocked off top-seeded Joe Renne of Hackettstown, 11-8. Garcia nearly decked Renne, a Region 1 champ, at one point and the five-point move was the catalyst to victory.
North Warren senior Anthony Duardo ended his school's title drought by winning the 152-pound title -- 5-2 over Hackettstown's Anthony Carida. In doing so, Duardo joined former state placewinner Kevin Brown (2010) as the Patriots' only tri-county champions. Both won titles at 152.
"I didn't know that. It feels darn good," said Duardo, who idolized Brown, a three-time state placewinner, as a youth wrestler. "Kevin Brown was everything [for North Warren wrestling]. I think he used to sing the national anthem [before matches]. You want to try and do what he did or beat it."
Duardo (14-1) has put in a lot of time in the offseason and figures to be in the hunt for a District 1 and Region 1 title this season.
"What made [winning an HWS title] happen was the offseason work," said Duardo, who has worked six days a week since a 7-0 loss to West Milford's Christian Dalcais on the opening night of Region 1 last season. "I've been lifting and practicing ever since that loss. The hard work has really paid off."
Here and there
Newton saw its run of six straight tournaments with at least one finalist end on Saturday. Nick Giordano (138) and Jonathon Borgognoni (152) -- both fourth -- were the highest placewinners for the Braves.
Pope John finished third in the team race as Aragona (106) and Jake Rotunda (120) won their first championships. Aragona (13-0) needed a late takedown for a 3-1 win over Warren Hills freshman Cody Harrison, while Rotunda (10-1) scored an impressive 9-2 win over Hunterdon Central's Peter Nace, a runner-up last season.
Lenape Valley junior Nick Palumbo (145), North Hunterdon senior Derek Ciavarro (160) and Hunterdon Central junior Michael Iodice (170) also won their first HWS titles. Ciavarro's older brother Mike was a two-time finalist and a champion in 2013.
The future in the tri-county area looks bright. In all, eight underclassmen won HWS titles on Saturday, while eight took home third-place medals. Lenape Valley junior Jacob Falleni, last year's 106-pound champ, was derailed in his bid for a second title with a fourth-place finish at 113 pounds.
Voorhees senior Kyle DiNapoli, a state placewinner last season and an HWS champion in 2014, was forced to withdraw from the tournament after a 16-7 win over Newton freshman Wyatt McCarthy in the 132-pound quarterfinals. As a result, the fifth-seeded Klinger had a walkover to the final.
"I hope Kyle is all right," Klinger said after his win in the finals. "It stinks that I didn't get to wrestle him."