WEST ORANGE, NJ -This Friday night at West Orange High, Chatham sophomore Connor Cortese had the opportunity to test himself against the very best and his performance was up to the task.
Cortese wrestled the No. 1 seed in his 120-pound bracket, Travis Jones from Phillipsburg, and with 30 seconds to go in the third period, Cortese was within a two-point takedown for the tie. The match could have gone either way but unfortunately, Cortese came up short, losing 12-6.
The way the NJSIAA individual state wrestling championships work is there are initially 32 District tournaments in week one with approximately 11 high schools per district represented in the tournament. The top three wrestlers in each weight class from Districts move on to 8 Regional tournaments with each Region comprised of wrestlers from 4 of the Districts in week two.
Then, the top four wrestlers in each weight class from each Region move on to the “final” finals in Atlantic City the following week. The path is grueling and only the best tend to rise to the top, to earn a chance at All-State status.
As a result, as the individual wrestling championships move from the District tournaments to the Regional tournaments, the level of competition also rises substantially and Cortese’s Region 3 bracket provides a perfect example of that. In his 120-pound weight class at the Region 3 tournament, he is paired up with 3 of the top 8 ranked wrestlers in the state of New Jersey,
Travis Jones from Phillipsburg (ranked 5th), Alex Strashinsky from Delbarton (ranked 6th) and
Dom DiGena of Mendham (ranked 8th). These schools boast some of the best wrestling programs in the state.
In the first period of Friday's bout, Jones from P-Burg struck first with a quick 2 points. However, Cortese fought back and scored an escape and a takedown of his own to grab the lead, 3-2. Jones managed to escape and score again, ending the first period up 5-3.
In the second period, Cortese began on top and gave up a reversal to fall behind 7-3 and it somewhat appeared as if the match might spiral away. However, he immediately scored 2 points on his own reversal while Jones managed another escape point to head into the third period up 8-5.
Connor Cortese in action vs. top-seeded Travis Jones during period two
In the third period, Cortese began on the bottom and worked hard to earn his escape point which narrowed the score to 8-6 and now Connor was one takedown away from the tie; it was anybody’s race. However, Connor was unable to convert and in desperation, as time wound down, gave up a gratuitous takedown and back points to Jones. All in, it was a solid match which proved that Cortese can certainly hang in Region 3 and he can feel confident for Saturday.
After losing, Cortese now drops to the “wrestleback” portion of his 120-pound weight bracket and the remaining wrestlers in that bracket have the opportunity to wrestle for up to a 3rd place finish by winning three more matches on Saturday. Again, the top four wrestlers head to Atlantic City.
In his first wrestleback match on Saturday, Cortese will face sophomore Charlie Treston from Randolph, sporting a 28-9 season record as the number 5 seed in the bracket. Cortese will be in familiar territory with his opponent as he lost to Treston, giving up a takedown at the third period buzzer in the District 12 semi-final bout last weekend.
The winner of that match will face the semi-final loser of the regular bracket in the afternoon to earn the right to go to Atlantic City while the rest of the wrestleback matches are also now single elimination.