Southern Regional Wrestlers Collins, Velardi and Henrich Climb Onto Podium in A.C.

GREAT FINISH: Southern Regional junior Conor Collins attempts to stick Christian Brothers Academy’s Alex Nini as he wraps up the season with a 7-0 victory to take third place in the NJSIAA Wrestling Championships inside Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on March 5. (Photos by David Biggy)
Conor Collins could have tried to blame the official for not allowing him to reach the championship match at 120 pounds, but he didn’t. Instead, the Southern Regional junior put the onus on himself for not winning his semifinals clash against Roxbury’s Luke Stanich.
“There was no excuse,” said Collins, shortly after placing third in the state during the NJSIAA Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on March 5. “I should have gotten out from bottom. It just wasn’t a good match for me.”
Going into the tournament as the top seed and less than a week after he captured the Region VII title, Collins expected to reach the state final – like he did last year, when he dropped an overtime bout to Brick Memorial’s Evan Tallmadge, this year’s third seed behind Christian Brothers Academy sophomore Alex Nini.
To get there he had to go through a familiar foe in Stanich, the fifth seed whom Collins defeated with a late four-point maneuver in last year’s 113-pound semifinal. However, there were no heroics at the end of the bout in last Friday’s semifinal. Stanich wrestled a completely different match.
“He wrestled a really smart match. He didn’t let me get to anything I wanted to get to,” Collins said. “I got off to a great start in the tournament, wrestled my first few matches really well. Then in the semis, I slowed things down and then I didn’t get out on bottom like I usually do. He shut me down and did a great job.”
From the outset, Stanich sought to stand up Collins as much as he could, consistently driving him backward during the first 45 seconds of the match. The main official ended up calling two stalls on Collins, the second resulting in a point for Stanich.
Still, Collins had plenty of time to equalize or take a lead. He kept Stanich on the mat for the entirety of the second period, then, as most wrestlers would, chose defense for the start of the third. All he had to do was escape to tie the contest, but Stanich kept him down for the full two minutes to win, 1-0.
HEAD UP, KID: Southern Regional wrestling coach Dan Roy talks to Conor Collins after the Rams junior swiped third place at 120 pounds on March 5.
“I was a little upset about it, and then my coaches talked to me and really put me in the right mindset,” Collins said. “They got me back on track. They told me I still had another year and it’s nothing to worry about, and that I can’t sit and sulk about it. I had to go for the next best thing.”
Collins returned to Boardwalk Hall the next morning but first had to square off against Camden Catholic’s Jackson Young, whom Collins defeated in the regional final even though Young proved in that bout he could get to Collins’ legs. Young was the aggressor in the wrestleback semifinals and Collins managed to advance with a 4-2 victory after scrambling for a takedown with 14 seconds left.
In the third-place match, Collins faced Nini – Tallmadge avenged his regional final loss to Nini with a 7-2 semifinals victory, sending Nini to the wrestlebacks, before going on to win a second straight state title – and they went into the second period scoreless. To start the second, Nini allowed Collins to go from the neutral position, giving the junior Ram a 1-0 lead, which is how it stayed into the third.
Nini chose neutral to start the third, but 41 seconds into the period Collins scored a takedown to take a 3-0 lead, then worked it into a near-fall to go ahead by five points with 1:07 to go. Collins rolled Nini for another near-fall moments before the final buzzer for a 7-0 victory.
“Conor wrestling back to take third is a true measure of his character, because it’s easy to pack it in after losing in the semifinals,” said Southern head coach Dan Roy. “It’s easy to think ‘I didn’t get my goal and I’m done with it,’ so to come back and get the next best thing is great. It takes a lot of guts to do what he did, wrestling two really tough matches like that. He could have given up at any time.”
Knowing the difference between possibly winning a state title and taking third was, literally, a matter of a point here or there gave Collins the proper perspective.
“I still have another year to get it done,” he said. “Everybody here is good. Anyone can lose to anyone. I didn’t reach my goal this time, but I finished with a win and still did the best I could for today.”
Collins (37-1) cruised into the semifinals with a 10-2 victory over Phillipsburg’s Gavin Hawk. After a takedown and near-fall gave Collins a 4-0 lead into the second period, another takedown and near-fall made it 9-0 heading to the third. Collins escaped 39 seconds into the final period, before Hawk managed to take down Collins to cap the scoring.
Collins won his first bout of the tourney with a pin in 2:36 against Middletown North’s Justin Fearon, then bounced St. John Vianney’s Jake Zaltsman with a 6-0 decision during the second round.
ENDING IT BIG: Southern’s Cole Velardi caps his junior season with a pin of Paramus Catholic’s Daniel Rella to capture fifth place at 150 pounds during the NJSIAA Wrestling Championships on March 5.
Equally impressive, Southern junior Cole Velardi, given the 16th seed for the state finals, also clinched a position on the state placewinners’ podium, taking the fifth spot at 150 pounds after immediately getting dumped into the wrestlebacks following a preliminary-round loss.
“I lost my first match and really second-guessed whether I was going to place, but I had to snap out of it,” Velardi said. “It was hard. My body was sore. I was worn out. I was really upset, and it was on my mind for a long time Thursday night. The coaches reminded me it was over and there was nothing that could be done about it, just to go into a new day and be ready to wrestle my best.”
