By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ATLANTIC CITY — The one certainty about the opening night of the NJSIAA wrestling championships at Boardwalk Hall is that nothing is certain. Each year, the first-round matches and pre-quarterfinals are topsy-turvy and filled with exciting moments, and the 2017 version of the tournament was no different.
The story of the night was Southern Regional’s Nick O’Connell — who came in as a No. 25 seed out of 32 wrestlers at 145 pounds — winning two bouts to make his way into the quarterfinals. He took down eighth-seeded Nick Lombard of Monroe, 6-5, then slipped past Middlesex/Dunellen’s Jeff Johnson, 7-5. His reward for all his hard work? Taking on undefeated and top-seeded Nick Palumbo (43-0) of Lenape Valley in Saturday’s quarterfinal round.
A couple of local wrestlers made their way into the quarterfinals, and two of them get a chance for a regular-season rematch. Egg Harbor Township senior Connor Agostino, the No. 5 seed, scored a pair of pins to make it through to quarterfinals, where he’ll get a chance for revenge against St. Augustine Prep’s Sean Lenzsch. The two met during the regular-season match that decided the Cape-Atlantic League championship. Lenzsch got the win over Agostino, but EHT edged Prep to win the team championship.
Lenzsch took an interesting route to the quarterfinals at states, using a gator roll to get into a pinning position in his opening-round bout against Salvatore DiSalvo of Donovan Catholic. Lenzsch, the No. 4 seed, then slipped past No. 13 Nick Faber of Neptune, 9-8, in the pre-quarters.
“My brother (Tim) actually used that move a lot in high school, so whenever I do it, I think of him,” Lenzsch said. “It’s not an orthodox move. It’s kind of out there, but it works for me.”
Lenzsch’s teammate, Dillon Taylor — who last weekend won the Region 8 tournament for the first time in his four-year career, scored a pin and a major decision to make it through to quarters at 152 pounds, where he will take on Wall Township’s Robert Kanniard. And Buena’s Jake Maxwell, who placed at states as a sophomore but didn’t make it back last year, is making the most of his senior year. He’s now 42-1 and advanced to quarterfinals with a 9-1 win in the opening round followed by a 5-3 victory over Vorhees’ Michael Fernandes in the pre-quarters.
Egg Harbor Township’s other two entries, Terrell Coleman and Paul Valian, lost their opening-round matches and drop into Saturday morning’s wrestlebacks. Coleman, who has been battling the flu and forfeited his third-place match at regions to try to get healthy, couldn’t get past Delsea’s Edison Echevarria, who scored a 7-3 win at 120 pounds. Valian, a heavyweight, lost a heartbreaker in ultimate tiebreaker to Bound Brook’s Jervey Sistrunk.
Holy Spirit had three wrestlers at states. Junior Mike Waszen and senior Alec Harper each dropped close matches in the opening round, at 182 and 138, respectively, to drop into the wrestleback round. Junior 160-pounder Tim Fitzpatrick took down Wall Township’s Chad McLelland, 6-2, in the first round before falling 6-0 to Bergen Catholic’s Chris Foca in the pre-quarters.
“I came in ready to compete. I’ve been working my whole life (to get here). This is the place I’m supposed to be, so I was ready to go,” Fitzpatrick said.
Several of the area wrestlers were making their first trips to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, the place every wrestler dreams of getting to.
“That’s why we wrestle at the Beast of the East, to get ready for this kind of stuff,” Fitzpatrick, a Somers Point resident, said. “It’s 100 percent (everything I dreamed of). I’ve been watching these guys compete here my whole life. I knew I’d get here at some point, and I’m here now. Everybody’s always telling me, it doesn’t matter how you win (when you are here), as long as you win.”
“This is great, coming here for the first time and doing well, and being ranked as high as I am. I have a solid chance to get to the semis. I’ll have a rematch with Agostino and that will be real nice,” said Lenzsch, who came in with a 20-6 record after sitting out the first 30 days of the season following his transfer from Mainland Regional. “It’s a really different atmosphere, but I tried not to let that get to me. Every match is just a match, and I try to go 100 percent in every match. I guess pressure doesn’t really affect me, luckily.”
Wrestlebacks and quarterfinal matches continue on Saturday, with the semifinals and finals slated for Sunday. The finals are scheduled to begin on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN