By Warren Rappleyea
Four area wrestlers will go on to compete at the NJSIAA Individual Tournament in Atlantic City from March 3-5 following strong showings at their respective regional competitions.
Ocean Township High School will be represented by Jake Benner at 138 pounds and freshman Alex Poniros at 126 pounds, both of whom had previously won the District 24 competition. For Benner it was his third straight win at the district level. The duo led a contingent of eight Spartans to qualify out of the district.
The top-seeded Benner, who sports a 37-1 mark, won the Region 6 title in his weight class by pinning Wall High School’s Nick Wagner, the third seed, in 3:15 in the finals. Benner easily bested his other competitors in the regional event held at Brick Memorial High School Feb. 22-26. The Spartans’ junior previously won the Kearny Tournament and the Mustang Classic this season.
Poniros, the sixth-seed in his weight class, downed third-seeded Joachim Verlensky of Bordentown Regional High School and second-seeded Herbert Edwards of Trenton Central High School to advance to the finals. In the championship tilt, Howell High School’s Kyle Slendorn, the No. 1 seed, defeated the Ocean Township grappler on a major decision.
Seniors John Santos (113 pounds), Nick Villapiano (132) and Clayton Oates (22), as well as juniors Adam Manzo (120) and Saif Ali (145) and freshman Jack Nies (106) all competed at the Region 6 event after qualifying in District 24. Villapiano (27-5) also won his weight class at District 24.
With all of this talent in tow, Ocean Township turned in a 19-7 dual-meet record and took the team title in Kearny. Prior to the season Spartans coach Cip Apicelli said his team, which went 12-13 the year before, had the overall talent to succeed, but its lineup was dotted with newcomers. The coach did, however, predict a banner year for Benner, who recently earned his 100th career win.
“It’s one thing to have the skill — it’s another to go out and compete against more experienced wrestlers,” Apicelli said. “We also have a very tough schedule. Our guys really came along.”
Also moving on to Atlantic City are Rumson-Fair Haven’s Theo Addison (195) and Shore Regional freshman Al DeSantis (120).
Addison, a senior, took second place is his weight class in Region 5, where he fell to top-seeded Kyle Lightner of Delaware Valley Regional High School in the final at Hunterdon Central Regional High School. Addison was a second-place finisher in District 19. Bulldogs sophomore Nick Addison (145) ended up fifth in his weight class and narrowly missed qualifying. He had previously won his weight class at the District 19 event.
DeSantis (120), a runner-up in District 24, took fourth place in Region 6 to win a trip to the boardwalk. Teammates Matt Klemser (113), Jack McRae (152) and Austin Cannon (160) all competed in the regional event. Cannon previously won his weight class in District 24.
Ethan Byrne (132) and Steven Cmielewski (170) represented Red Bank Catholic High School at the Region 6 tournament, while Finn Smith (120) represented Red Bank Regional High School at the Region 5 tournament.