MONTVILLE, NJ - Joe Daddario and the rest of the Montville wrestling team's senior class had waited four years for this moment.
Four seasons ago, the senior class were all freshmen when the team last reached a sectional final, which ended in a loss to Paramus on the road. The loss stuck with Daddario and his fellow seniors, and motivated this group to get back to that level.
After a dramatic win over Pascack Valley in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday night, the Mustangs found themselves on its home mat with a chance to win the program's first sectional title in 10 years. The team of wrestlers put forth a dominant effort, as it won 12 of its 14 bouts- including seven pins- en route to a 60-7 win over Old Tappan in the NJSIAA North 1, Group 3 final at Montville Township High School.
It marked the second sectional title in program history for the Mustangs, and the first since the 2008-09 season.
“It’s awesome. I’ve always dreamed of this since my freshman year in the sectional finals against Paramus, I always wanted to get back here," Daddario said. "Didn’t think we were ever going to do it, but this year we felt really good going in. We came in to this match headstrong. Everybody was ready to go, really excited. It means so much to this program. First sectional title since 10 years ago. So, it’s very exciting.”
Daddario added, "We had a bad taste in our mouth (from losing in 2015-16), but we got back here and it was our time to shine. When we were freshmen we couldn’t do it, but when we’re seniors we have to do it. It’s our last chance.”
It was apparent right from the beginning that it was going to be Montville's night. It picked up six points right off the bat as Old Tappan forfeited to Aaron Kurzer at 106, before Justin Cillotta got the Montville crowd going with a fall in 1:30 over Old Tappan's Declan Jaeger at 113.
Then, in the 120 bout, Old Tappan appeared to be on its way to a key early victory and perhaps seizing some early momentum back, as Liam Fowley held an 8-4 lead on Anthony Monetti in the third period.
But Monetti fought back and managed to turn it around into a last second pin in 5:59 to give his team another six points, extending its lead to 18-0.
“I just was keeping hope alive and I never doubted myself," Monetti said of his comeback win. "God was with me and I knew I could pull it through somehow. I just had to stay away from the big moves that he hit me with in the beginning of the match and I had to get some of my own.”
While Montville's Luke DeFillippo lost a 13-4 major decision in 126, the Mustangs bounced right back as Nick Gentile and Brandon Teresa each earned pins in 132 and 138, respectively, as it built a 30-4 lead. Then, at 145, Daniel Salzano pulled off yet another comeback win for the Mustangs, as he turned a 7-5 late deficit into an 8-7 win at the buzzer.
“It just seemed like every time that they (Old Tappan) got a little momentum their way, we came right back with a couple more wins, a couple of big pins, and a couple of big wins in the middle there," Montville coach John Krip said. "Tonight was our night. I told all the guys that we’ve only wrestled one sectional match at home, and I’m 1-0, and I don’t want to scar my mark.”
Michael Conrad (170) and Alex Garcia (182) also earned pins. The match had already been clinched by the time it was Daddario's turn to wrestle at 195, and that bout featured two of the top wrestlers in the 195lb weight class according to NJ.com, with Daddario ranked sixth and Old Tappan's Jackson Downey ranked eighth.
Daddario led the whole way, and finished it off with a pin in 5:44 to earn a big confidence-boosting win as he prepares for the individual district and regional tournaments coming up.
“It builds a lot of confidence. It shows that what I’m doing is working," Daddario said. "All these extra hours of going to the gym, going to club, everything’s paying off and it’s really exciting.”
Noah Fox (152), Chris DeFrank (220) and Matt Crohn (285) each also earned decisions for Montville.
Now, the Mustangs will try to make even more history on Sunday, when it travels down to RWJ Barnabas Health Arena on the campus of Toms River North High School for the Group 3 semifinals and finals. It will wrestle in the semifinals at 11:30 a.m. against West Essex. If it wins that, it will have a chance to battle for the program's first-ever Group 3 state championship at 5 p.m.
“I think we’re very confident in ourselves and we proved that tonight," Monetti said. "We just can’t wait for Sunday to let it all loose.”
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