NUTLEY, NJ - After a tremendous tournament at Region 3, in West Orange last weekend, the Nutley High wrestling team will advance four to the NJSIAA championships, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City. 

The final stage of the 2019-2020 season begins on March 5, continues on March 6 and concludes a day later, with the crowning of 14 state champions, as well as medals presented to the top eight wrestlers in each of the weight classes.

After having zero wrestlers at the state tourney last winter, the Raiders will have four representing Nutley this year, in Jacob Gonzalez (145 pounds), Sal Mainiero (160), Nicolas Polewka (220) and heavyweight Billy Searle. Gonzalez, Mainiero and Searle finished third in their weight class while Polewka was fourth and won a thrilling match to qualify, which produced a happy scene from the Nutley High faithful.

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Needless to say, Nutley head coach Mike DiPiano was thrilled with his team's effort. Seven Raiders advanced to the Region 3 quarterfinals and the team finished fifth, overall, in a field of 25.

"What a great weekend for Nutley wrestling," said DiPiano. "We focused since last year on Wednesday of regions, to get back to that point and perform better. We did that and then some."

Last season, the Raiders' season ended on the first day of regions, which is what DiPiano knew would be crucial this year. Eight wrestlers advanced to the first round, and seven moved on to the quarters.

"All seven of our guys competed at a high level," said DiPiano. "I really feel we were only a few moments and points away from sending all seven (to Atlantic City). Our FANatics packed the gym for each session, and we were the talk of the tournament. The energy and enthusiasm they brought helped each wrestler and the coaching staff. 

"We have some of the best fans in the state, hands down. I will put them up against anyone. I am so proud that our community came out to support the team. I know we will have a big contingent heading down to AC. Our support system is unreal."

DiPiano noted that the three wrestlers who came close to advancing to the states, were outstanding teammates.

"It's such an emotional tournament, you have the high of getting four guys there, but also have to console the three that didn’t," the coach said. We "It's a very tough pill to swallow for (seniors) Peter Haverick and Dan Jennings, but they were warriors for us, throughout their careers. We are going to miss them. Their leadership was there, right down to the end, as they were their friends and teammates' biggest supporters, after being eliminated. 

"Anthony Haines (a junior) now knows what it takes to get that one more win and I know that Atlantic City, next year, will be a goal for him that he can attain."

DiPIano is looking forward to the weekend in Atlantic City.

"I'm looking forward to walking back into Boardwalk Hall with our four guys and going to battle. We are ready to roll the dice and see what happens."

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