Mental toughness key for Southern’s Nick Bennet and Ocean’s James Farina at NJSIAA Wrestling State Championships
ATLANTIC CITY -- Boardwalk Hall will chew you up and spit you out if you let it. Talent and skills alone will not prevent the heartache that accompanies falling short of a coveted state medal. Mental toughness is an essential prerequisite.
Southern's Nick Bennet and Ocean's James Farina are two of the 25 Shore Conference wrestlers who advanced to the state quarterfinals Thursday night because they exhibit that specific quality.
Wrestling in the state tournament for the first time, Bennet scored a dramatic buzzer-beating takedown to defeat St. Augustine Prep's Dennis Virelli, 6-4, and advance to the 157-pound quarterfinals. Bennet, the Region 7 third-place finisher and seeded 12th, scored five points in the third period to erase a one-point deficit and defeat the Region 8 champion, who was seeded fifth. A reversal to start the third period gave Bennet a 3-2 lead, but Vierelli countered with a reversal of his own with 57 seconds left to take a 4-3 advantage. Bennet escaped and then was able to secure the winning takedown on the edge of the circle just before the clock hit triple zeroes.
"It's pretty great, and I'm very happy for the kid," said Southern head coach Dan Roy. "He puts in the work every day, one of the hardest workers in the room. I knew he was going to wrestle for as long as he had to wrestle to get that win. He's never going to stop."
Bennet will face Delberton sophomore Alessio Perentin in the quarterfinals. Perentin, the No. 4 seed, finished fourth in the state at 138 pounds last season. Bennet will be the underdog, but he couldn't care less. He's fought grueling battles just to get to this moment.
The consummate dual-meet performer whose sacrifices helped the Rams to several important victories over the last four seasons, Bennet did not have a place in the postseason lineup as a freshman. Fine, his time would arrive soon enough. Then came his sophomore season when a knee injury limited him to just five bouts. He finally broke out as a junior, wrestling to a 20-4 record and ready to make a postseason run as the No. 2 seed in District 25. At the last practice before districts, Bennet dislocated his kneecap. Season over and another opportunity lost.
"Going through all that, it stinks, but there's a purpose, I guess," Bennet said. "I just had to get okay with it and come back and remember. Remembering every day that I couldn't wrestle. I think "this guy across from me hasn't had to go through what I went through"."
"He would literally do anything we would ask him to do for the team, going up a weight class, going down a weight class," Roy said. "He's always been a team guy and it's really special to see him get a chance for himself. He went through a lot of disappointment so for him to get back and get that victory and be in the quarterfinals of states is unbelievable."
This season, Bennet has certainly made up for lost time. He's now 30-4, a District 25 champion, and one win away from a state medal in one of just three states to wrestle down to one champion per weight class. Whatever emotions Bennet feels before Friday afternoon's quarterfinal round, nervousness won't be one of them."
"I'm so excited," Bennet said. "My coaches tell me every day to just always have fun and take every opportunity you get and just work and work. Never stop."
A few weights earlier, Ocean Township junior James Farina continued to put a difficult moment from the Region 6 Tournament in the rearview mirror. Seeded 10th at 144 pounds, Farina rallied to defeat Delberton's Joseph Davi, 7-5, and reach the state quarterfinals. Davi, the No. 7 seed who finished fourth in the state at 138 pounds as a sophomore, led 3-0 with an escape and a takedown in the second period before Farina responded with an escape and a takedown to tie the bout 3-3. Davi then escaped to lead 4-3 heading to the third period. Farina would go on to outscore Davi 4-1 in the third period, scoring the go-ahead takedown with 1:18 left and holding on for the win.
Six days ago, Farina had to scratch and claw just to return to Atlantic City for the third straight season. He lost via disqualification in the Region 6 quarterfinals because of an illegal slam, ending his goal of winning a region title and forcing him into the wrestleback round. The situation was testy because of an argument over the correct application of a rule related to the DQ, but that was Ocean head coach Cippy Apicelli's battle to fight. Farina moved past it almost immediately. He had no other choice.
"I was upset for maybe five minutes. My coaches helped me see that there was nothing I could do," Farina said. "I had to win the next match, then the next one, and then the next one to get to A.C."
He did exactly that, ripping through the consolation round to take third and earn the No. 10 seed in the state tournament. On Thursday, he began with a 10-1 major decision over Kittatinny's Reece Smith. Then came the pre-quarterfinal bout with Davi where Farina was unflappable.
