ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - Having your back against the wall – or mat – is a pressure-filled situation, win and you advance or lose and your hard work is all but gone.
East Brunswick junior Mark Schleifer became accustomed to wrestling with the odds against him this weekend in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, where he fell just short in the fifth place match to Shane Metzler 3-1.
The 120-pound wrestler lost his second match of the weekend against Nicholas Raimo of Hanover Park, sending him into the wrestle-back bracket for the remainder of the tournament.
From there, Schleifer ripped off three straight wins before meeting Bergen Catholic's Gerard Angelo in the match for a shot at third place. Again, the junior from East Brunswick fell short.
Head coach Matt Pazinko was impressed with his ability to wrestle with his back against the wall.
"I think he had a great tournament coming back," Pazinko said. "He's been wrestling do or die for the past five matches and he's been going out there and wrestling real hard against the best competition in the state."
Entering the tournament with a 28-3 record, Schleifer equaled that loss total over the weekend. But after each loss, the wrestler didn't let the pressure surmount him.
"I don't think of it as having my back against the wall, I think of it more as an opportunity to show my wrestling abilities," Schleifer said. "I don't think it's more like feeling pressure, you have to wrestle like yourself."
Schleifer made the fifth place match an exciting one, scoring his lone point on an escape in the third period. That point eventually forced an overtime period. And just like all weekend, Schleifer was in a do-or-die situation.
Unfortunately, he did not convert the victory.
Schleifer views this weekend as a step in the right direction for his ultimate goal.
"My thought process is always to be state champion,” Schleifer said. “That's what I'm working towards next year. That's what I wanted to be this year, I didn't get there but that’s just another stepping stone for next year."