BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - After an eight-year absence, the Berkeley Heights PAL travel wrestling team made the bold decision to return to the elite Central Jersey League for the 2017-2018 season. The boys finished 7-7 in dual meet competition but saved their best for the prestigious year end tourney where they crowned three champions and 10 place winners out of 17 weight classes in the varsity division.
Fifth grader Lucciano Santamaria won the 67-pound division after pinning a tough opponent from Union in the finals. “Looch” scored repeatedly with a variety of leg attacks before getting the fall with a vicious reverse half nelson. Mountainside sixth grader Cristian Gioia came out of the No. 3 seed spot in the 80-pound division and ran the table with three consecutive wins including a major decision in the finals against a very experienced Edison opponent. None of Gioia’s opponents had an answer for his “Blair Ride” and cross wrist tilt series from the offensive position. At heavyweight fifth grader and top seed Nate Faxon pinned his way through the tourney to earn the gold medal. The 10-year-old Faxon locked up a devastating cross-face cradle to stick a 12-year-old Middlesex wrestler in the finals.
In addition to these three champions, Berkeley Heights had seven other placewinners in the varsity division. Sixth graders Christian Sabatino (77 pounds) and Mac Chiefa (83) both finished as runners-up in deep and competitive weight classes. Sixth grader Joe Dasti (110) and third grader Nick Schiano (50) each lost tough semi-final matches but then dominated the consolation rounds to finish in third place. Sixth graders Grant Young (87), Matt Stecher (90) and Jace Wanca (70) all finished in fourth place. These 10 place winners will all advance to the season ending “A Flight” tourney that features the best of the best sixth grade and under wrestlers around.
Also wrestling in the varsity division were Owen Chait (95 pounds) and Troy Mayer (102). As a team, Berkeley Heights finished a scant three points behind Edison despite missing two key wrestlers due to illness.
Berkeley Heights also crowned a champion in the JV division as lightweight sensation Brandon McGuire brought home the title at 45 pounds. Fifth grader Chris D’Amato had a strong tourney, finishing in third place at JV 90 pounds. Also participating for Berkeley Heights in the JV division were Ollie Chait, Connor Jakubowski, Vincent Liss and Dean Santamaria.
In addition to this remarkable performance in Central Jersey and a fine season in the 8th grade and under North Jersey league, several Berkeley Heights matmen have been competing on the USA Wresting circuit with three young grapplers qualifying for the NJ State Championships to be held March 10th and 11th in Trenton. Nate Faxon qualified at 10 and under (125 pounds) where he looks to improve on his fifth place finish from the 2016 state championships. Cristian Gioia, who qualified at 12 and under (80 pounds), finished one match short of the podium last season and is poised to make a deep run in this year’s event. Seventh grader Dante Gioia, who will be competing at 14 and under (85 pounds) is a definite state title threat at 85 pounds despite being the youngest grappler in his bracket.