UNION -- It's hard to be perfect all of time, even for the South Plainfield High School wrestling team.
The finals and consolation finals of the Region 4 tournament didn’t exactly pan out the way the Tigers hoped or expected. In fact, they ended up going 1-6 in those matches. Even with that shortcoming though, the highly talented South Plainfield team was still able to advance seven of their wrestlers to the state tournament, and have one of their wrestlers repeat as an individual champion.
Bill Pavlak, the head coach of South Plainfield, was happy that his wrestlers did enough during the semi-finals and consolation semi-finals to earn their spot in Atlantic City, but he also made no bones about how their performances in the finals.
“We did a good job in the morning round…which means getting them to Atlantic City, but then in the afternoon we went 1-6 and you just can’t be happy with that,” the coach said at the conclusion of the tournament. “That’s not a good afternoon here. We have to recover and good thing everybody’s still alive in states.”
Many of the Tigers came out strong during the first consolation rounds, as Joe Sacco, Kyle Bythell, Luke Niemeyer and Alex Amato all won matches to earn spots in their weight classes third place bout, but all four of them finished in fourth place after taking decision losses in their last bouts of the day.
The most surprising South Plainfield loss of the day came during a championship match. The final at 120 pounds was a battle between top-seed Joe Heilmann and St. Peter’s Prep’s Mike Kelly, both of whom were undefeated former state place winners. Heilmann’s machine-like proficiency at setting up and finishing takedowns gave him a 31-0 record this season, but Kelly shut down all of the junior Tiger’s shots tonight. That and a rideout by Kelly in the third period handed Heilmann a second place finish and his first loss of the season.
Jake Giordano had a similar tough outing when he drew 27-0 Rahway wrestler Rhise Royster in the title match at 126 pounds. Royster’s defense on the feet kept the South Plainfield senior from landing any takedowns, which led to a 3-2 loss.
South Plainfield’s shining moment in the finals came from one of its youngest and most formidable grapplers, Zach DelVecchio. The 220 pound sophomore came in looking to successfully defend the region title he won last year, and by the afternoon the only person left in his way was Carteret’s Farhan Khan.
The Carteret senior proved to be an even match for DelVecchio’s strength early on, so despite efforts from both the match went to overtime and then sudden death. As young as DelVecchio is, he still has years of experience on the mat, and it showed in the overtime period. A thirty second ride out gave DelVecchio the win and a 2-0 record in region championship matches.
DelVecchio says his increased level of conditioning is the main difference between the wrestler he is today and the one he was last year, and he says that will lead him to a better state tournament performance than his fifth place finish from his freshman season. His expectations for Atlantic City, and the future, remain high.
“I wish other people (on my team) could have won (Regions) too this year, but I’m going to keep working to make it four in a row,” he said after his match.
With Regions over, all that remains is the state tournament. All seven of the Tigers heading to Atlantic City will be working hard to make final adjustments this week, but Pavlak says Giordano and Heilmann specifically need to make sure to they learn from their losses today, as expectations for them are still as high as they were yesterday.
“Heilmann’s going to have to shake that off and think about want went on during that match,” Pavlak said. “If he meets (Kelly) again, he’s going to have to change his strategy. He’s going to have to be able to beat the kid on his feet, and he’s definitely going to have to be able to get up from bottom, which didn’t happen today.
“Same with thing Giordano,” the coach added. ”If he sees another athletic, lanky, wrestler next match he’s going to have to change his strategy. Both Heilmann and Giordano are going have to do some work on top."
Pavlak also said that the places his wrestlers got today aren’t necessarily indicative of what will happen in the state tournament.
“ In my career coaching...I’ve had a lot of guys place in Atlantic City that didn’t even take top two in the regions," Pavlak said. "So it’s possible, and that’s the way they have to look at it.”