Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wrestling: Streaks' trio set to make their move in AC

WEST ORANGE -- Warren Hills wrestlers Jarod Ostir and Matt Valli experienced very different endings to their seasons at this time last year.

They are among three Blue Streaks -- along with senior Rashon Wade Taylor -- to qualify for the 84th State Championships that begin on Friday afternoon at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Ostir was the lone finalist, finishing second at 170 pounds, while Valli took third at 132 on Saturday in the Region 3 Tournament at West Orange High School. Wade Taylor earned his first state berth with a fourth-place finish at 152.

Ostir is a repeat state qualifier after a third-place finish in the former Region 1. But he was unable to wrestle in AC after sustaining an elbow injury that later required Tommy John surgery. He was replace in the draw by fourth-place finisher Al Falco of Sparta.

On Saturday, Ostir scored the opening takedown against West Morris junior Marco Gaita, but gave up two in the process in a 6-3 loss.

"It feels good because last year I was unable to compete," said Ostir, who underwent surgery on March 21 to repair a torn UCL.

Ostir (29-9), a District 12 champion, gave up a second-period takedown off a scramble, and nearly hit a dump in the third that would have wiped out a 4-3 deficit. Instead, Gaita got the takedown with seven seconds left on the clock.

"I thought I was going to get [the takedown], but I couldn't hook his back leg," said Ostir. who needed just 31 seconds in the first period to get a takedown for a 2-0 lead. "After he was able to escape [in the first period], I lost my focus. I wanted to control him on the mat."

Peaks and Vallis

Valli, after qualifying as a freshman and missing the postseason as a sophomore with a knee injury, fell short again as a junior -- going 1-2, including a 9-5 loss to Pope John's Robert Garcia in the quarterfinals of a brutal 126-pound weight class. Valli had beaten Garcia to capture his first Hunterdon-Warren Sussex title earlier in 2016.

"It was terrible. I cried in the car on the way home [from Wallkill Valley, the former site of Region 1]," said Valli, who appreciated the change in scenery for Region 3 after a radical district realignment that took effect for the 2016-17 season. "I hated Wallkill ... too many bad memories there."

Valli dropped a 5-3 decision in the semifinals to eventual champion Ray Wetzel of Queen of Peace before storming back to take third with a 3-1 win over Frank Gabriele of Verona. Even though his place in AC was secure, as the top four finishers advance this season, Valli wanted to leave no doubt.

"The pressure was off and I wrestled relaxed, but I wanted to take a true third," said Valli (33-6), now fifth on the school's all-time wins list with 103.

Ostir and Valli are hoping to bring home more hardware in Atlantic City, and both are heading down there with a lot of confidence.

"I honestly believe I can place," Valli said. "I feel I'm right there with everyone. I'm strong on my feet. I worked all summer with [former Delaware Valley and Voorhees assistant coach] Steve Barkman on leg attacks and defense. I want to thank my Warren Hills coaches -- KC Wanamaker and Chris Greenwald -- and Jeff Balas, my middle school coach, who taught me how to be tough."

Seater in the house

Belvidere sophomore Quinn Melofchik joined the party in Atlantic City after falling short last season by earning a third-place finish at 106 pounds.

Melofchik (34-3), who was fourth in Region 1 as a freshman, scored a 3-1 win over Queen of Peace freshman Will Grater for the bronze after punching his ticket with an 8-2 decision over Jake Bursese of Hanover Park in the wrestleback semifinals.

It was a tough day for Melofchik's teammates as senior Nick Cassidy (138) and junior Ryan Kokawski (182) bowed out in the first round of wrestlebacks. It was the fourth straight season without a region champion for Belvidere, which has produced 19 overall, since J.B. Lawson (220) and Ryan Appleby (285) won titles in 2013.

Back points

Phillipsburg was voted No. 2, while Warren Hills was the No. 5 team in the Region 3 Top 10 that was announced after the championship round. Delbarton was No. 1 and Mendham was No. 3, followed by No. 4 Hanover Park. West Morris (6), Queen of Peace (7), Caldwell (8), North Bergen (9) and Randolph (10) rounded out the poll, which was voted on by the region representatives.