"I have the same mentality I had at regions when I lost because of the DQ and couldn't do anything about it and just had to focus on the next match," Farina said. "Right now, I'm just one match at a time."
"You have to be mentally tough, and he is," Apicelli said. "He walked in as a freshman and was in big matches right off the bat."
In the quarterfinals, Farina will face the No. 2 seed, St. Joseph (Montvale) junior Yanni Charles. The Green Knights' standout moved to New Jersey from South Carolina where he was a two-time state qualifier at Clover High School and made his presence felt early on when he won a wild 16-14 decision over Christian Brothers Academy senior Julian George, who was the state runner-up at 138 pounds last season. Farina has no doubt he can win the matchup. He just has to execute.
"I think the DiStefano match (Wall's Donovan DiStefano, Region 6 150-pound champ) at the Mustang Classic where we lost basically at the buzzer, that was the one that said we're here, we belong, whether we're at 144 or 150," Apicelli said. "Then the Shore Conference Tournament he beats him and then is right there with Barrett (CBA's Tyler Barrett, 3rd in NJ at 150 last season) and in on shots vs. George (in the District 21 final)."
"I know he doesn't have the "name" yet because he's never been on the podium but people forget how close he was as a freshman and last year, he just had a bad tournament, it happens. Now he needs one win to get on the podium."
The Shore Conference has 25 state quarterfinalists
While there were some upsets of higher-seeded Shore Conference wrestlers, the Shore pushed 25 wrestlers through to the quarterfinals with at least one quarterfinalist in every weight class.
- St. John Vianney freshman Matthew Gould defeated Williamstown's Tyler Hildebrandt, 4-3, to reach the quarterfinals. Point Boro's Joey DeAngelo won 11-4 over Delsea's Gage Summers. Gould is the No. 4 seed and DeAngelo is the No. 6 seed.
- Middletown North junior Brady Klinsky, the No. 3 seed, was upset by Bergen Catholic's Nathan Bruan, 9-4, in the pre-quarterfinals. Wall's Michael DiBiase, the No. 5 seed, was defeated 4-1 by Hackettstown's Aiden Sheeringa. Southern Regional freshman Anthony Mason nearly pulled off a huge upset but fell to No. 2 seed Aidan Carmody of Livingston, 2-0.
- CBA freshman Bobby Duffy is the lone quarterfinalist from the Shore and he had to gut out a 3-2 win over Point Boro's Frankie Burgio in ultimate tiebreaker.
- Donovan Catholic's Kurt Wehner, the No. 7 seed, was defeated 6-5 by 10th-seeded Dalton Webber of Pope John. Matawan's Ricky Gomez lost by technical fall to No. 2 seed Jayden James of Delbarton.
- The bracket was turned upside down in the pre-quarterfinals with the No. 1, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 8 seeds all going down.
- St. John Vianney sophomore Anthony Knox, last season's 113-pound state champion, cruised into the quarterfinals with a technical fall and then a 14-3 major decision over Matawan's Lawrence Liss. He is the Shore's only quarterfinalist at 120.
- Howell's Xavier Ortega was defeated by Roselle Park's Matthew Griffin, 8-3, in the 8-9 matchup. Southern's Scottie Sari lost by 11-0 major decision to DePaul's Adrian DeJesus, last season's 106-pound state champion. Donovan Catholic's Dezmond Lenaghan dropped a 5-0 decision to No. 2 seed Daniel Jones (Delbarton).
- Southern's Conor Collins and Middletown South's Jack Zaleski are into the quarterfinals. Zaleski won 4-1 over CBA's AJ Falcone and Collins pinned Robbinsville's Anthony Viscido in 3:00. Collins, a two-time state top-three finisher, is seeded No. 3. Zaleski is a three-time state medalist and is seeded fifth. He will face returning state finals Luke Stanich of Roxbury in the quarterfinals.
- Howell's Sebastian Ortega, the No. 8 seed, dropped a 2-0 decision to West Morris Central's Michael Campanaro.
- Brick Memorial's Anthony Santaniello was dominant with a technical fall and a first-period pin. The No. 1 seed will take on Lower Cape May undefeated freshman Chaes Hansen in the quarterfinals. Hansen defeated Howell's Giovanni Scafidi, 9-4, in the pre-quarterfinals.
