By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
ATLANTIC CITY — The look in the eyes of senior Jake Rotunda, senior Jake Brown, junior JoJo Aragona, junior Robbie Garcia and sophomore Eddie Ventresca said it all Friday night.
These five Pope John XXIII Regional High School wrestlers showed that they have their sights set on the ultimate prize of winning a gold medal at the 85th NJSIAA Wrestling Championships after each of them advanced to the quarterfinal round in the tournament at Boardwalk Hall.
“We have our individual goals and what we want to do together,” Garcia said. “We are just going to go out there, work hard and capture those goals.”
Aragona punched his ticket to the quarterfinals for the third straight year after making it at 138 pounds. Rotunda (132), Garcia (145) and Ventresca (113) each reached the quarters for the second time in their careers, while Brown (195) made it for the first time.
These five will try to go all the way to the finals when the tourney resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday. The action starts with the first, second and third rounds of wrestlebacks for those who lost in the preliminary and pre-quarterfinal rounds Friday night, including Pope John sophomore Kaya Sement (120) and Pope John senior Reece Muldoon (182), followed by the quarterfinals at 12:3 0 p.m.
After those rounds are completed, the semifinals plus the fourth and fifth rounds of wrestlebacks will take place at 6 p.m.
Aragona, a returning state finalist, got to the round of eight again after he topped Donovan Catholic’s Cristiaan Dailey, 9-4, in the pre-quarters. Aragona, who lost a 3-1 decision to Delbarton’s Patrick Glory in the 120-pound final last year and took third at 106 as a freshman in 2016, wants nothing more than to bring home the gold and become Pope John’s sixth state champion and first one since Brian Unkert won at 145 in 1990.
“I’m extremely focus,” said Aragona, who will be facing Phillipsburg’s Cody Harrison in the quarterfinals. “I want to come out on top on Sunday. So, I am going to continue to stay focused, keep doing what I’ve been doing and wrestle hard.”
Rotunda, a four-time state qualifier, showed his great determination to get on top of the medal stand after rolling to a 9-1 major decision over Paulsboro’s Rick Eli. Rotunda is also extra motivated because of his history at states, where he had to injury default in his freshman season in 2015 after sustaining a neck injury, losing in the quarters as a sophomore in 2016 and had to injury default again after hurting his shoulder in 2017.
“It’s a good feeling to get here again, but I want to capitalize on it this time,” said Rotunda, who will be taking on Camden Catholic’s Lucas Revano in the quarters. “Those past tournaments are always in the back of my mind. They have put a fire under my butt. I’m not screwing around here. It’s my senior year. I just want to put it out there and get it done.”
Garcia, a returning fourth-place state placewinner, got to the quarters again after pulling out a 5-3 win over Middletown North’s Stanley Wojdylak. Garcia, who will take on Delbarton’s Travis Tavoso in the quarters, wants nothing more than to come out on top at 145.
“I can envision myself winning the quarters, semis and the finals,” Garcia said. “I really believe in myself and I want to get the job done.”
Ventresca, a returning sixth-place state placewinner, reached the quarters for the second straight year by pinning Sean Rendeiro of St. Peter’s Prep in a time of 1:32. Ventresca will face Sammy Alvarez of St. Joseph-Montvale in the quarters.
Brown, a three-time state qualifier, rounded out the Lions’ quarterfinalists with an exciting Friday night in which he surpassed the 100-win mark for his career by posting wins in the prelims and pre-quarters. Brown became the ninth Pope John wrestler ever — and fourth one this year along with Rotunda, Aragona and Garcia — to reach 100 wins by pinning Boonton’s Joe Cannizzaro in 32 seconds, then notched win No. 101 with a 4-2 victory over Oakcrest’s Keevon Berry.
As great as it was to become a 100-match winner, Brown said he is locked in on his main goal of getting the gold after not doing so in each of his first two trips to Atlantic City.
“It’s a great feeling to check that off,” said Brown, who will face South Plainfield’s Luke Niemeyer in the quarters. “It was one of my goals for the season. Now, I have one more and that is to get on top of the podium.”
As for Sement and Muldoon, they still have a chance to wrestle back for a third- through eighth-place state medal.
Sement won his first match on Friday, posting a 4-1 win over St. John Vianney’s Tyler Pepe. However, he lost 3-1 decision to Will Grater of Don Bosco Prep in two tiebreakers in the pre-quarters.
Sement will start his day Saturday with a matchup against the winner of Pascack Valley’s Robbie Natelli and Southern’s Owen Kretschmer in the second round of wrestlebacks.
Muldoon, a two-time state qualifier, dropped a tough 5-0 decision to Middletown North’s Nicholas Cofone in the prelims. Muldoon will face Northern Burlington’s Tommy Hill in the first round of wrestlebacks.
85th NJSIAA Wrestling Championships
113: No. 7 Eddie Ventresca (Pope John) pin. No. 23 Sean Rendeiro (St. Peter’s Prep), 1:32
120: No. 9 Will Grater (Don Bosco Prep) dec. No. 8 Kaya Sement (Pope John), 3-1 (2 t.b.)
132: No. 5 Jake Rotunda (Pope John) maj. dec. No. 21 Rick Eli (Paulsboro), 9-1
138: No. 3 JoJo Aragona (Pope John) dec. No. 14 Cristiaan Dailey (Donovan Catholic), 9-4
145: No. 4 Robbie Garcia (Pope John) dec. No. 13 Stanley Wojdylak (Middletown North), 5-3
195: No. 3 Jake Brown (Pope John) dec. No. 14 Keevon Berry (Oakcrest), 4-2
113: No. 7 Eddie Ventresca (Pope John) pin. No. 26 Hunter Gandy (Woodstown), 3:07
120: No. 8 Kaya Sement (Pope John) dec. No. 25 Tyler Pepe (St. John Vianney), 4-1
132: No. 5 Jake Rotunda (Pope John) pin. No. 28 Stefano Sgambellone (St. Joseph-Montvale), 1:23
138: No. 3 JoJo Aragona (Pope John) maj. dec. No. 30 Robert Woodcock (Southern), 16-4
145: No. 4 Robbie Garcia (Pope John) maj. dec. No. 29 Michael Chambers (Cresskill), 16-2
182: No. 8 Nicholas Cofone (Middletown North) dec. No. 25 Reece Muldoon (Pope John), 5-0
195: No. 3 Jake Brown (Pope John) pin. No. 30 Joe Cannizzaro (Boonton), 0:32