There were no surprises among the four Jackson Township wrestlers who qualified for the NJSIAA championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City starting on March 6.
Three of the four came into the Region 6 tournament at the Pine Belt Arena at Toms River High School North on March 1 as No. 1 seeds, and they lived up to their ratings by extending their seasons to the final weekend. Jackson Memorial High School and Jackson Liberty High School each send two wrestlers to Atlantic City.
Jackson Liberty twins Mike and Matt Russo both advanced as No. 1 region seeds along with Jackson Memorial’s top-seeded Brody Graham, who lost in his heavyweight championship match. Connor Bohringer grabbed the final qualifying spot at 182 pounds with a consolation victory.
Matt Russo brings an unbeaten 40-bout streak into the state finals for his third trip after missing last year. He won his first district and region titles this year.
Each school had sent two wrestlers to last year’s state finals as well. Both Jackson Memorial region qualifiers were among the four district champions — 152 over the years — to advance to the region tournament.
Mike Russo at 126 pounds is back in familiar territory, reaching the state finals for the fourth straight year as the only returning state finalist in this year’s foursome. He placed third in the state last year and fourth the previous season. At 38-2, Mike Russo is in pursuit of his third straight 40-win season. He was assured of his spot with his third region title — Jackson Liberty wrestlers have six region titles — with a 5-0 decision over Toms River High School South’s Cole Corrigan, who slipped to 30-4. Russo got a secondperiod takedown and then got an escape and takedown midway through the third period against Corrigan, who was seeded No. 7.
Russo has a career record of 155-9, just four wins away from setting a Shore record for career wins. Matt Russo ran his career record to 127-23 after decisioning No. 3 seed Connor Garrity of Lacey Township High School, 4-1. Matt Russo got an escape in the first period, and that’s how it stayed until the third period when he got back points and put Garrity on his back. Garrity ends his season at 32-6.
Matt Russo said he does not feel the pressure of taking an undefeated record into the state championships.
“I’ve wrestled so many matches, there’s really no pressure. It’s like any other day. I just have to work hard in practice and stay mentally strong,” he said. “I just have to go out and do what I’ve been doing.
“Every single day for the last 11 years, I’ve thought about days like this.”
“They wrestled smart,” said Jackson Liberty coach Mike Eddy of the brothers. “Matt had a harder semifinal when he faced Kris Lindemann of Howell for the third time and beat him again, and this is a kid who was sixth in the state last year. But I’m glad for him that he finally got a region title.”
Although Eddy said that Mike Russo advances into an especially tough bracket, the four-time region champion played it down. “I know there are a lot of returning place-winners in that bracket, but every weight class is tough,” Mike Russo said. “I like the entire postseason because it shows how good a wrestler I am. It’s my time to show it.”
Mike Russo said he will be spending a little extra time on his footwork.
“I wasn’t as good on my feet,” he said.
As for the Jackson Memorial wrestlers, coach Aaron Gottesman said, “I expect them to do well [in Atlantic City]. I felt we could have had a couple more make it.”
Graham suffered only his second loss in 36 bouts — both to Brick Memorial High School’s Nick Rivera — when he was pinned at 5:14 in the heavyweight finals. Rivera improved to 29-1. Both wrestlers had split two previous meetings in dual meets swept by Brick Memorial, with Graham winning a 1-0 decision in the Shore Conference Tournament championships won by the Mustangs, 33-24, and losing an earlier 6-2 decision in Jackson Memorial’s 27-26 Shore Conference A South Division regular-season loss.
It is Graham’s second venture into a state final this school year. He was an integral player in Jackson Memorial’s surge to the Central Jersey Group IV football championships.
“Graham has only been [wrestling] for eight or nine months. And when he gets in situations, his mind knows what to do, but his body does not react,” Gottesman said. “He knows what to do with his body but not right away. But the top seeds are very good and anything can happen. We expect him to do extremely well. He’s very good on his feet and on top. When you put that combination together, it can win matches.”
Bohringer fell into the consolation round but secured a trip to Atlantic City by pulling out a 4-3 decision over Middletown High School North’s Anthony Vetrano. He won his opening bout and was then pinned by Toms River High School South’s Joe Salvato at 2:25 before bouncing back in the wrestlebacks, 11-2, over Howell High School’s Austin Silverstein.
“Connor was extremely sick, so the worst-case scenario was that he would finish third,” said Gottesman, as Bohringer slipped to 27-2. “When you go to the state tournament, it’s a new season. He did not have the energy this [past] weekend, but we expect he’ll be ready [for Atlantic City].”
Sophomore Brian Hamann lost his bid to reach the state finals as the No. 5 seed when he lost a 3-2 decision to Howell’s Lindemann, the No. 4 seed, in the third-place consolation. Lindemann knocked Hamann into the wrestlebacks in a 2-1 decision earlier in the quarterfinals.
Hamann beat Lindemann, 6-2, earlier in the season in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.
Jackson Memorial’s Jarret Di- Giantomasso also lost his bid in the consolation when he was stopped on a technical fall, 17-2, at the final buzzer to Toms River South’s Antrez Clagon.
Hamann finished 29-10, while Di- Giantomasso ended 19-11.
Teammate Mike Spino lost, 15-2, in the 113-pound semifinals to top-seeded Sebastian Rivera of Christian Brothers Academy and was then eliminated in the wrestlebacks, 6-5, by Long Branch High School’s Jason Hernandez.
Jackson Memorial 120-pounder Fred Terranova lost, 3-1, in the quarterfinals to Southern Regional High School’s Chris Crane and was eliminated in the second round of wrestlebacks, 2-1, to Toms River High School East’s Yoseph Borai.
Two other Jackson Memorial wrestlers did not get past the preliminaries: Sean Leahey at 152 pounds and Tanner Kelly at 170.
Kelly, who finished 18-8, suffered a broken nose in his bout. Spino ended up 28-10, Terranova finished 26-10 and Leahey went 22-9.