- After going 0-2 last season in the state tournament, Southern sophomore Wyatt Stout has done an about-face to reach the quarterfinals. Stout won 3-1 over Raritan's Alex Delaurier in the first round and 3-1 over Bernards' Nick Villani in the pre-quarters. He will face St. Joseph's Donny Almeyda next.
- St. John Vianney's Patrick O'Keefe won 4-1 over Toms River North's Joe Dolci to reach the quarterfinals. O'Keefe was the state runner-up at 106 pounds last season and wrestled at 113 for most of this season before going all the way up to 132 during the state team tournament. He faces Mount Olive's Jack Bastarrika in the quarterfinals.
- Top-seeded Alex Nini of CBA had a pin and a tech fall to roll into the quarterfinals. He'll face Phillipsburg's Luke Geleta.
- A great matchup is on tap in the bottom half of the bracket with No. 2 seed Zach Reilly of Raritan set to face the No. 7 seed, Long Branch's Joe Giordano.
- Freehold's Angelo Messina won his first bout but ran into returning state champion Tyler Vazquez in the pre-quarterfinals and lost by fall.
- In addition to Farina, CBA's Julian George, the No. 1 seed, had two quick pins to advance to the round of eight.
- Raritan's Braden Kamk, Southern's Hayden Hochstrasser, and Howell's Kieran Bruen lost in the pre-quarterfinals.
- Southern's Matt Henrich and CBA's Tyler Barrett advanced to the quarterfinals. Henrich will once again face Delran's Drew Roskos, whom he had to beat in ultimate tiebreaker in the Region 7 final. Henrich is the No. 1 seed. Barrett needed double overtime to score a 2-1 win over St. Thomas Aquinas's Landon Kearns. Barrett faces St. Joseph (Montvale)'s Frank DiBella in the quarterfinals. Barrett defeated DiBella in the state third-place bout last season.
- Wall's Donovan DiStefano, the No. 5 seed, lost by fall to Paramus Catholic's John Quinonez.
- Joining Bennet in the quarterfinals is CBA senior Zander Silva. The No. 3 seed won 7-0 over Newton's Thalor Sibblies and will now face Lyndhurst/North Arlington senior Damian Weaver.
- Middletown South's David Hussey was defeated by Old Bridge's Tyler Sagi, 7-3, while Toms River East's Nick Delorenzo lost 3-1 to Weaver.
- St. John Vianney's Jasiah Queen and Southern's Cole Velardi have advanced. Queen, the No. 2 seed, won by technical fall in both of his bouts. No. 3 Velardi won by decision twice, including a 4-0 win over Delran's Luke Theis in the pre-quarterfinals.
- The seeds held firm here with the top eight seeds all advancing. Brick Memorial's Harvey Ludington, the No. 2 seed, had two first-period pins while Red Bank Catholic senior Sabino Portella, the No. 3 seed, also won by fall in both of his bouts.
- Howell senior DJ Henry is the lone survivor from the Shore at 190. After an 11-1 major decision over returning state medalist Danny Digiovacchino, No. 8 Henry won 10-5 over Delbarton's Vincent Lee in the 8-9 matchup. He faces No. 1 seed Micahel Dellagatta of St. Joseph (Montvale) in the quarterfinals. Dellagatta was third in the state at 175 last season.
- Rumson-Fair Haven junior Hudson Skove and Southern senior Riley O'Boyle both reached the quarterfinals. Skove, the No. 7 seed, won 8-1 over Toms River East's James Lynch in the pre-quarterfinals. He will face St. Joseph's Aidan Schlett, the No. 2 seed in the quarterfinals. O'Boyle, the No. 4 seed, won 3-1 over Don Bosco Prep's Robert Ekins and advances to wrestle Mount Olive's Anthony Moscatello.
- Jackson Memorial's Ryan Fischer used a late reversal to take the lead before pinning Watchung Hills' Hunter Seubert in 5:55. Fischer is the No. 5 seed and will wrestle Paramus's Daniel Elyash in the quarterfinals.
- Red Bank Catholic's Lorenzo Portella, the No. 3 seed, lost to Bergen Catholic's Benji Shue on a last-second reveal to drop an 8-6 decision. Portella, who was seventh in the state last season, was down 5-0 before rallying to tie the bout 6-6.