With the season winding down, the DePaul High wrestling team is beginning to hit its peak. The Spartans finished second at a strong District 7, held at West Essex High, in North Caldwell, on Feb. 17.
Head coach Keith Karsen’s squad advanced eight to the Region 2 championships, which began on Feb. 21, at Mount Olive High, in Flanders. Four of the eight Spartans were to wrestle in the preliminaries, on Feb. 21 and needed to win to advance to the quarterfinals on Feb. 23. The other four, Nicky Cabanillas, Ricky Cabanillas, Connor O’Neil and Eddie Bierals, won gold at District 7 and didn’t have to wrestle until the quarterfinals on Feb. 23.
The tourney wraps up on Feb. 24, with the semifinals, wrestlebacks and 14 championship bouts, all at Mount Olive.
Ricky Cabanillas (center) was named Outstanding Wrestler at District 7 last week. The junior has much bigger goals, including a state championship at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, on March 4. (Click on photo for larger image)
The top four wrestlers in each weight class at Region 2 will join the top four wrestlers in each weight class at the other seven regions for the ultimate weekend, the NJSIAA championships, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from March 2-4.
Karsen was happy with his team’s performance.
“We had 11 wrestlers entered and eight advanced,” said the coach. “That’s a good number. I like where are kids are right now. We have four kids who’ll need to win on Wednesday, in the preliminaries, then move on to Friday night. We want to have kids wrestling into the weekend.”
Karsen felt his team would be prepared.
“At this time of the year, these kids know what it takes,” said Karsen. “That’s why we wrestled the schedule we did, beginning with the Beast (of the East Tournament, in December). The tough competition all season should have us prepared for this weekend, and next.”
Roxbury won the District 7 title, with 218.5 points while DePaul was second, with 170.5. Cedar Grove (142.5) and West Essex (127.5) rounded out the top four in a 10-team field.
“It was a good tournament,” said Karsen. “Roxbury is tough, and I thought Cedar Grove and West Essex had some really good kids, too.”
All eight of DePaul’s regional qualifiers appeared in their respective championship bouts. Nicky Cabanillas won the 126-pound title with a 6-0 win, Ricky Cabanillas garnered the Outstanding Wrestler award following his 13-3 win at 145 pounds, O’Neil prevailed at 152, with a second period fall and Bierals won a 3-2 decision to gain the 285-pound title.
Ricky Cabanillas, who advanced to the state finals last season at 145 pounds, as a sophomore, had finished third in last year’s districts, after losing to Dominick LaRusso of Roxbury, 9-6 in the semifinals. This year, he avenged that loss by a major decision.
“You could tell Ricky was fired up for that match,” said Karsen. “But that should show any wrestler that finishing third in a district doesn’t stop you from your ultimate goal. Ricky went on to the state final last year, and this season, he’s more determined to win it all.
“I was also very happy with the way Eddie Bierals performed at heavyweight. He really battled and won a championship.”
Finishing second for DePaul last Saturday were Michael Esposito (120 pounds), Joe Ferrandiz (132), Luke McFadden (138) and Michael Pillot (182).
“Those guys all did a good job,” said Karsen. “They’ll be ready to go on Wednesday.”