Sunday, March 6, 2016

Wrestling: Paetzell, Melise fall short in state title bids

ATLANTIC CITY -- They may have fallen short of the ultimate goal, but Phillipsburg's Brandon Paetzell and Robert Melise had nothing to hang their heads about after tough losses in the championship round of the 83rd State Wrestling Championships.

Paetzell dropped a tough 3-1 decision to Clearview's Zack Firestone in the 132-pound final, while Melise suffered a 12-3 setback to Holy Cross star Matt Correnti in the 220-pound match on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall. They were the only wrestlers from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area to make the finals.

Six others from the area took home medals, as Pope John' JoJo Aragona (106) and Lenape Valley's Nick Palumbo (145) finished third. Kittatinny's Austin Scrivani (fourth at 138), Voorhees' Kyle DiNapoli (seventh at 126) and Hunterdon Central's Hunter Graf (eighth at 113) and Victor LaCombe (fifth at 220) also earned medals.

Closing a fine career

For Paetzell, it was a second heartbreaking loss after losing, 1-0, to Delbarton's Ty Agaisse at 106 in 2014.

"I really wanted this one. It's something I've prayed for every night. It stinks because I got so close," said Paetzell, who finished fifth as a freshman, and ends his final season at 15-4 and 103-13 overall.

Though it was little consolation to Paetzell immediately after his second finals loss, the Rutgers-bound senior can be proud of what will go down as one of the finest careers in Phillipsburg's proud history. Paetzell is the first three-time placewinner for the 'Liners since John Garriques (fourth in 1995, fifth-sixth in '96 and second in '97). Paetzell and Melise are also gave P'burg multiple finalists for the first time since Bobby Piccione and Garriques finished second in '97.

"I'm very tough on myself, but I'm grateful to all of my coaches and the people who have supported me," said Paetzell, one of only five Stateliners to win three region titles. "This will only motivate me [at Rutgers]. This isn't the end all."

Firestone (38-0), who was a third-place finisher last year, converted a throw-by for the first points of the bout as that takedown stood as the winning move. Paetzell was in deep on two single-leg shots and a high-crotch attempt, but could not finish.

"I was in three times deep. On the high-crotch, I switched to a double and he shifted a leg," Paetzell said. "Both of [the single-leg attempts] were near the edge, and it's tough to score there in high school. College rules, I think I would have had two takedowns. His defense was good, but I think my offense and finishes were better.

"He played the edge, that's his whole game. He couldn't touch my legs. In a match like this, you are only going to get one, two or three opportunities at the most."

In two state finals appearances, Paetzell amazingly scored zero offensive points and had just two escapes. Something that wasn't lost on him after this one.

"My sophomore year, I knew it would be really tough to take Ty down," said Paetzell, a frequent workout partner with Agaisse during their club days. "I only got an escape in that match, but I got to his legs twice and came close to scoring. We wrestled a hundred times and I never once got to his legs in practice. In this one, when you are not near the center, it's real hard to finish."

So where does Paetzell stack up among Phillipsburg's all-time best? Stateliners coach Dave Post has no doubt about that one.

"He's got to be one of the greats ever at Phillipsburg," said Post, a two-time state placewinner for the 'Liners in 2002 and '03. "Even though he didn't finish on top of the podium, to be in the finals twice. It's heartbreaking, but we wrestled well. One flurry, he got stuck underneath and he had to get out clean. [Firestone] caught the chin, and with a guy who's a little bit stronger, that's a bad place to be."

I'll be back

For Melise, a trip to the state finals will only serve as motivation for next season. The junior declared after his loss that he intends to return at 220 pounds, despite coming off this past football season around 235.

"I'm happy where I'm at right now, but this is no time to be complacent," said Melise, who finished fifth at 220 in 2015. "To be in the finals is a great experience. This was a mettle test for me to see how I can perform against somebody who is far superior, and I thought I handled it really well."

After a scoreless first period, Correnti turned the match by scoring two back points as Melise attempted to sit out. After Melise escaped, Correnti converted a takedown and took a 5-1 lead into the third period, where he racked up three more takedowns.

Melise (40-3), a Region 1 champion, avenged a 5-2 loss in December to St. Augustine's James Brady with a 10-3 victory in the semifinals. His only other defeat was 3-2 to Blair Academy's Nick Mosco that same opening weekend at the Beast of the East. Melise, following the loss to Brady, proceeded to reel off 36 straight wins until the Rutgers-bound Correnti (42-0), who was second at 195 last year, ended the streak.

"He's a phenomenal wrestler. I knew that going in," said Melise, who was put on his back for the first time this season by Correnti. "Now, I have a sense of urgency for next year."

Melise, who is just as outstanding off the mat and always gracious with the media win or lose, showed great sportsmanship when he embraced Correnti after shaking hands.

"He should have won last year. He deserved it this year," said Melise, who will enter his senior season at 83-18. "He matched me in all three facets -- he was stronger, faster and knew what I was going to do before I did it. That's how he beat me. I lost to a really good kid. He was ranked third in the country for a reason. I respect him and everybody I wrestle."

With 59 finalists all-time, Melise will look to give P'burg its 34th champion in 2017.

No doubt 

Palumbo capped his junior season with a victory and his first state medal -- a third-place finish with a 3-1 win over Clearview's Stanley Atkinson. Showing a great sense of humor, Palumbo answered simply, 'Never doubt me,' when reminded that he was picked to finish fourth by Open Mike before the tournament.

Palumbo (39-8) rallied back from a tough loss in the quarterfinals with four wins to become Lenape Valley's highest finisher since D.J. Russo placed second at 215 in 2006. The only other finalists for the Patriots are head coach Doug Vetter (1990) and assistant Chris Ressa (2001). So, Palumbo has that to shoot for next season.

"I just needed to believe in myself that I could do it," Palumbo said of finishing third. "That quarterfinal loss [3-2 to John Finnerty of Point Pleasant Beach] lit a fire under me. It made me wrestle harder. I will come back next year hungrier than ever and lay it all on the line."

Aragona (40-1) became just the third medal winner at Pope John since 2003, as he decked Roselle Park senior Chris Gural in 5:55 for the bronze at 106. Aragona join Devin Perez (second at 275 in 2003) and Noa Merritt (eighth at 285 in '14) as the Lions' latest medal winners.

Scrivani was the third from Sussex County to medal as he took fourth place at 138. He's Kittatinny's first placewinner since Clarke Moynihan finished fourth in 2012. Scrivani (37-3), making his third appearance in AC, added a state medal to go with four district, one region and two Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex titles. With a career mark of 133-29, Scrivani ranks fifth on the Cougars' all-time wins list, behind only Tommy Spellman and Troy Hernandez, as well as former state champs Will Livingston and Derek Valenti.

"It's awesome, All of those guys are role models to me," said Scrivani, who nearly jumped behind for the winning takedown in the closing seconds of a 3-2 loss to Camden Catholic's Mark McCormick in their third-place bout. "They are kids who growing up, I looked up to and strove to be like. Hopefully, I can give that back to some of the younger kids [at Kittatinny]."

Hunterdon connection

Three medals were the order of the final day in AC, as DiNapoli earned his second after placing eighth in 2015. DiNapoli is just the seventh at Voorhees to finish with at least two medals, a list that includes head coach Eric Hall, a runner-up in 1996.

Hunterdon Central, which should be a force next season with 11 returning starters, came home with two medals, including what turned out to be a great story with Lacombe's fifth-place finish. He twice beat returning third-place finisher Scott Lavelle of DePaul -- 6-3 in the pre-quarterfinals and a pin in 5:54 for fifth place. Not too shaby for a kid who started wrestling as a freshman.

"I had to do something if I wanted to win," said Lacombe, who trailed, 5-4, with 20 seconds left in the third period in the rematch with Lavelle. "I tried [a half off a blast double] and I got it. I'm glad I got [a medal]. I'm grateful."

Back points

Clearview got its third champ and first since Billy Gibbs (125 in 2000). Greg Van Brill (189 in 1987) was the Pioneers' first champion.

