By MERT OKUR
For Egg Harbor Township senior 126-pounder Hunter Thomas, it’s been a long, grueling journey this season. It recently ended with an appearance at the Region 8 championships, where Thomas reached the semifinals before finishing in fifth place.
Thomas has been to this point before, but could never capitalize on the opportunity to capture a victory. With the bitter taste of defeat still in his mouth from last year, Thomas came into the Region 8 Tournament ready to surprise people.
“He’s been working very hard. He’s motivated, he’s confident and be believes if he wrestles well he can win the title,” Egg Harbor Township head coach Mike Caiazza said before the region quarterfinals began on Feb. 24. “He’s won some really close matches. In the district final he was down by two points, came back and won that match with 15 seconds left on the clock and scored a takedown and secured a title for himself.”
Thomas has worked hard to prepare for regions and said he was looking forward to seizing his first victory at the tournament. Thomas did just that, pinning Trent Johnson of Pennsville in the quarterfinals to set up a semifinals showdown with St. Augustine Prep’s Connor Kraus. Kraus scored a 5-1 win to bump Thomas into the wrestlebacks, where Thomas lost out on a chance to place with a tough 3-1 loss to Alexander Pruszinski of Lower Cape May.
Thomas rebounded to beat Woodstown’s Giovanni Chiesa, 13-0, to finish in fifth place, one spot out of qualifying for the state championships in Atlantic City.
“I feel like I had a great season,” Thomas said during regions.
Thomas was coming off a district title, which he said was key to his success in the regional tournament.
“It feels pretty good and is great motivation to do good at regions,” Thomas said before the regions began.
While the region tournament was tough, Thomas has faced many difficult challenges throughout his 12-year wrestling career. He began wrestling at a young age and was inspired by his older brother. Once Thomas introduced himself to the Egg Harbor Township wrestling team freshman year, his coaches quickly realized he was a special talent.
“The biggest thing about Hunter — and why he’s so successful — is because he’s such a hard worker. He works hard every day and puts wrestling first over anything. It’s his priority. His drive and motivation is a little bit more than some of the other wrestlers. I think he’s more focused than some of the kids and I think that from the last three years of wrestling he’s had some really tough matches that he’s always seemed to be on the short end of and it really motivated him this past year to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” explained Caiazza.
At EHT, Thomas has undoubtedly left his mark with more than 90 career wins. It’s a burdensome task to reach 90, but Thomas has proven he is worthy of that honor.
“He’s one of the best wrestlers I’ve ever coached. Probably from start to finish, he’s one of the best kids and hardest working kids I’ve coached over the years,” Caiazza said.
Also, Thomas isn’t about himself, Caiazza said. He looks out for his teammates and urges them to put their best foot forward. Even with a varsity squad mostly full of seniors, Thomas emerged as one of the captains on team.
As his senior season was coming to an end, Thomas said he realized it’s vital to cherish these moments and make the most of this opportunity. He’s had memorable moments along with coach Caiazza and his teammates, he said, but one stands out the most to Caiazza.
“Last year, when he lost a heartbreaker in regions. We had a long talk and he swore that it won’t ever happen again, and he’s proven that so far and really set some high expectations for himself,” Caiazza said.
Thomas has had an outstanding career at Egg Harbor Township, and that can’t be denied. “Looking back on it, it’s been fun, especially since I had a chance to be a part of such a good team,” Thomas said.
Despite not reaching his ultimate goal of advancing to the state championships at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, Thomas has plenty to be proud of during his Eagles career.
By MERT OKUR