It was a performance never before seen in the history of the NJSIAA District 16 wrestling championships.
St. Peter’s Prep won 11 of the 14 individual titles at the tournament held at North Bergen High School last Saturday. The Marauders placed 13 wrestlers in their respective weight class finals. They accumulated 311 team points, compared to 174 for runner-up North Bergen. It was utter dominance, the best team performance in any of the state’s 32 district tournaments held last weekend.
“When it came to the team score, I was never thinking about winning by how much,” St. Peter’s head coach Anthony Verdi said. “It wasn’t until after I heard the team score did I realize. I think we wrestle the best schedule in the state. We’re on the mat every week with one of the top teams. I think it’s a testament to that schedule. These kids were already in pressure situations.”
Perhaps the biggest win of the day came from sophomore heavyweight Jose Palamino, who upset previously undefeated and top-seeded Adrian Ocequera of Union City by a 3-1 score in double overtime.
Palamino had lost to Ocequera in the Hudson County Duals a few weeks ago, but avenged that loss in the District 16 finale.
“It was an awesome win by him,” Verdi said of Palamino’s performance.
The night started with seven straight Prep wrestlers earning District 16 gold. James Kellner (170 pounds), Jordan Fox (182), Christian Colucci (195), Armond Cox (220), Palamino (heavyweight), Alec Kelly (106) and Michael Russo (113) all won their respective weight classes, one right after the other.
“Because we had so many kids in the final, it felt like it was a dual meet,” Verdi said. “I stayed out there on the mat that entire time.”
Kellner, Fox, Cox and Russo all repeated as district champion.
North Bergen broke the streak of consecutive Prep district champs, when Rick Gonzalez won at 120 pounds. Gonzalez, who did not wrestle last season, won after finishing second twice. He made history as he joined his father, Rick, Sr. and uncles Hector and Alex Marino, as District 16 wrestling champions for North Bergen. The father-son combination became the first to ever both win District 16 crowns. Rick, Sr. won in 1984 and 1985.
“It was really important to me to win,” the younger Gonzalez said, after he won the gold medal via pin. “It was something I had to get done. From the start of the tournament, I knew I had to win, because this was my last chance.”
Anthony Giraldo won the 126-pound title for his third District 16 gold medal. He will get a chance to make it four straight next year. Giraldo now has 109 wins and only 10 losses in his North Bergen wrestling career.
“Of course, winning the district is a goal, but I have higher goals in mind,” said Giraldo, who has won two medals at the state championships. “My goal is to dominate.”
He’s certainly doing that.
Then, the string of Marauder champions continued, as Connor Burkert (132), Ryan Burkert (138), Manny Ramirez (145) and Andrew Ulloa (152) all were crowned with solid victories in the finals. Connor Burkert also won District 16 gold a year ago.
“After the eighth or ninth win, I was impressed,” Verdi said.
Considering that the Marauders lost three all-time great wrestlers in state champion Lenny Richardson, Tony Pafumi and Francisco Colom to graduation, no one could have imagined this kind of domination. The trio combined to win 395 times over their four years at Grand and Warren, just unfathomable numbers.
The Marauders also recovered after the flood waters of Hurricane Sandy totally destroyed their wrestling room, with the season being set to begin two weeks after the super storm.
“At first, I was mad and ticked off,” Verdi said. “We put a lot of work into that room and everything was destroyed. But then I realized that it was an act of God and nobody’s fault. A lot more people lost more than a wrestling room. We wanted to get it done as fast as possible, but it’s tough to replace a room during the season.”
So when the season began, the team was loading up mats and going to drier ports.
“I never realized the severity of the damage,” Verdi said. “There was five feet of water in the room. The mats were destroyed. The locker room was destroyed. It was a slow, frustrating process. It was almost to a point where panic set in. But the kids were resilient and I’m very proud of them.
Added Verdi, “It was a great night, a great performance. We put a lot into our schedule and the competition level put us so much higher than anyone else.”…
The All-New Jersey Athletic Conference men’s basketball team features some local talent. Elgin Brown of Jersey City and Dickinson High School made First Team All-NJAC. Brown is a senior at Ramapo. Hussein Abdelmaksoud of West New York and Memorial was an Honorable Mention selection. Abdelmaksoud plays for Rutgers-Newark. Both Ramapo and Rutgers-Newark are playing in the NCAA Division III tournament this weekend.
Marc Brown of New Jersey City University was named as the Coach of the Year and Khalid Muhammad, also of NJCU, was named as the league’s Rookie of the Year…
Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Anthony (26-1). 2. Hudson Catholic (27-1). 3. St. Peter’s Prep (20-6). 4. Marist (19-5). 5. Snyder (18-5).
Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Lincoln (26-1). 2. Secaucus (27-2). 3. North Bergen (19-6). 4. Bayonne (18-6). 5. St. Dominic Academy (18-7)….--Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.