Nottingham’s Devion Stokes stands atop the podium after winning the 220-pound District 24 wrestling championship at Freehold Township High School Saturday. To Stokes’ left is Hamilton’s Zach Harding, who got through to districts with a third-place finish. Photos by Charlie “Son of Mogul” Iacono
By Rich Fisher
Feb. 18: It’s all about The Swamp, baby!
The Nottingham High wrestling team had one of the epic days in program history at the District 24 wrestling tournament Saturday, producing five champions and a total of seven place-winners who are moving on to the Region 6 Tournament.
And coach Jason “The Rock” Marasco feels that a good number of them can keep on going straight to the state championships in Atlantic City.
“You know the Swamprats,” Marasco said. “These kids don’t care who you are. That (region competition) won’t bother them. They’ll run through a wall. Nothing gets in their head too much. Maybe a few of the younger guys, but the older guys, they don’t give a (hoot).”
They didn’t give an inch in their first trip to District 24 (after always being in District 25) at Freehold Township High school. Of their five No. 1 seeds, Tariq Morton (120 pounds), Jon Jacobs (170), Devion Stokes (220) and Sylvester Freeman (Hwt) each won championships, along with 2nd-seeded Rommy Abouelela at 152 pounds.
Top-seeded Pat White was a runner-up, losing his final with 30 seconds remaining in an ultimate tie-breaker at 182; in what Marasco said “was a freakin’ heartbreaker dude.”
Holding serve at 106 pounds was Greg Daloisio, who was seeded third and finished third to punch his ticket to regions.
Hamilton West also advanced two wrestlers as Zach Harding (220) and Dan Ornosky (Hwt) took third place.
“One of our best efforts we ever had,” said Marasco, whose assistant Jim “The Boulder” Becker” was re-calculating the scoring after the Stars finished fourth in team competition. “We sent seven through way back in the day but we never had five champs before. These guys really came to wrestle today. Nobody was nervous. Everybody was focused and loose.
“We went in there with a fearless attitude. Nobody looked nervous. They opened up on the mat, everybody was shooting first. We were the aggressors, we did everything right today.”
There have been other years where Nottingham had numerous finalists, only to see them come up short and leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. But not this time. A schedule that challenged the Swamprats every step of the way got them ready for the post-season.
“We wrestled an unbelievably super tough schedule this year,” said Marasco, whose team went 20-6. “Every team we lost to either made it to the finals or the semifinals of a sectional tournament. Those are losses against all qualifying teams, and we beat a couple of them. We beat (District 24 champ) Ocean. They beat us today but in dual meet we beat them.
“I kept telling them ‘You guys are battle tested.’ We’re all peaking at the right time, everybody is coming off bumps and bruises, coming off their injuries. Everything just came together. . .like Voltron (the Legendary Defender). Remember that cartoon? We just kept the momentum rolling. Everybody was cheering everybody. It was an awesome day, it really was.”
No matter how the finals turned out Nottingham had six getting through, and Daloisio made it seven when he pinned Monmouth’s Devon Pham in 1:08 in his 106-pound consolation round.
Morton provided the first champion at 120 when he took a 7-6 decision over Shore Regional’s Al Desantis. The senior won by technical fall and two-point decision his previous two matches.
Next was a 1-0 decision by Abouelela over Freehold Township’s Michael Cenname. The senior previously won by t-fall and took another one-point decision.
Jacobs made quick work of Red Bank Catholic’s Steven Smielewski, pinning him in 0:39 in the 170-pound finals. It capped an impressive tournament for the senior, who pinned in 44 seconds in the quarterfinals and won by t-fall in the semis.
After pinning and winning a two-point decision in his first two bouts, Williams was outlasted, 10-9, by CBA’s Sam Houstan in the 182-pound overtime finals.
Stokes won his title by pinning Ocean’s Clayton Oates in 39 seconds, which would seem pretty quick until looking at his quarterfinal match. The Northstar senior opened districts by pinning Shore’s Joe Graci in a ridiculous 4 seconds, which tied former Northern Burlington wrestler Vincent Foggia for the state record for quickest pin.
“He probably did it in like, three,” Marasco said. “I think it took the ref another second to get his hand down on the mat or he would have had the record by himself. He grabbed his head, the kid fell over and he landed on top and he jumped on him. He was flat as a board in four seconds. It was unbelievable. That record will sit there ‘til the end of time.”
Stokes was given a tough battle by Harding, escaping with a 3-0 decision in the semifinals. The Hornet came back to take a 4-2 decision over Notre Dame’s Thomas Burns in the consolations.
At heavyweight, Freeman won by forfeit, took an 8-5 semifinal decision over Ornosky and decisioned Freeholds Austin Colbert, 7-1 in the finals. Ornosky went on to take a 2-1, double overtime decision over Notre Dame’s Omar Santos in the consolations.
Daloisio, White, Harding and Ornosky will all wrestle in the first-round of the Region 6 Tournament at Brick Memorial on Wednesday, and Marasco said, “Anything can happen after this.”
“Some kids can hang it up,” he said. “Some kids will be mad because they’re not a champ. Some kids took third place and they know their first match could be a stud and may not be into it. At this point you’ve got kids who get injured. Anything can happen. If these guys continue to wrestle fearless, not worry about the score and just wrestle their matches, we could upset more people.”
And the party in the Swamp may never end.