Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wrestling: Wulff among 6 local winners in Region 3

WEST ORANGE -- It's been a long road back for Warren Hills junior Kyle Wulff, but he's happy to take the next step.

Wulff, who posted a 4-0 win over West Morris freshman Eli Shepard at 120 pounds, was one of six wrestlers from the Open Mike area to advance in the preliminary round of the Region 3 Tournament on Wednesday night at West Orange High School.

"I feel so much better than last year," said Wulff (27-9), who missed his freshman season with a knee injury and won a tight 7-6 decision over High Point's Maverick Liebl in last year's Region 1 prelims at Wallkill Valley. "I started getting back into [wrestling] shape about the middle of this season."

The area went 6-8 overall, as the Blue Streaks went 2-2 on the night. Senior Taylan Zafis (285), a District 9 runner-up, pinned Victor Kuga of the host school in 5:59. Wulff and Zafis, along with their six district champion teammates who had the night off, will compete in the quarterfinals on Friday at 6 p.m.

The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the 83rd State Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

After a scoreless first period, Wulff tilted Shepard, who unwisely chose bottom against a tough wrestler from the top position, for three back points to break it open in the second period. Wulff escaped in the third to cap the scoring. Moving forward, Wulff will need to finish his takedown attempts, as coach Jarrett Hosbach reminded him after the match.

"I knew it would take time off the clock being on bottom," Wulff said of his choice in the third period. "The only thing working against me was time. I just wanted to stay out of trouble and off my back. That was my goal in the third period. Once I turned him, I felt him break. I knew it sucked the wind out of him."

Wulff will next face Queen of Peace junior Matt Armamento, the No. 3 seed, in the quarters. After going 1-2 in Region 1 last year, Wulff likes his chances of placing in the top four.

"The one and two seeds [Delbarton state runner-up Pat Glory and North Bergen state qualifier Yousef Salem] are pretty locked in, but third and fourth are open," Wulff said.

District dialogue

District 11 led the way with 17 winners in the prelims, including Belvidere's Nick Cassidy (138) and Ryan Kokawski (182), while District 10 was next with 15. District 9, which includes Phillipsburg, followed with 13 and District 12 had 11 get their hand raised.

Cassidy got a reversal and two back points in the third period for a 4-1 decision over Nutley's Frank DeMaio in their 138-pound bout. Cassidy (25-10), a senior, will next face top-seeded Zach Nauta of Warren Hills.

Kokawski, who advanced by pinning Cesar Quinones of Secaucus in 3:51, will take on Queen of Peace senior and No. 1 seed Dominic Mainiero (25-1), one of 13 region champions in the field.

'Liners get one

Sophomore Kyle Tino (132) was the lone winner among four Phillipsburg wrestlers in action on Wednesday, as Tyris Manley (120), Josh Ramos (138) and Jayson Zinsmeister (152) saw their seasons end with losses.

Tino, using a half nelson, needed just 50 seconds in his first region appearance to pin Hackettstown senior Justin Bennett. He will next face No. 1 seed Ray Wetzel from Queen of Peace.

P'burg has six wrestlers in the quarters, including district champions Cullen Day (106), Travis Jones (113), Cody Harrison (126), Brian Meyer (145) and Robert Melise (220).

Tiger earns stripes

Hackettstown went 1-2 on opening night as junior heavyweight Joe Andes scored a 5-2 decision over Queen of Peace junior Jason Kopich.

Andes (28-9), a District 9 finalist, recorded two takedowns, including his first with 1 second left in the opening period that set the tone for his first region victory after losing by injury default in last year's prelims at Region 1.

Andes, who will next face No. 3 seed Kyriakos Kostidakis of Madison, joins district champions Alex Carida (138) and Kyle Connelly (195) as quarterfinalists for the Tigers.

Back points

Warren Hills' total of eight in the quarters ranks behind only Delbarton (13) and Queen of Peace (9), while Hanover Park also has eight. The Blue Streaks had 10 qualifiers for the first time since 1998, and this is their highest total in the quarters since having six in 2014.

Zafis (26-11) continues to be quite a story, as the Warren Hills senior seeks his first trip to Atlantic City after going 1-18 as a sophomore and finishing fourth in the district last season.

Expect Phillipsburg to have a few more fans in the stands rooting on their wrestlers on Friday night. With only four in the prelims and the longer trip to West Orange, it seems most opted to pass on the first round. Word has it that the gym was near capacity -- about half of what Wallkill Valley had for the opening night at Region 1 -- so it might be a tight squeeze for the next two days of the tournament.

Speaking of the new venue, it just didn't have the feel of a bigtime event like regions at Wallkill Valley. The staff was extremely nice at West Orange, but this will definitely take some getting used to. However, duplicating the atmosphere at the former Region 1 -- complete with the heavenly scent of popcorn in the air -- figures to be a tough proposition.

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