By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
The Pope John XXIII Regional High School wrestling team made history once again on the local level on Saturday.
The Lions became the first Sussex County team to win back-to-back tri-county championships by winning the ninth annual Hunterdon Warren Sussex Tournament at Phillipsburg High School in Lopatcong Township.
The Lions, ranked sixth in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20 poll, totaled 244.5 points to beat out eighth-ranked Hunterdon Central by 61 points for the team title after winning it last with 195 points.
Leading the way for the Lions were senior 132-pounder Jake Rotunda, who became a three-time champion and tied Pope John’s all-time career wins record by notching his 109th career victory, Junior 138-pounder JoJo Aragona also won his third consecutive title and sophomore 113-pounder Eddie Ventresca captured his second straight title.
Their all-time best performance, which also included three second-place finishes, two thirds, two fifths and one sixth, was good enough to top fifth-ranked Phillipsburg (third with 167 points), 11th-ranked High Point (fourth with 149), 19th-ranked Kittatinny (fifth with 139.5) and 20th-ranked Newton (sixth with 137.5) for the crown as well.
In the process, they gave Sussex County its third straight team champion after Kittatinny won it in 2016 and its fourth champion overall after High Point won the inaugural event in 2010.
The Lions got the title after having a tournament-high eight wrestlers reach the semifinals and six of them reach the finals. Along with Rotunda, Aragona and Ventresca, senior Jake Brown (220), junior Robbie Garcia (145) and sophomore Kaya Sement (120) made the finals for the Lions, who entered the championship round with a 217.5-173.5 lead over Hunterdon Central.'
When the finals came, Rotunda, Aragona and Ventresca came up big for the Lions once again.
Rotunda earned the biggest win of the day for the Lions by posting a 6-3 win over Hunterdon Central’s Hunter Graf — a 2016 eighth-place finisher at the NJSIAA State Tournament — for his 109th career win in school history. By earning that win, Rotunda tied the all-time mark set by former state champion Brian Unkert, who went 109-8-1 for the Lions from 1986-90.
Rotunda, who came into the tournament needing four wins to move into the No. 1 spot, also topped Belvidere’s Gage Gares, Newton’s Michael Freda and High Point’s Billy Talmadge in the tournament to become Pope John’s first three-time HWS champ after also winning the 120-pound title in 2016 and the 126-pound crown last year.
Aragona followed Rotunda and became the Lions’ second three-time HWS champ by pinning North Hunterdon’s Andrew Gapas in 3:37 in a battle of returning champions in the 138-pound final. Aragona, a state runner-up last year, won a title at 106 in 2016 and a title at 120 in 2017 before adding this year’s crown against Gapas, who won the title at 138 last year and was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.
As for Ventresca, he joined Rotunda and Aragona as the only Lions to win two or more HWS titles by winning the 113-pound championship for the second straight year after earning a 7-1 win over High Point’s Brandon LaRue in a matchup between returning Region 1 Tournament champions. Ventresca won the region at 113 in 2017, while LaRue won the region at 106.
In addition to the Lions' trio of lightweights, Garcia, Brown and Sement each placed second after losing tough matches in the finals.
Garcia reached the final for the third straight year after winning by pin in his first three matches, but fell in that spot again after losing to the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler Alex Carida of Hackettstown by a 6-4 decision. Brown got to the final for the first time after he had two pins and a forfeit in his first three matches, but he got pinned by Voorhees’ Lewis Fernandes in 3:59 in the final.
Sement continued his impressive rookie season on the mat by getting to the final for the first time. However, he was pinned by Phillipsburg’s Travis Jones in 5:07 in the championship match.
Following the finalists, the Lions saw seniors James Swentzel (170) and Reece Muldoon (182) each place third. Both wrestlers won by forfeit in the third-place consolation.
Sophomore Matt Garcia (126) and senior Jack Morelli (285) each took fifth in the tournament by beating a pair of Hunterdon Central grapplers. Matt Garcia earned a 15-5 major decision over Anthony Romaniello in the fifth-place consolation, while Morelli pulled out a 1-0 victory over Ryan Joyce.
Sophomore Connor Fritsch rounded out the Lions’ medal winners by placing sixth at 152.
Shane Percelay (106), Joe Arbolino (160) and Chris Jhong (195) also competed in the tournament, but did not place.
