Staff Writer
Total domination.
Since the NJSIAA realigned the districts for the individual postseason for wrestling, many teams had to adjust to new foes. Not Egg Harbor Township.
The Eagles came out firing and earned their first team district championship as they captured the District 30 title with 246 points. They finished 72 points ahead of second-place Gateway/Woodbury.
EHT crowned a school-record five champions as Connor Agostino, Paul Valian, and Terrell Coleman each won their second while Hunter Thomas and Matt Moreno earned their first gold medal.
Southern Regional easily won District 29 despite crowning just two champions, while Holy Spirit crowned three, including Tim Fitzpatrick, who edged Kingsway’s Colin Wexler 4-3 at 160 pounds, Michael Waszen at 182 and Reggie Jean-Charles at heavyweight. Alec Harper scored a pin in the third-place bout to advance to Region 8 and Justin Figueroa finished second at 220, while Ocean City’s Nick Williams advanced with an 8-2 win at 170. Teammate Ed Mejia lost to Jean-Charles, but still advanced. Cedar Creek’s only regional qualifier was Jahleel Williams, who edged Spirit’s Dominic Sacco, 3-2, at 120 pounds. Mainland’s Antonio Yeoman took second at 138 to advance, and Absegami had a couple of second-place finishers, including Felix Torres at 106, James Geigold at 132 and Andrew Marcucci at 170.
Delsea Regional easily got past Highland and Timber Creek to win District 31, crowning five champions. Mainland senior 132 pounder Mike Mucciarone advanced by taking third. St. Augustine Prep cruised to a team title at District 32, crowning five champions, including Danial Martini (106), Connor Kraus (126), Brett Bodnar (138), Dillon Taylor (152) and Connor Murray (182). George Coleman advanced with a third-place finish at 120, and Sean Lenzsch got through by finishing second. Oakcrest had four wrestlers make it through with third-place wins, including Reec Kreischer (132), Albert Long (145), Cameron Garcia (182) and Keevon Berry (195).
Egg Harbor Township’s Thomas had the most exciting victory at District 30 in what was the marquee matchup of the night, as he took on Lower Cape May’s Alex Pruszinski. Thomas never lost to Pruszinski and needed as last-gasp effort to capture his first title.
Scoreless early in the third period, Thomas was on top but got reversed — but then earned an escape. With Pruszinksi barely hanging onto a lead, Thomas kept his offense going and earned a takedown near the edge of the mat with less than 12 seconds to go in a 3-2 decision.
“That felt great, honestly, even though I was worried a little bit,” Thomas said. “It was a real intense match. I told myself to shake it off. I knew I had plenty of time in the end to keep my feet moving and set up my shot.”
Moreno and Valian took the thriller route as well to win their weight classes in front of a packed house at Clearview.
Moreno earned a takedown with three seconds left over Lower Cape May’s Mike Yorio to win 4-3, and Valian used a reversal for the go-ahead score late in the third period to defeat Penn’s Grove’s Jamison Burrow, 2-0 in the heavyweight match.
Going up against Yorio, who dropped from 182 pounds to 170, Moreno was overcome with emotion after his win as he embraced teammates and ran to the stands to find his father.
“I can’t describe how I feel. It’s unreal,” Moreno said. “It’s my last opportunity to win a district title and it had to be done, I can not hold back in the moment. I’m glad I was able to get it done.”
Valian, battling a knee injury suffered earlier in the week during practice, was able to break free of Burrow and get back on top to hang on for his victory.
“I wanted to pin him, but I’ll take what I can get,” Valian. “I really want to win regions now and earn a spot on the podium at states. I’m not done yet.”
Head coach Mike Caiazza, who was also named District 30 Coach of the Year — his second honor in a row after winning District 32 last season — said the team stuck to its mentality of hard work to earn the title.
“It’s great, and nice to see all these guys work and earn this team goal we had set at the beginning of the year,” Caiazza said. “All the kids believed they could do it and they did it by wrestling really well today.”
In total, the Eagles sent 12 wrestlers to the region tournament, also a school record.
Jason Kaenzig (145), Mark Woods (152) and Nick Leone (182) all took second place while Christian Smith (113), Cody Dix (132), Dan Wollermann (160), and James Wayns (220) all finished third, earning the chance to wrestle in the home gym for the Region 8 tournament.
“This all comes from their hard work,” Caiazza said. “It builds confidence and they did a great job. It’s amazing to watch them achieve this moving forward.”
Gateway’s Antonio Minnino was the only non-EHT affiliate to earn an award as he took home Most Outstanding Wrestler after capturing the title at 113 pounds.
Yusuf Yilmaz of Vineland defeated Woods, 18-8, to give the Fighting Clan their lone title winner. Another school’s lone title was captured by Middle Township’s Gary Nagle, who took down Millville’s Steven Raines, 6-2, in three overtimes to win at 160 pounds.
Eagles wrestlers gave credit to Caiazza, who plans on retiring at the end of the season.
“This is amazing,” Thomas. “It’s just another thing to add to the bucket list on this season and everyone played a part. Caiazza has pushed us all season.”
“Caiazza tells us every day that it takes 14 me, and today it took all 14 men,” Moreno said. “Everyone wrestled their heart out today and that’s all we could ever ask for.”
Follow Nick Kosko on Twitter @nickkosko59