By Jeff Appelblatt
The path to a title looked nearly impossible for John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial High School wrestler Aaron Coleman. The 120-pound weight class at the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Wrestling Tournament at Piscataway Township High School was crowded with standouts. It would take one of Coleman’s strongest showings to reach the final round.
Sure enough, Coleman (18-1) put on a show to boast about. He didn’t fear being an underdog straight through to the final weekend of January. Following a pair of victories in the early rounds, Coleman upset top-ranked Stephen Nadera (18-2) from Old Bridge High School in a tight, 6-4 battle in the semifinals.
He may have erased the No. 1 seed from the battle, but his matchup with second-seed wasn’t any easier. East Brunswick High School’s Mark Schleifer (14-2), the 2015 GMC champion, learned that when Coleman came back from a 7-3 deficit and eventually had him pinned. The Mustangs’ wrestler stole the match, 8-7, and walked away the new 120-pound champion.
Christian Cardosa and Sean Aston also managed to leave as third-place winners. The 285-pound Cardosa defeated Old Bridge’s Dakota DeSantis, 2-1, in his final match. Aston, meanwhile, beat Elyas Azouzi from Woodbridge High School, 4-3, in the 170-pound third-place battle.
Victor Torres didn’t have the same success as his teammates in the 132-pound category, but he did put forth a few impressive victories before going up against the weight class’ giant. Before falling, 9-2, to the undefeated eventual champion Robert Cleary (20-0) from Edison High School, Torres picked up a 19-4, technical fall win over John Santiago from North Brunswick Township High School and a 12-3 major decision over Monroe Township High School’s Ryan Craver. The JFK Memorial standout still had a chance for a third-place title like Cardosa and Aston, but Joe Sacco from South Plainfield High School ended that dream when he beat Torres, 5-1.
As a whole, the Mustangs earned 91 points and finished No. 8 out of the 22 teams that had student-athletes competing in the GMC Tournament.
Colonia High School
Colonia High School, who finished 16th in Piscataway, managed 33 points. But the team’s premier wrestler, Luke Pero, lost his first match of the season. Pero was the second seed in the 132-pound weight class. He opened his part in the tournament as anticipated: he pinned Tyler Jacobs from Spotswood High School in 54 seconds. Sayreville War Memorial High School’s Alec Coelho didn’t have much more luck — Pero won the quarterfinals match, 12-2, on a major decision.
But in the quarterfinals, Bob Dinger from Middlesex High School got the best of Pero, sinking the Colonia ace, 4-0. Dinger went on to lose in the finals to Cleary, 3-0.
Pero, meanwhile, took home fifth place when he pulled out a 10-2 major decision over D’Angelo Morales from Perth Amboy High School.
Christian Vasquez (120 pounds) and Keion Cherry (138 pounds) each finished seventh in their respective weight classes following a pair of forfeits.
The Patriots are filled with many young faces this season, as opposed to last year’s senior-heavy lineup, but things are going well again on the court. The club closed out January winners in 10 of its last 11 contests, and it was looking a whole lot like last year’s team (six of the 10 wins were by double digits).
But Colonia’s coach, Chris Chiera, isn’t ready to say his current team is as good as last year’s.
“This team is a lot different than last year’s team,” the coach said. “This year’s team has played well. We have a lot of inexperience [in the lineup], but guys are starting to play well.
“Last year’s team had seven guys back [from the year before]. I expected big things from that team. This year has involved a lot more learning. This year’s team is forming an identity.”
Senior leaders Chase Barneys and Kolby Chapman have carried Colonia on the offensive end. The two combined for 471 of the Patriots’ first 704 points this season — about 34 points between them per game.
“They’re our two senior leaders,” Chiera said. “Their experience has kind of carried us.”
The Patriots won by more than 20 points in two of their recent games, but wins are coming because of more than just scoring.
“The other thing carrying us lately is our defense,” the coach said.
The scoring and defense have led to many wins in Colonia — 11 in 14 chances. The team hoped the pattern continued into its Feb. 2 match with Monroe and into its next contest Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. at South Plainfield.
Woodbridge High School
The Barrons’ basketball team has gotten familiar with win streaks this year, too. Woodbridge went into its Feb. 2 matchup on a 10-game win streak.
Harry Rutkowski, Keshaun Henry, Quaasim Glover and Quran Robinson continued to dominate the offense through January, but Curtis Nesbit and Kemari Persol each showed their ability to sink some baskets during recent wins.
The team plays again Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. when it hosts Monroe.
It was a few of the usual standouts that helped Woodbridge reach a top-three finish at the GMC Wrestling Tournament.
Bryan McLaughlin led the way for the Barrons, pinning Michael Petite from Piscataway, 8-5, in the 160-pound finals.
That match, in tandem with his three wins over Nicholas DiFrancesco (South Plainfield), Zarak Jehan (Carteret High School) and Chancellor Cooper (Old Bridge), led to the two-time GMC champion being named the Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament’s upper-weight classes.
McLaughlin (20-1) hasn’t been on the lower end of a battle since Dec. 29 when he was forced into a tiebreaker in a meet against Hanover Park High School.
Alex LaGrippo joined McLaughlin in the final round, but Anthony Porcaro from Sayreville defeated him, 3-2, in the heavyweight duel. LaGrippo beat Metuchen High School’s Joseph Maloney, 4-2, in the tournament’s semifinals after pinning Dean Elmenayer from South Brunswick High School in just over three minutes.
Jack Quinn was placed into the consolation bracket for third place in the 126-pound weight class after falling to Alec Gleason from East Brunswick. But following a win over Edison’s Ryan Naiduk, Quinn fell to Dylan O’Connor from Bishop George Ahr High School.