If you think seeds don't matter, take a look at some of the brackets involving Warren Hills. Had a few wrestlers landed in the other half of the draw, the Blue Streaks may have added to their total of three state qualifiers. No. 1 seed Zach Nauta finished fifth at 138, while Hackettstown junior Alex Carida, the No. 2 seed, won the title. Nauta is the last to beat Carida -- 6-4 in a dual meet on Jan. 7.

"I was a little surprised," Carida said of not getting a rematch with Nauta in the Region 3 finals. "He's a good wrestler. But I have to give credit to [Hanover Park junior Sean Conley], he beat Nauta [4-3 in overtime in the semifinals]."

At 285, senior Taylan Zafis also finished fifth while watching a Hackettstown wrestler he defeated move on as junior Joe Andes took second. Zafis beat Andes, 2-1, in that same January dual meet and 5-1 for third place in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament the following weekend. In fact, Zafis owns a 3-1 lead in their series, as the two split last season, with Andes winning their third-place bout in District 1.

Phillipsburg sophomore Cody Harrison had an interesting weekend en route to a third-place finish at 126. On Friday, Harrison dropped a 6-5 decision to Morris Catholic junior Sebastian Cornejo in the quarterfinals, before bouncing back to beat Cornejo, 8-2, for the bronze. Cornejo is his school's first state qualifier since 1977 (Jim Babinski second at 101 pounds) and its highest placewinner since '93 (Eric Storz fourth at 189).

District 11 was the big winner on Saturday by advancing a tournament-best 20 wrestlers to Atlantic City. District 9, which includes P'burg and Hackettstown, was next with 15, followed by District 10 with 13 and District 12 with just eight, including three from Warren Hills.

Third-place consolations

106 -- 2-So. Quinn Melofchik (33-3, D11-1), Belvidere, d. Fr. Will Grater (25-7, D11-2), Queen of Peace, 3-1.
113 -- 3-Jr. Enrique Sanchez (29-6, D11-1), Queen of Peace, tf. 6-So. Travis Jones (27-10, D9-1), Phillipsburg, 15-0, 5:20.
120 -- 2-Jr. Yousef Salem (34-3, D12-1), North Bergen, p. 4-Sr. Jimmy Loudon (31-11, D10-2), Verona, 1:45.
126 -- 3-So. Cody Harrison (23-5, D9-1), Phillipsburg, d. 6-Jr. Sebastian Cornejo (28-10, D11-3), Morris Catholic, 8-2.
132 -- 5-Sr. Matt Valli (33-6, D12-1), Warren Hills, d. 4-Jr. Frank Gabriele (38-3, D10-1), Verona, 3-1.
138 -- 3-Jr. Travis Tavoso (25-12, D10-1), Delbarton, d. 7-So. Alex Winant (32-11, D9-2), Mendham, 11-4.
145 --  3-Sr. Aaron Dunn (30-5, D10-1), Nutley, d. So. Justin LeMay (30-12, D11-2), West Morris, 5-3.
152 -- 3-Sr. Kade Loughney (35-8, D11-2), West Morris, p. 6-Sr. Rashon Wade Taylor (23-15, D12-1), Warren Hills, 4:45.
160 -- 1-Jr. Matthew Liberato (24-10, D11-1), Hanover Park, md. 5-Sr. Al Taha (33-7, D12-1), North Bergen, 10-2.
170 -- 1-Jr. Cole Kreshpane (24-8, D10-1), Delbarton, d. 8-So. Jacob Cardenas (27-8, D11-2), Queen of Peace, 3-2.
182 -- 3-Sr. Christian Dalla Riva (33-5, D9-1), Caldwell, p. 7-Sr. Kasson Quince-McGee (30-10, D9-2), Montclair, :31.
195 -- 5-Sr. Cruz Donato (33-5, D12-2), North Bergen, d. 4-Sr. Jordan Colon (18-6, D10-3), Becton, 5-1.
220 -- 7-Jr. Trey Zgombic (25-10, D10-2), Delbarton, d. 3-Sr. Adam Lutick (32-7, D9-3), Bloomfield, 1-0.
285 -- 3-Sr. Kyriakos Kostidakis (30-4, D12-1), Madison, d. 5-Jr. John Murphy (28-7, D9-1), Caldwell, 2-1.

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