The South Plainfield High School wrestling team took to its home mat for a great cause on Wednesday evening, as the Tigers hosted Greater Middlesex Conference rival Old Bridge for the third annual Marisa Tufaro Foundation Dual Meet.
The foundation was created in honor of the memory of Marisa Tufaro, who passed away at the age of 13 in 2017 from a rare from of cancer that developed after complications from a heart surgery. Marisa, the daughter of well-known Homes News Tribune sportswriter Greg Tufaro and longtime Edison public school educator Cyndi Tufaro, was born with a cardiac defect that required six open-heart surgeries.
In just its three-year history, the foundation has already donated over $125,000, and has awarded multiple college scholarships to GMC student athletes, including former South Plainfield wrestling standout and current University of North Carolina wrestler Joe Heilmann, and former South Plainfield star quarterback Charles Lovett. Proceeds for the dual went towards the foundation.
"Greg’s been great to us and to the sport of wrestling in Middlesex County, so I’m glad to be able to help him out and his wife Cynthia in any way we can," South Plainfield coach Steve Johnston said after the match.
"It’s such a great cause. The Marisa Tufaro Foundation does a ton of stuff for teens, and middle school and elementary aged kids around the county. It’s very important for us to make sure we give back."
The dual kicked off after a pre-match ceremony recognizing the foundation and the Tufaros. While experience was a bit short for both teams, South Plainfield's athletes overwhelmed the Knights quickly, and ended up taking a dominant 57-15 home win.
Although the Tigers (12-7) gave up a few more individual matches than they would've like to, the dual provided a bit of a respite, as the team was coming off a tough stretch last week that saw the Tigers go 0-3 in losses against highly-rated programs Southern and Howell, as well as a close 33-28 loss against conference rival Monroe.
"We competed well," said Johnston. "Obviously, you go into a dual wanting 14 wins. We’ve got some guys who are a little disappointed, but they’re gonna bounce back. We’ve all got to learn from our losses and mistakes and get better. If we don’t better from those losses, that’s where it hurts us."
While most of the dual's matches were one-sided affairs, Daniel Borsos edged out a tough win for the Tigers at 160 pounds, by using a third period rideout to take a 3-2 decision over Justin Schuette. In the final match of the night, at 138 pounds, Daniel Gonzalez-Ross fought off a third period single leg attempt until the buzzer to take a 4-2 win over Daniel Hennessey.
Kenneth Clevenger, who was named South Plainfield's outstanding wrestler for the dual, wrapped a pin with 33 seconds left in the third period in his 182 pound match against Chae Hogan. Anthony White kept his season undefeated with a 17-0 tech fall over Taofiq Price. Jeffrey Jacome (106), Julian Medina (285), Thomas Renna (195), Xavier Santos (152), and Tyler Balent (145) all recorded first period pins for South Plainfield. J.J. Giordano (113), and Jacob DelVecchio (120) earned back-to-back tech falls.
Elijah Mack earned the honor of Old Bridge's most outstanding wrestler with his quick pin over Austin Scott at 220. Noah Corbett (170) and Tyler Sagi (126) also picked up wins for the Knights.
After the dual, Old Bridge superintendent David Cittadino once again made good on a friendly wager between the two schools. While last year's bet saw Cittadino having to kiss a pig, this year probably left a better taste in his mouth, as he only had to endure a face full of pie.
Even though the season hasn't gone optimally to this point, expectations are still high for the Tigers. Johnston says he's looking for his team to make a serious run during sectionals, and before that the team will try to defend its conference title in this weekend's GMC tournament.
Johnston says his team is picking up on the little things needed to make those goals' reality.
I think as a team we’re starting to battle more," the coach said. "We’re starting to fight for every point. That’s going to be important as we head towards a sectional title, since that’s what we’re going to need to do there. If we’re doing that now, when we hit those big matches, we’re going to be doing the same thing. We’re training ourselves to do it now, and we’re making sure it carries over to every match"