The NJSIAA state wrestling tournament returned to Atlantic City in 2022 and Howell High School senior Hunter Mays was “super pumped up” to have a chance to compete at Boardwalk Hall.
Mays made school history at the tournament that was held from March 3-5 as he became Howell’s first two-time state champion by defeating Bergen Catholic’s Nicholas Fea in the 165-pound final. Mays rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the third period to score a 5-4 victory.
Mays began the third period on bottom and escaped from Fea’s control to make the score 4-3. He then scored a takedown for a 5-4 lead and held on to earn his second state title.
“I treated it like any other match,” Mays said. “Even with (Fea) having the lead going into the third period, I stayed patient and waited for my opportunity to attack. I was able to finish and do what I needed to do to win.”
Mays called his victory the “perfect way” to end his high school career. He went 56-1 over the past two seasons wrestling for the Rebels.
“It was so surreal,” Mays said about becoming a two-time state champion. “It was so much better winning it in Atlantic City. The vibe there was awesome with all the people there. It got me so pumped up.”
Mays moved to the area before the 2020-21 season from Levittown, Pa., where he competed and studied at Conwell-Egan Catholic High School.
After going through an abbreviated 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mays enjoyed being able to experience an entire New Jersey high school wrestling season in 2021-22.
The team portion of the wrestling season was exciting for Mays. He enjoyed competing with his teammates and helping Howell reach the NJSIAA Group V state team tournament championship match.
“It was a lot of fun wrestling at Howell,” Mays said. “We have a special brotherhood there that is really cool and was fun to be a part of. I have put in a lot of hard work over the years to win my matches.”
Mays is planning to continue his wrestling career at Rider University, Lawrenceville.
The Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, wrestling program had an outstanding performance at the state tournament.
CBA had nine wrestlers advance to the state tournament and five wrestlers came home with a medal. Julian George (138) and Garrett Totten (126) reached the championship bout in their weight classes and finished second.
George won 37 matches during his junior campaign and Totten finished his final season at CBA with a 36-6 record.
Juniors Tyler Barrett (150) and Zander Silva (157) placed third in their weight classes. Junior Alex Nini (120) earned a state tournament medal with a fourth-place finish.
CBA Coach Billy Ashnault was pleased with the way the Colts competed at the state tournament and said, “It feels great to see all the hard work we put into this season pay off. To have two second-place finishers, two third-place finishers and a fourth-place finisher is an impressive feat in itself.”
During the regular season, CBA won the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A team championship and the Shore Conference Tournament.
With eight of the nine state tournament qualifiers expected to return for the 2022-23 season, Ashnault believes the success the program had in 2021-22 is just the beginning.
Winning state championships as a team and individually are goals Ashnault believes are attainable for his squad during the 2022-23 season.
“We want to be the No. 1 team in the state,” Ashnault said. “We had two state finalists. We had multiple guys in the semifinals. The next step is having kids win individual state championships and more guys make it to a state final. We know we are going to have to work even harder to make that happen.”
Out of the eight state tournament qualifiers from Saint John Vianney High School, Holmdel, four Lancers won a medal in Atlantic City.
Leading the way was 113-pound wrestler Anthony Knox, who defeated Eastern’s Jared Brunner, 7-2, to win his first state championship. Knox rolled to a 33-1 record this season.
106-pound wrestler Patrick O’Keefe reached the championship bout in his weight class. O’Keefe lost in the final and went home with a silver medal.
Nico Diaz (132) finished third and Jasiah Queen (157) finished fifth to reach the medal podium.
The Portella brothers, Sabino and Lorenzo, from Red Bank Catholic High School, earned medals at the state tournament. Sabino (175) finished fourth and Lorenzo (285) reached the medal podium with a seventh-place finish.
Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School senior Shay Addison (175) became a two-time state tournament medalist for the Bulldogs by winning his second fifth-place medal.
Middletown South High School’s Jack Zaleski (126) became a three-time state tournament medalist by recording his second straight fourth-place finish at the state tournament.