Ninth annual Hunterdon Warren Sussex Tournament results
Team results: 1. Pope John (PJ) 244.5, 2. Hunterdon Central (HC) 183.5, 3. Phillipsburg (P) 167, 4. High Point (HP) 149, 5. Kittatinny (K) 139.5, 6. Newton (N) 137.5, 7. North Hunterdon (NH) 123.5, 8. Sparta (S) 106, 9. Voorhees (Vo) 97.5, 10. Warren Hills (WH) 86.5, 11. Delaware Valley (DV) 82.5, 12. Hackettstown (Ha) 72, 13. Lenape Valley (LV) 58, 14. Belvidere (B) 50, 15. Hopatcong (Ho) 31, 16. North Warren (NW) 25, 17. Wallkill Valley (WV) 23, 18. Vernon (V) 0
106: Brett Ungar (HC) dec. Quinn Melofchik (B), 7-6
113: Eddie Ventresca (PJ) dec. Brandon LaRue (HP), 7-1
120: Travis Jones (P) pin. Kaya Sement (PJ), 5:07
126: Anthony Mastroeni (Ho) dec. AJ DeRosa (DV), 6-5
132: Jake Rotunda (PJ) dec. Hunter Graf (HC), 6-3
138: JoJo Aragona (PJ) pin. Andrew Gapas (NH), 3:37
145: Alex Carida (Ha) dec. Robbie Garcia (PJ), 6-4
152: Brian Meyer (P) maj. dec. Wyatt McCarthy (N), 10-2
160: Jonathon Borgognoni (N) dec. Kevin Ciresa (HC), 3-0
170: Josh Hiler (K) pin. Dan Furmato (HC), 2:59
182: Jarod Ostir (WH) DQ. Zach Mafaro (K)
195: Robert Gennat (S) pin. Scott Fernandes (Vo), 3:43
220: Lewis Fernandes (Vo) pin. Jake Brown (PJ), 3:59
285: Joe Andes (Ha) pin. Gabriel Jimenez (LV), 2:44
Outstanding Wrestler: Alex Carida, Hackettstown
106: Cooper Stewart (S) pin. Connor Robinson (NH), 5:55
113: Cullen Day (P) maj. dec. CJ Heaps (DV), 11-0
120: Zachary Creeden (WV) dec. Aidan Taylor (Vo), 9-2
126: Maverick Liebl (HP) dec. Matthew Rosa (N), 5-2
132: Billy Talmadge (HP) dec. Gage Crater (DV), 6-3
138: Kyle Tino (P) dec. Shane Kobis (HP), 4-1
145: Vincent Romaniello (HC) dec. Michael Wilson (NH), 10-3
152: Calvin Brook (K) dec. Tucker Kirchberger (NH), 3-2
160: William Hughes (NH) dec. Robbie Turro (HP), 7-6
170: James Swentzel (PJ) won by forfeit over Lance Wissing (P)
182: Reece Muldoon (PJ) won by forfeit over Joey DeLuca (N)
195: Luke Fischer (N) dec. Ryan Kokawski (B), 6-0
220: Jacob Mafaro (K) pin. Ryan Hall (LV), 4:26
285: Joey Sprague (NW) dec. Ryan Joyce (HC), 4-3
106: Devon Liebl (HP) dec. Patrick Franco (K), 6-3
113: Colton Washleski (HC) dec. Nile Mattar (K), 5-1
120: Spencer Stewart (S) pin. JoJo Lotruglio (N), 4:18
126: Matthew Garcia (PJ) maj. dec. Anthony Romaniello (HC), 15-5
132: Garrett Stewart (S) dec. Eric Falleni (LV), 8-4
138: Carter Sheridan (S) dec. Pasquale Vizzoni (HC), 5-4
145: Jayson Zinsmeister (P) dec. Perry Maio (K), 2-1
152: Trey Osborn (HP) pin. Connor Fritsch (PJ), 4:43
160: Josh Ramos (P) dec. Joseph Desapio (DV), 8-3
170: Nathaniel Fossett (NH) pin. Matt Brandner (Vo), 4:54
182: Grayson Sabo (HP) dec. Austin Roth (P), 7-2
195: Nicolas Galka (WH) dec. Lukas Bakerian (HC), 5-2
220: Angelo Crespo (HC) dec. Devin Mager (N), 5-2
285: Jack Morelli (PJ) dec. Ryan Joyce (HC), 1-0