After Velardi (37-5) was dropped into the wrestlebacks with a 6-4 loss to Brick Memorial’s Ryan Smith on Thursday afternoon, he started Friday’s run with a 3:05 pin of St. John Vianney’s Kevin McBride, then scored an 8-4 win over Morristown’s Giovanni Rivera, followed by a 7-6 decision against Kittatinny’s Steven Dalling. During the Friday evening session, Velardi knocked off fourth-seeded Damian Weaver of Lyndhurst, a state placewinner last season, with a pin in 1:32 to earn a place on the medals podium, then pinned St. Augustine’s Jake Slotnick in 3:05 to stay alive for a possible third-place bout.
For Saturday’s wrestleback round, Velardi fell short of the third-place contest with a 7-5 loss to CBA’s Tyler Barrett, who ultimately swiped third, before taking on Paramus Catholic’s Daniel Rella, the tourney’s fifth seed, in the fifth-place match.
Velardi scored a takedown with 18 seconds left in the first period to take a 2-0 lead into the second, when Rella chose to start the period on defense. Not only did he not get off the mat, Velardi used his signature arm bar maneuver to send Rella to his back and the official slammed the mat to signal the pin 14 seconds into the period.
“After I got the first win in the wrestlebacks, I felt like I was in it again, that I could place high on the podium,” said Velardi, who went 1-2 inside Boardwalk Hall as a freshman. “I won five in a row and got my confidence back. Then I lost and had to wrestle for fifth, but that was a fun way to finish. It feels good to get on the podium, especially after missing this tournament last year with all the injuries and just not doing well.”
As for Southern sophomore Matt Henrich, he ended Friday night’s rounds guaranteed a top-eight medal as well, ultimately finishing seventh after scoring a 3-1 decision over Brandon Palcko of Paul VI.
“I came out today and finished with a strong win, and that’s all I could have asked for,” said Henrich, his first time competing in Boardwalk Hall for the state finals. “This year, I wanted to do the best I could and get on the podium. Last year, I wasn’t close, so I wanted to get here this year and go forward from there.”
NICE MOVE: Southern sophomore Matt Henrich uses a double-leg maneuver to take down Brandon Palcko of Paul VI during the first period of Henrich’s 3-1 win to take seventh at 138 pounds in Boardwalk Hall on March 5.
Henrich started the tourney on Friday with a 6-3 decision over North Hunterdon’s Daniel DeLusant, before advancing to the quarterfinals with a 6-1 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas’ Landon Kearns during the second round.
In the quarterfinals, Henrich (32-5) was upended by St. Joseph-Montvale senior Alex Almeyda, 1-0. After a scoreless first period, Almeyda escaped Henrich’s grasp with 1:36 left in the second period to take the one-point lead into the third period, and that’s the way it stayed after Almedya kept Henrich on the mat for the final two minutes.
Once in the wrestlebacks, Henrich, the sixth seed, ousted Phillipsburg eighth seed Joe Innamorato, 9-5, to guarantee his place on the podium, then lost a 5-3 decision to Delbarton seventh seed Alessio Perentin. Against Palcko, Henrich scored a takedown 18 seconds into the first period to go up 2-0 and took a 2-1 lead into the third after keeping Palcko on the mat for the duration of the second period, before adding an escape point in the third.
“I feel like I’m right there with everybody in the weight class,” Henrich said. “I lost to Almeyda by one and he took third, so I know I’m there. Now I just have to come back stronger and better next year.”
Meanwhile, junior Riley O’Boyle (215) just missed a top-eight medal. O’Boyle lost his preliminary-round contest, 5-1, against St. Joseph-Montvale’s Aidan Schlett on Thursday, then started the next day with a 7-2 win over Montgomery’s Lucas Allen, followed by a 7-5 decision against Central Regional’s Cosmo Zaccaro – he defeated O’Boyle in the Region VII final – and a 5-2 victory over Warren Hills’ Jarett Pantuso.
During the evening session Friday night, O’Boyle ran into a much longer and stronger opponent in Jack Stoll of Pope John XXIII. Stoll used only 15 seconds to take down O’Boyle and parlayed it into a pair of near-falls during the next 40 seconds. The 27th-seeded O’Boyle (29-9) escaped with 59 seconds to go in the first, but Stoll took him down seconds later and worked into a pin at 1:34.
NOT THIS TIME: Southern junior Riley O’Boyle fends off Central’s Cosmo Zaccaro during the wrestlebacks of the NJSIAA Wrestling Championships on March 4.
“Henrich got on the podium as a sophomore and that’s huge for him,” Roy said. “Cole has been here and didn’t place, but he was given a 16th seed and placed fifth, so that’s huge, and he had to wrestle back four matches just to place. Riley had a great tournament, coming in as a 27th seed and finishing around 12th. He had a real tough first match, but bounced back and beat the Central kid, who beat him twice this season, and then won another match against a state placewinner last year.
“I’m proud of our guys. They represented themselves, the school and community well. It was a great year for Southern wrestling.”
The other Rams, freshmen Hayden Hochstrasser and Wyatt Stout, exited early from the state championships. Hochstrasser (23-7) was dumped into the 132-pound wrestlebacks following a 5-1 loss to Delsea’s Jamar Dixon Jr., but rebounded in his first bout Friday, advancing with a 6-3 win over Toms River North’s Joe Dolci, before having his season ended with a 7-2 loss to Mayson Harms.
Stout, entering the tourney as the eighth seed at 126 pounds, lost a 9-7 contest to Freehold Borough’s Angelo Messina during the preliminary round, then had his season ended at 33-3 following a 3-2 downer to Lakeland’s Ryan Langenmayr.
As for the lone Pinelands Regional representative, 126-pound junior Mason Livio was pinned in 2:51 by Phillipsburg’s James Day in the opening round, and had his season ended at 31-7 when he lost a 7-5 matchup to Ridge’s Tim Kolshorn.
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