PJ wrestling captures first sectional title in 24 years

Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School

SPARTA — For the first time in 24 years, the Pope John XXIII Regional High School wrestling team can say it is a sectional champion and a state finalist.

The Lions captured the Non-Public, North B championship by downing eight-time defending sectional champ DePaul, 47-16, in the sectional final Friday night in the new gymnasium at Pope John XXIII Regional High School. 

By beating the Spartans, the Lions earned their ninth sectional title in program history and first since 1994 when they won their eighth Parochial B North crown.

More importantly, they advanced to Sunday’s Non-Public B final — their first one since 1994 — at the Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North High School, where they will try to win their sixth state championship in school history when they face Non-Public, South B champion Holy Spirit.

The Lions, ranked No. 4 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20 poll, will meet the Spartans of South Jersey at 5 p.m. The Lions were ecstatic about earning this sectional title, making the state final and ending the 24-year drought in both cases.

“It’s a great feeling,” Pope John senior Jake Brown said. “We’ve come a long way. It’s good to finally get this goal.”

“It’s awesome,” Pope John head coach Mark Piotrowsky said. “This team has definitely made a mark on this school. The seniors have continued to raise the bar every year. The kids have continued to work day in and day out. And now, we are going for state title.”

The Lions knew it wouldn’t be easy to win the Non-Public, North B title, as they were going up against a DePaul team that had dominated this section for the entire decade. But, the Lions knew they had to keep doing what got them to this spot.

“We had to just worry about us,” Pope John junior JoJo Aragona said. “We had to go hard, don’t stop and keep pushing the pace.”

The Lions kicked off the match with a bang, as returning state placewinner and sophomore Eddie Ventresca pinned Derek Russell in a time of 1:05 at 113 pounds and sophomore Kaya Sement posted a 10-2 major decision over Michael Esposito at 120 to give the Lions a 10-0 lead.

DePaul picked up four points in the next bout after Nicky Cabanillas beat Matthew Garcia, 12-4, but the Lions put their lead up to 20-4 after senior Jake Rotunda decked Joe Ferrandiz in 57 seconds and junior JoJo Aragona, a returning state finalist, worked his way to a 13-4 victory over Luke McFadden.

“We all feed off each other,” Rotunda said. “When someone goes out there and gets a pin or a win, we just want to keep it going.”

The Lions’ lead got cut to 20-13 after Robbie Garcia and Connor Fritsch dropped two hard-fought decisions to returning state finalist Ricky Cabanillas and Stephen Barone, respectively, and Joe Arbolino lost a major decision to Connor O’Neil. However, the Lions only saw Cabanillas earn two team points for DePaul after being called for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of his 5-1 win over Garcia, giving the Lions’ crowd some excitement heading into Fritsch’s bout.

Then at 170, the Lions pushed their lead to 26-13 after senior James Swentzel picked up a win by medical forfeit after DePaul’s Ryan Karsen accidentally got hurt while Swentzel picked him up and took him down to the mat in an attempt to maintain control.

However, DePaul head coach Keith Karsen got hit with two misconduct penalties that resulted a deduction of three team points. The first misconduct was a one-point penalty for coach misconduct after Karsen went up to one of the referees and bumped him while arguing about the situation. The second misconduct was unsportsmanlike conduct, as Karsen threw a chair on the DePaul sideline after the confrontation, resulting in two points taken off the board, Karsen being removed from the match and the Lions’ lead becoming a 26-10 advantage.

From there, the momentum swung in the Lions’ favor, as senior Reece Muldoon (182), Cole Zydel (195) and Brown (220) won the next three matches to clinch the victory. Muldoon held on to beat Michael Pilot, 4-3, Zydel won by forfeit and Brown decked Alvaro Navarro in 50 seconds, respectively.

Once the final two matches at 285 and 106 played out, the Lions’ celebration started, as the team met in the center of the mat and took pictures in front of the home fans knowing that they accomplished a special feat for Pope John.

However, they want to cap it off with a history-making win down in Toms River.

“We got the sectional title, but the one Sunday is the real deal,” Rotunda said. “This was the first step and hopefully we can come away with the state title.”

“We want this a lot,” Brown said. “We’re going to give it all we got. We got a great shot at winning it.” 

Non-Public, North B final

*Pope John 47, DePaul 16

106: Shane Percelay (PJ) won by forfeit
113: Eddie Ventresca (PJ) pin. Derek Russell, 1:05
120: Kaya Sement (PJ) maj. dec. Michael Esposito , 10-2
126: Nicky Cabanillas (D) maj. dec. Matthew Garcia, 12-4
132: Jake Rotunda (PJ) pin. Joe Ferrandiz, 0:57
138: JoJo Aragona (PJ) maj. dec. Luke McFadden, 13-4
145: Ricky Cabanillas (D) dec. Robbie Garcia, 5-1
152: Stephen Barone (D) dec. Connor Fritsch, 5-3
160: Connor O’Neil (D) maj. dec. Joe Arbolino, 15-4
170: James Swentzel (PJ) won by medical forfeit over Ryan Karsen
182: Reece Muldoon (PJ) dec. Michael Pilot, 4-3
195: Cole Zydel (PJ) won by forfeit
220: Jake Brown (PJ) pin. Alvaro Navarro, 0:50
285: Eddie Bierals (D) pin.Jack Morelli, 4:52
Records: DePaul 10-5, Pope John 16-2

*DePaul deducted four team points in match for misconduct penalties

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