Bergen Catholic star Nick Suriano capped arguably the greatest high school career in New Jersey history with a perfect 159-0 mark and his fourth state title with a 3-1 win over Delbarton's Ty Agaisse at 126 pounds. Suriano joins South Plainfield's Anthony Ashnault (2010-13) as the only four-time unbeatens in state history. On the same day Suriano, a Penn State recruit, made history, Ashnault won his first Big Ten title for Rutgers.

Suriano, one of four champs for Bergen Catholic, also has the distinction of becoming the 1,000th state champ overall in the 83-year history of the State Wrestling Championships. Firestone and Griffith raised the total to 1,002 heading into 2017. Bergen County, now with 118 champs all-time, passed Sussex (113) for second place behind Union (129).

Suriano won the Donald Ringler Award as the Outstanding Wrestler, but how about Paramus senior Kyle Cochran stunning returning champ Kyle Bierdumpfel of Don Bosco -- 3-2 with a takedown at the buzzer in their 160-pound final? Cochran finished second in District 5 and third in Region 2 -- losing 3-1 to Bierdumpfel in the district final. Cochran is just the second state champ and first since Neil Hanley won at 122 pounds in 1982 for Paramus.

Joe Manchio became Seneca's first champion in winning the 106-pound title, while Sebastian Rivera, who won at 113, joined Pete Black (1969) as the only champs for Christian Brothers Academy. Steinert's Brandon Cray, who won at 113 last year, won just the fourth state title in Mercer County's history by taking the 120-pound championship.


145 -- Jr. Mekhi Lewis (37-1, R5-1), Bound Brook, d. So. Michael O'Malley (46-1, R4-1), Hasbrouck Heights, 3-1 SV.

152 -- Jr. Stephan Glasgow (37-1, R5-1), Bound Brook, md. Jr. Andrew Meyers (36-2, R6-1), Toms River East, 16-6.

160 -- Sr. Kyle Cochran (33-2, R2-3), Paramus, d. Sr. Kyle Bierdumpfel (31-1, R2-1), Don Bosco Prep, 3-2.

170 -- Sr. Joe Grello (41-2, R2-1), Bergen Catholic, d. Jr. Shane Sosinsky (41-4, R2-2), Northern Highlands, 4-0.

182 -- Jr. Brandon Kui (39-1, R1-1), DePaul, d. Sr. Luke Drugac (38-3, R1-2), Morris Knolls, 5-4.

195 -- Sr. Kevin Mulligan (38-2, R2-1), Bergen Catholic, d. Sr. Dean Drugac (38-1, R1-1), Morris Knolls, 5-1.

220 -- Sr. Matt Correnti (42-0, R7-1), Holy Cross, md. Jr. Robert Melise (40-3, R1-1), Phillipsburg, 12-3.

285 -- Jr. Eric Chakonis (27-4, R2-1), Don Bosco Prep, vs. Sr. Joe Longobardi (38-3, R2-3), River Dell, 6-4.

106 -- So. Joe Manchio (42-0, R7-1), Seneca, d. Sr. Nick Duca (34-6, R8-1), Paulsboro, 5-4.

113 -- Sr. Sebastian Rivera (31-1, R6-1), Christian Brothers, p. So. Patrick Glory (38-3, R3-1), Delbarton, 5:59.

120 -- Sr. Brandon Cray (20-0, R7-1), Steinert, d. Fr. Nick Raimo (30-2, R3-1), Hanover Park, 5-2.

126 -- Sr. Nick Suriano (38-0, R2-1), Bergen Catholic, d. Sr. Ty Agaisse (26-3, R3-1), Delbarton, 3-1.

132 -- Sr. Zack Firestone (38-0, R8-1), Clearview, d. Sr. Brandon Paetzell (15-4, R1-1), Phillipsburg, 3-1.

138 -- So. Shane Griffith (15-0, R2-1), Bergen Catholic, d. Sr. Michael Van Brill (37-1, R8-1), Clearview, 4-2 SV.

Donald Ringler Outstanding Wrestler Award -- Nick Suriano, Bergen Catholic.
Coach of the Year Award -- John Stout, Southern.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. You forgot Dan Percelay placed 7th at 113.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.