NUTLEY, NJ - Anyone who follows high school wrestling in New Jersey, and for that matter, those who have competed in the sport, realize how difficult it is to qualify for the NJSIAA championships, on the grand stage of Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City.
Only the top four wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes, at eight different regions, earn the chance to advance to the final three days of the season. It takes months of grueling workouts, various frustrations and uncanny discipline to arrive at this point.
Nutley High will send four wrestlers to the state championships, from March 5-7. Whether any, or all of them, earn a medal, signifying a top eight performance in their weight class, the chance to compete is what drives a wrestler, more than anything else.
Jacob Gonzalez (145 pounds), Sal Mainiero (160), Nicolas Polewka (220) and Billy Searle (285) will get the opportunity to wrestle in front of a huge crowd this weekend. For each, it's their first trip to Atlantic City, for the event.
"I’m very excited to be wrestling this weekend down in Atlantic City," said Polewka, a junior. "It has always been a life-long dream to be wrestling on the biggest stage in New Jersey, and I can’t wait to spend this memorable weekend with my coaches and friends."
Mainiero, a junior, knows there's still work to do.
"I feel great about making it down to Atlantic City," said Mainiero. "I'm definitely not satisfied yet. I put in a lot of work during the off-season and I expect to win just because of how many hours I put in, and all the hard work I go through. I’m ready to make noise down at Atlantic City, in Boardwalk Hall."
Gonzalez, also a senior captain, could reach a milestone in Atlantic City.
"This is a crazy amount of excitement," said Gonzalez. "It’s been my goal since freshman year, after seeing (teammates) Aaron Dunn and Joey DiPasquale, all those top notch wrestlers of the time. I really wanted to make it last year, but things didn’t pan out. Going down with four of my best friends, I’m hoping to have a lot of fun and enjoy the time while it lasts, since this is my last ride. I also hope to wrestle my hardest and hopefully get four more wins to achieve my 100th (victory)."
Searle, a junior, understood the value of hard work, in practice, all season long.
"I feel great about the accomplishment of making it to Atlantic City," Searle said. "It feels like a year-long mission was finally completed. I couldn't have done it without the workouts and hard work our coaches put us through. I'm looking forward to getting there."
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