WEST ORANGE, NJ — At the three-day NJSIAA Region 4 Tournament that concluded Saturday at West Orange High School, five James Caldwell High School Chiefs garnered medals and four earned trips to the NJSIAA State Finals Tournament in Atlantic City in March.
“We've had a lot of recent region runners-up, but I don't think we've ever sent four guys to the state finals in one year before, so this seems to be a new Caldwell record,” said JCHS longtime head wrestling coach Gary Garamella of his team's performance this weekend.
The four JCHS competitors who are headed to the finals include Region 4 runner-up Ryan Schaffer and a trio of bronze medalists: Jerry Jones, Christian Dalla Riva and Matt Maddaloni. Senior Dean Caravela finished fourth and got a regions medal, but not a trip to the finals, where he competed as a freshman and a sophomore.
The State Finals event at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City is set to open on Friday, March 4, and end on Sunday, March 6. It begins with 24 wrestlers in each weight class and concludes with medals presented to each of the top eight finishers in each division.
In what was ultimately one of the longest New Jersey final rounds ever held on any level—county, district, region or state—the event came in at just under three hours.
That seemingly unbearable length was due to several factors, including a plethora of blood time, not a single win by pin and the failure of the powers-that-be to put up the standard barricades around the mat and medal podium, leaving fans free to “rush the court” after each bout.
“That was way, way too long for everyone involved and we're going to make sure that mistake (the lack of barricades) never happens again,” said veteran West Orange High head mats mentor Stephen Zichella.
After pushing five of the team's six regional quarterfinalists into Saturday morning's semifinals, things seemed to quickly head south, quite quickly, for the Chiefs, as four of those five semifinalists lost on Saturday morning.
“Stunningly, this is beginning to look like a real bloodbath for the Chiefs,” said a longtime Caldwell resident after the results of the morning session were made known.
However, as the day progressed, things turned around for JCHS, as each of the four wrestlers who were stopped in the semifinals wrestled their way back to a chance at third place.
The squad's sole silver survivor was second-seeded Schaffer, a senior tri-captain who lost 7-3 in the 182-pound finals match to the top seed, Queen of Peace High junior Dominic Maniero. That outcome dropped Schaffer to 30-3, while Maniero moved to 32-3 on the season.
In his semifinal match-up, Schaffer had blanked the third seed, 31-7 Lyndhurst/North Arlington Matt DeMarco, 6-0.
At 132, second-slotted sophomore Jones, a/k/a J-Squared, lost in the semifinals, 12-2, but then wrestled his way back to the consolation finals (the third place or bronze medal bout), where he edged fourth-spotted QP senior Michael Scraavelli, 4-3, to reach 24-3 on the year.
At 152, Caravela, a third-seeded tri-captain, finished fourth when he lost to the fourth seed, QP sophomore Garrett Beam, via a fall in double-overtime at 8:23. That result ended Caravel's season at 30-5, while he also saw his JCHS career end at 124-17, a Chiefs record for career victories.
Seeded fourth at 170, Dalla Riva, a/k/a CDR, lost to the top seed and eventual champ, 33-3 Passaic Valley senior Jala 'a Darwish, 4-0, before battling back to the bronze bout, where he stopped West Orange sophomore Sebastian Rawls, 9-3, to reach 28-7, while Rawls finished at 23-11.
Finally, at 182, the third of Caldwell's tri-captains, Maddaloni, a third-seeded senior who had been upset in the quarterfinals by the sixth-slotted eventual champion, won two wrestleback bouts on Saturday morning to reach the bronze battle, where he went to double-overtime to beat 26-13 PV senior Gianni Palumbo, 4-2, as Maddeloni moved to 20-8.
This marks the third time in four years that JCHS has had at least one wrestler earn a silver medal on the regional level, as then-freshman Caravela did so in 2013, before then sophomore Caravela and two members of the JCHS Class of 2014: Ray Iodice and Joe Bongo, did so in 2014.
The locals' last Region champion was Steve Martell, a current Caldwell assistant coach who went unbeaten, 33-0, and won an overall state championship in 2005.
All tournament photos by Gene Nann