Paetzell, who has battled a pair of hand injuries the last two seasons, dominated the 132-pound weight class for his third Region 1 championship on Saturday at Wallkill Valley Regional High School.
Sophomore Brian Meyer (145) and junior Robert Melise (220) won their first Region 1 titles, while Kyle Markus (113), DJ Wissing (152) and Kyle Nothnagel (285) finished second, as the Stateliners advanced a tournament-best six wrestlers to Atlantic City for next weekend's State Championships. It's the most region finalists for the Warren County school since its six in 2002, when coach Dave Post won a title as a junior for the 'Liners.
Paetzell also made history by becoming just the fifth Phillipsburg wrestler to win three region titles, joining former head coach Rick Thompson (1970-71, '73), John Rutledge (1977, '79-80), John Barna (1980-82) and Marc DeFrancesco (1994-96). All but Rutledge, who was third in 1980 and fourth twice in '77 and '79, won state titles as well. No one at P'burg has won four region championships.
|Region 1 champs for 2016 (missing is Austin Scrivani and Daniel Kilroy).|
"That's some pretty elite company," said Paetzell, who also picked up his 100th career win in the finals with a workmanlike 15-2 major of Hopatcong sophomore Anthony Mastroeni. "I don't want to pat myself on the back, but I'm proud of myself after all the adversity and injuries. But I'm not satisfied. I have one more job to finish."
The next task would be to become Phillipsburg's 34th state champion and first since Brandon Hull won at 220 pounds in 2012 to snap the Stateliners' 15-year title drought. Paetzell (12-3), a three-time District 1 champion, was fifth in the state as freshman and second as a sophomore before a thumb injury ended his junior season with a 12-0 record.
"I'm just going to have a lot more fun with it. The last two times down [in AC] there was a lot of pressure on me," Paetzell said. "I'm excited. This is my last chance, but I can't be so intense. I have to let it fly. When I'm enjoying myself, that's usually when I wrestle the best."
Against Mastroeni, who was a fourth-place finisher last year, Paetzell went to work early on their feet, converting two of his four takedowns in the first period. Paetzell added three sets of two-point near-falls over the final four minutes. Getting that 100th win also was pretty special.
"I definitely wanted to get my 100th win. It was in the back of my mind," said Paetzell, who likely would have shattered the school record for wins (held by Max Elling with 128) had he stayed healthy for four years. "The funny thing is I thought I was going to get my 100th win in AC, but I got a forfeit win in districts. Down there, no one would have been able to enjoy it as much as here. I'm really excited for next weekend."
Meyer (32-8) did what good wrestlers do and capitalized on a big opportunity with an impressive 7-3 win over Montville's Dominic Fano in the 145-pound final, which opened up considerably when top-seeded Jared Kobis of Hiugh Point withdrew before the quarterfinals due to a knee injury.
Lenape Valley junior Nick Palumbo, who was in the bottom bracket as the No. 3 seed, dropped a 2-1 decision to Fano, the No. 2 seed, in the semifinals. Meyer, who lost twice to Palumbo this season, earned a trip to the finals with a 5-2 win over Hackettstown's Anthony Carida in a rematch of their District 1 final.
In a rematch of last year's 220-pound final, Melise avenged a loss to DePaul's Scott Lavelle with a thrilling 3-1 decision in sudden-victory overtime. In 2015, Melise (37-2), who finished fifth in the state last season, was decked by Lavelle, who was third in the state, in 3:30.
Melise wrestled a smarter match this time around, converting the winning takedown off a duck under with four seconds left on the clock.
JoJo going for gold
Pope John freshman JoJo Aragona (36-0), as expected, rolled to the 106-pound championship with a 17-7 major over Jefferson's Mason Godfrey, a surprise finalist as the No. 6 seed. Godfrey pinned Warren Hills freshman Cody Harrison, the No. 2 seed, with a headlock in the semifinals.
In doing so, Aragona became the 19th to win a region title for the Lions and their first champ since Brandon Perez won at 215 pounds in 2004. Aragona also is just the second freshman at his school to win since the legendary Mike Frick won the first of four in 1969.
As for being a favorite to win a state gold medal and end Pope John's drought -- Brian Unkert was the last to win for the Lions in 1990 -- Aragona isn't looking too far ahead.
"I'm just taking it one at a time," he said. "I want to thank my drilling partners [Christian Deehan, Jake Rotunda and Robbie Garcia] and my coaches for helping me get this far."
Rotunda, a sophomore, was a runner-up for the second straight year, dropping a 14-3 decision to West Morris' Shane Metzler, a two-time champion, at 120. Garcia finished third at 126, while sophomore Jake Brown picked up a third at 182.
Weight a minute
The 126-pound class was extremely unforgiving with as many as five wrestlers more than capable of winning on any other year. In the end, Roxbury's Troy Stanich topped Butler's Garrett O'Shea, 3-1, in the second tiebreaker. Stanich, who had been second and third in his career, also earned the Outstanding Wrestler Award.
How cruel was this weight class? Consider that Hackettstown senior Joe Renne, a Region 1 champion last year, finished fourth and did not advance. His season ended with an 8-2 loss to Garcia, who also topped Renne, 11-8, in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament semifinals on Jan. 9.
Renne (31-7) made school history in the consolation semifinals with a forfeit victory to become Hackettstown's all-time victories leader at 123-35. Cory Vernon previously held the mark (122-19 from 2003-07).
Warren Hills junior Matt Valli, who entered the postseason unbeaten, dropped a 10-5 decision to DePaul's Damian Maver in the first round of wrestlebacks. Valli finished his season at 33-3.
Paetzell became the 20th wrestler in P'burg history to amass 100 career wins with his victory in the finals. Nothnagel is sitting on 98 wins as he heads to Atlantic City. Melise picked up win No. 80 in the championship round.
Sophomore Jarod Ostir made it 2-for-2 for Warren Hills in the third-place consolation round and earned his first trip to AC. Ostir (16-9), who went 3-0 after getting pinned by two-time champ Daniel Kilroy in the quarters, bumped up from 160 to 170 for the postseason and the move paid off as he defeated Sparta senior Al Falco, 5-2, to advance.
In addition to the four from Pope John and Mastroeni, Sussex County will send four others to AC as Kittatinny senior Austin Scrivani (138) and High Point senior Kevin Lewis (285) won their first titles. Lenape Valley had two thirds in Jacob Falleni (113) and Palumbo.
Lewis, who was fourth at 285 last year, avenged a loss to Nothnagel in the third-place consolations with an 8-6 win in the finals. Lewis (29-8), the No. 2 seed, became High Point's 46th region champ. It was another case of making the right move as Lewis wrestled at 195 most of the regular season. He trailed, 4-2, after two periods before a tying it with a reversal and adding two takedowns in the third, including the winner with 12 seconds left on the clock.
North Warren senior Anthony Duardo enjoyed a much better Saturday than he did a week ago by finishing third at 152 to earn his first trip to states after a one-and-done here as a junior. Duardo (34-3), a Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament champ, was pinned by Wissing in the District 1 finals.
The Region 1 Hall of Fame inducted three new members as former state champions Dave Zabriskie of High Point, Chris Skretkowicz of Wallkill Valley and Jamie Wicks of Delaware Valley were enshrined prior to the finals. Everyone enjoyed seeing the talented and classy trio, Zabriskie, a national champ at Iowa State, is training for the Olympic freestyle team, while Skretkowicz, a three-time All-American at Hofstra, is the head coach at Virginia Military Institute. Wicks, a two-time state champ in 1987 and '88, is still the Terriers' all-time leader in winning percentage (94.85 with a 92-5 career mark).