By ANDY LOIGU
Despite traveling long distances to unfamiliar sites, Hackettstown, Warren Hills, and Belvidere advanced several wrestlers through the district and regional tournaments onto the big stage at the state individual championships in Atlantic City, the New Jersey high school wrestling world’s version of March Madness.
Warren Hills advances three wrestlers, junior Jarod Ostir (170), and seniors Matt Valli (132) and Rashon Wade Taylor at 152 pounds. The Hackettstown Tigers move forward juniors Alex Carida (the 138 pound Region 3 champion) and Joe Andes, the 285-pound regional runner-up. Belvidere sophomore Quinn Melofchik qualified by virtue of a third place finish in Region 3.
For the first time since the state tournament began over half a century ago, the Blue Streaks were not in the same district as Phillipsburg. Warren Hills was forced to travel, first to Livingston for the District 12 matches, and then to West Orange for the Region 3 competition.
In Livingston they squared off with “traditional foes” such as North Bergen, Whippany Park, Madison, Chatham, Cliffside Park, and Secaucus.
At West Orange, old friends Hackettstown, Belvidere, and Phillipsburg were there, but so were Verona, Delbarton, Nutley, Hanover Park, and Rutherford, among others.
The district and regional boundaries made about as much sense as America’s congressional districts.
Despite the “gerrymandering,” and without Phillipsburg to contend with, Warren Hills won its first district title since 2014 in Livingston, advancing 10 Blue Streaks to the regionals.
Coach Jarett Hosbach was named the district’s Coach of the Year and Zack Nauta was chosen Most Outstanding Wrestler by the coaches. Nauta won the district title at 138 pounds by pinning his three opponents, all in the first round. One cannot be more dominant than that.
At the regional, Nauta reached the semifinal, where he lost a 4-3 decision to the eventual runner-up, Sean Conley of Hanover Park.
Conley lost to Carida in the regional final by a 5-1 score. Carida reached the final with an 8-3 semifinal decision over Delbarton’s Travis Tavoso.
Nauta finished in fifth place, pinning Phil Ruiz of Becton in 1:35 in the consolation match.
Valli won the district title with a 7-4 decision over North Bergen’s Elijah Flores. He lost in the regional semifinal by a 5-3 decision to eventual champion Ray Wetzel from Queen of Peace but qualified for the state championships by taking third place, with a 3-1 decision over Verona’s Frank Gabrielle.
Wade Taylor worked his way to Atlantic City through the wrestle-back rounds after an early elimination from the winners’ bracket. Ostir reached the regional final with an 8-6 semifinal decision over Barak Pipkins of Bloomfield, before losing in the final to Marco Gaita of West Morris (6-3 decision) and finishing second.
Andes won a 2-1 defensive battle over Zack Sieb of Morris Catholic to reach the 285-pound region final. Again, in a defensive battle, he lost the championship bout 1-0 to Elyezer Oliviery of Union City.
Melofchik captured third place in the region with a 3-1 decision over Will Grater from Queen of Peace.
Nick Galka, Brody Oberly, and Taylan Zafis, all of Warren Hills, won fifth-place consolation bouts. While they did not qualify for the Atlantic City brackets, they did get to win their final bouts of the season.
Galka won a 6-2 decision over Kearny’s Luke Glazewski at 182 pounds. Oberly won by fall in 1:27, flooring Saummy DeJesus-Duran of Secaucus at 220. Zafis needed only 21 seconds to pin Sieb in the heavyweight consolation.
Phillipsburg sent five wrestlers to Atlantic City. Junior Brian Meyer won his second straight regional championship at 145 pounds. Robert Melise won the 220-pound title, Cullen Day finished second at 106 to Anthony Clark of Delbarton, Cody Harrison and Travis Jones made it through the wrestle-back rounds at 126 and 113 pounds respectively.
Congratulations to all for their fine seasons and best wishes to the contingent who will go for the gold in Atlantic City this weekend.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.