BERNARDS TWP., NJ - It was an epic matchup of two New Jersey wrestlers with stellar records: Ridge High School's Nolan Bianchi (30-1) went to the mat for his final match against Irvington's Tyhmir Lassiter (31-3) at Saturday's NJSIAA District 15 Wrestling Tournament in Westfield.
The matchup against Bianchi and Lassiter would not be an easy win for either. Both wrestlers were evenly matched, and tied up at the end of three periods. In the end, Bianchi bested Lassiter in third overtime, to win the district title for his class.
The Ridge wrestling team competed in the 2017 District 15 wrestling tournament at Westfield High School with a roster full of freshman and sophomores, and accomplished a number of wins. By the end of the day, Ridge had placed sixth in the tournament out of ten teams. Freshman Jake Stein (138); sophomore Jake Hendershot (220); and senior Nolan Bianchi (182) are now headed to the regions.
Further information on seeding will be posted this week.
Bianchi came into the tournament with a record 30-1 after overcoming some serious physical challenges in this season, and in previous years, At Saturday's tournament, after a first round bye, Bianchi breezed through his matches, expeditiously defeating his opponents. Tim Alliegro of Westfield was the first to lose by fall, in 1 minute and 39 seconds. Bianchi then overpowered Demetrius Ruiz of Carteret in a major decision, with a score of 11-3.
After the match, Bianchi humbly attributed his success to those around him. He first mentioned his dad, Richard Bianchi, whom he said had given his son advice during the match - advice Nolan said he heard and applied. “He told me to keep my feet moving and don’t stay flatfooted," the Ridge wrestler said.
During the match, on several occasions, Lassiter had the opportunity to score on a take down, because of Nolan’s flat-footedness, points that would have surely cost him the match. But Nolan said he quickly adjusted with the words from his father. (Richard Bianchi had been captain of the Rutgers lacrosse team and Essex County wrestling champion his senior year at Columbia High School in Maplewood.)
Bianchi also offered thanks to assistant Coach Anthony Arimenta. With a football background, Arimenta’s knowledge of wrestling was limited, but Bianchi said Arimenta's contribution to the team’s success camein the form of strength and condition.
Often during Saturday's tournament, Ridge's opponents could be seen hunched over in exhaustion. This appeared to be the case against Lassiter, who seemed to have no gas left in the tank by the end of the long match, while Bianchi said he had been trained to go the distance. In the last overtime period, Lassiter needed to maintain position against Bianchi, but appeared to run out of energy before Bianchi stood up, ending the match.
Bianchi joyfully ran into an embrace with Head Wrestling Coach Steve Hendershot, seeming almost in disbelief at far he’s made it this season.
Bianchi also extended his appreciation to coaches Rick Shea, whom he said taught him technical moves; Hendershot and his teammates for supporting him; and Scott Hoagland for keeping his knee healthy.
While Bianchi, due to graduate this June, is the only Ridge high school wrestler to become district champion, the future could prove to be very promising for the young team.
Arimenta said he is very optimistic about the path on which the team is heading and attributes the team’s success to Bianchi. “Nolan has been a very vocal leader, it is great having him around,” stated Arimenta.
Stein, who beat Peter Demerand from Irvington High School with a score of 9-5, shared coach Arimenta’s enthusiasm for the team’s future, noting, “We have a lot of good guys, we are going to be great."
Stein, a naturally energetic, no nonsense type of wrestler, is constantly moving to subside his pre-match jitters. But during the match, he displays laser focus, often giving the military thousand yard stare, just before the referees blows the whistle.
After his match, Stein ran off the mat, high-fived his coaches and teammates, before he appeared to finally relax.
Hendershot’s match against Jacob Dabrowski of Somerville wasn’t as smooth as Stein’s, partly because of Hendershot’s flare for the dramatic. At one point, he found himself down 5-1 because of risks he took early on, that backfired against him. But the sophomore wrestler's risk taking can also be an advantage.
Coach Hendershot, who is also Jake Hendershot’s father, could be heard from the sideline yelling, “Don’t shoot” - but Jake Hendershot shot anyways.
Coach Hendershot later expressed how emotional it was to watch his son wrestle. “As a coach, it is exhausting, as father it takes ten years of my life." He added, “Jake and I joked, I told him, you don’t listen to me at home, why would you listen to me here?”
But the sophomore wrestler explained his philosophy as, “It is all on the line and if I am going to go out, I am going to out taking a chance.” Jake Hendershot seemed to respond to his father's words of encouragement while he was wrestling to "Show me heart." Jake did, edging out Drabrowski 7-6.
After the match, Jake Hendershot said of his father, “He always knows what to say." Of himself, he added, “I will always fight until that buzzer goes off.”
The coach matched his son’s sentiment: "[Having] Jake showing me heart is something I never have to worry about.”
Bianchi, Hendershot and Stein all will be participating in regions next week with one thing on their minds - how they can improve. Bianchi had this to say about the upcoming tournament - "There are some small things that I can fine tune.”