When the 2012-2013 wrestling season began at Passaic Valley High, the team’s head coach, Joe Benvenuti had a lot of hope for 106 pounder Anthony Cruz.
It’s not often a senior wrestles at that weight class, and having a grappler with varsity experience and savvy like Cruz had the coach thinking the lighter weights could dominate at Little Falls.
After getting off to an 8-2 start through matches of Dec. 29, Cruz struggled, losing four of his next five bouts. After picking up a few wins by forfeit, Cruz regained his confidence midway in January. Beginning with a pin in a Jan. 12 bout against Devin Garrido of North Bergen, Cruz has put together a 9-2 mark.
“I’d say it turned around for him in our quad match (on Jan. 19) against three really good teams in Bound Brook, Delsea and St. Peter’s Prep,” Benvenuti said. “He won two big matches against Delsea and Bound Brook before losing a 2-1 decision to a really good wrestler in Alec Kelly of St. Peter’s. That match could have gone either way, but I think Anthony learned from it and has carried that over into a big part of our season.”
Cruz followed the quad match by pinning Fair Lawn’s Matt Belmonte on Jan. 23, then excelled at the Passaic County Tournament (PCT) three days later, winning two decisions before dropping a 6-4 bout to DePaul’s William Kui in the county final.
Undeterred, Cruz has dominated his past two bouts, needing a grand total of 95 seconds to secure a pair of pins in matches opposite West Milford and Gov. Livingston of Berkeley Heights.
Cruz is 20-8 heading into a key dual match against PCT champion DePaul, at home on Feb. 7, where he could face Kui once again. While the Hornets have already clinched the Big North championship for the first time in Bevenuti’s tenure at PV, the DePaul match will be key for the team as it prepares for the NJSIAA sectionals, which begins the week of Feb. 11.
“DePaul is a huge match,” Benvenuti said. “We’ll need everyone to step it up, for sure.”
It certainly appears as if Cruz is ready for that test, and as a senior, his leadership will be key for a relatively young team as it hopes to advance in the state tournament.