By Matthew Rocco
Ocean Township High School’s Jake Benner is a New Jersey state wrestling champion.
The junior brought home a gold medal from Atlantic City March 5 for his first career state title. In the NJSIAA individual tournament, the third-seeded Benner took first place at 138 pounds with a 7-6 upset decision over Gerard Angelo, who was the No. 1 seed from Bergen Catholic High School. Angelo had won a state title two years at 106 pounds when he wrestled for Hanover Park High School.
Benner is the first Ocean Township wrestler to win a state individual title since 2008, when Nick Menditto completed back-to-back championship years.
Benner’s effort resulted in him being named the co-winner of the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler award. He shared the elite honor with Mekhi Lewis of Bound Brook High School, who won the 160-pound state title.
Benner won four prior bouts to make it to the championship round. He defeated St. Augustine Preparatory School’s Brett Bodnar, High Point High School’s Shane Kobis and Don Bosco Preparatory High School’s Evan DeLuise to advance to the semifinals, where he pinned Cranford High School’s Tom DiGiovanni at the 1:54 mark.
Benner, who eclipsed the 30-victory mark this season, joined the 100-win club during the Region 6 tournament. Benner earned the first regional title for the Spartans since 2012.
The Spartans also sent freshman Alex Poniros (126 pounds) to Atlantic City. Poniros, who grabbed a silver medal in Region 6, won his first-round bout at the state championships. He fell to the top seed in the bracket, Hanover Park High School’s Nicholas Raimo, in the pre-quarterfinals.
A host of other local wrestlers made an appearance in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
Three of Long Branch High School’s wrestlers placed third in the Region 6 tournament: Peter Wersinger (182), Hunter Marhan (220) and Kevin Cerruti (heavyweight). Freshman Ryan Zimmerman (106) also advanced with a fourth-place showing. They all fell in the wrestlebacks at Boardwalk Hall.
Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School senior Theo Addison (195) booked a ticket to Atlantic City after placing second in his weight class in Region 5. Al Desantis, a Shore Regional High School freshman, earned a championship berth by finishing fourth at 120 pounds in Region 6. The also lost in the wrestlebacks in the state championships.