NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — The West Essex wrestling team is moving onto the North 2, Group 3 State Section Semifinals for the second consecutive year following a 68-4 victory over Leonia on Monday night.

The highlight of the night came at the heavyweight class as senior Bardhyl Gashi collected a pin fall victory in the first round for his 100th career win for West Essex. Gashi also remains undefeated for the 2020 season.

“It’s big,” the senior said. “Freshman year, I didn’t start off with many wins. My goal has been to get up on the board in the wrestling room, and now the one that I can tick off is the 100-win board, so I’m proud of that…

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“It was a good match. We wrestled hard, [Leonia] wrestled hard, [and] we came out on top, which is all we could ask for.”

West Essex dominated the contest to the tune of seven pin-fall victories. The team received two quick first-round pins at from Carson Barry at the 138-pound class and Darren Jones at the 145-pound class.

With additional pins from Sam Carsillo and Vin Rubino at the 182-and 195-pound classes, respectively, the Knights continued to tame their Lion counterparts. Both wrestlers have had solid performances at the middle of the lineup, with a combined 24-14 record for West Essex.

“I was happy with the way they went out there,” said head coach Mike Markey. “At this point in the season, dual meets are won and lost with bonus points. We want to get as many bonus points in the matches we can and limit those when it’s not going our way.”

Rounding out the pin-fall victories for West Essex were freshmen Chris Kenny at 113 and Anthony Barra at 120. The newcomers to the squad are a combined 12-10 on the year with Barry sporting a 4-2 record in limited action.

“[Kenny] is an absolute stud for us,” said Markey.

While the pin falls stole the show for the Knights, Markey was particularly pleased with the growth of the squad as a whole.

This includes Joey Macrino, who added his 21st victory of the season on Monday with a 6-2 decision win at the 106-pound class. Macrino handedly beat his opponent, who had who previously forced an overtime match against Macrino earlier this year.

“To see [Macrino] in control of that match for six minutes shows his growth,” said Markey.

West Essex’s victory improves the squad to 16-4 on the year. The Knights will now move on to face the winner of the West Morris vs. Nutley match on Wednesday.

“Unlike last year, these guys have been there and they know what it takes,” said Markey. “So they’re very focused on the task.”

Despite the dominant victory in the opening round, the Knights will look to bring their wealth of experience as an advantage in what they hope will be a successful state title defense.

“We’ve just got to bring the energy every match,” said Gashi. “We’ve got to be excited, we’ve got to wrestle hard, and that’s what really brings it home.”