MILLBURN, NJ - Saint Joseph's of Metuchen has not had a district wrestling title in more than three decades. That changed this weekend when Spotswood native Derek Zelesnick took the mat as the fifth seed in the District 14 Wrestling Tournament at Millburn High School. St. Joe's finished in fifth place with 60 points, but it was Zelesnick who put the Falcons on the map with his surprise title. Zelesnick knocked off top seeded Jack Korzeneski in the semis to reach the finals in the 138-pound weight class which featured another lower seed, fifth seeded Erin Rivera from Bayonne High School.
The senior defeated Rivera to take the title on a pin. His victory puts Zelesnick in the regional tournament this week with a shot at a spot in the high-profile state individual wrestling championships in Atlantic City. What makes Zelesnick's title even more impressive is that the teen hasn't wrestled since his days at the Memorial Middle School in Spotswood.
"I joined the season late because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wrestle," Zelesnick explained. "I hadn’t wrestled since middle school. But I knew if I didn’t, I would regret it."
Zelesnick is a standout football and baseball player at St. Joe's. During his time on the field at St. Joe's, the football team has claimed three division titles and a baseball title. The stellar shortstop has committed to Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.
As a team on the mat this season, St. Joe's struggled. The Falcons had a 5-15 overall record and were 0-6 in the Greater Middlesex Conference White Division finishing last. Zelesnick was one of the bright spots on the team, boasting an 18-5 individual record.
"Winning this District 14 title was such an amazing feeling," Zelesnick said. "I saw all my hard work pay off with the support of my coaches, family and friends."
"Being a first year program, I did it for my school," Zelesnick continued. "What helped the most was actually envisioning I was going to win. I have my coaches to thank for pushing me these last six weeks to be at my peak to be able to win."
Seedings for the regional wrestling tournaments were released yesterday. Zelesnick will be wrestling in the Region Four tournament. He is the seventh seed in that region. Kyle Tino of Phillipsburg High School is the top seed. Zelesnick received a bye in the first round as did his second round opponent Nick Ciraulo of Watchung Hills High School. Ciraulo is the second seed in the tournament. Matches will take place on Wednesday, February 20. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the state-wide individual championships in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall Feburary 28 through March 2.