Crunch time has arrived in New Jersey high school wrestling.
And at Passaic Valley, the Hornets are gearing for an exciting three weeks, with the ultimate goal a visit to Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from March 2-4. Before that happens, however, the trek to A.C. starts this weekend, with the district championships. For PV, that means heading to Hopatcong High, for the District 8 title, on Feb. 17. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at the 32 districts move on to the eight region championships, which begins on Feb. 21. continues on Feb. 23 and concludes on Feb. 24. PV is now in Region 2, which will be contested at Mt. Olive High, in Flanders. The top four wrestlers in each weight class at the eight regions move on to Atlantic City for the state championships.
Passaic Valley head coach Joe Benvenuti was pleased with the way his team concluded the regular season. PV won three matches last week, defeating New Milford, Saddle Brook and Cedar Grove, after losing in the first round of the state sectionals, to the eventual champion, Roxbury.
“We finished the season 15-8,” said Benvenuti. “Along the way, we beat four teams this season that were state sectional champs last year. Throw in key victories over rival teams like Nutley, West Essex and Clifton, and we really have a lot to be excited about. For me, as a head coach, I could never thank my staff enough for their dedication and loyalty to the kids, myself and this program. I am very lucky that I have the staff behind me that works as hard as they do, year in and year out.”
The regular season had started with a disappointing loss to North Bergen, but eventually, the team won 15 matches.
Passaic Valley head coach Joe Benvenuti (left) and assistant coach Brian Kapral will lead the Hornest into the districts, regions and hopefully, state championships, in Atlantic City.
“Where this team came from makes me proud,” said Benvenuti. “We have seven wrestlers in the lineup that were not varsity wrestlers before this season. Half of our lineup had no experience on the varsity mat, and we ended up having the season that we did. Going toe-to-toe with Roxbury in the opening round of the state sectionals shows me we will have a great performance at the districts this weekend. This team has really grown up and competed with tremendous effort and toughness all season long.”
For many years, Passaic Valley was a part of District 13, but with the reshuffling of the districts and regions by the state prior to the 2016-2017 season, the Hornets were moved to District 8. This year, the top teams should be defending champion Wayne Valley, along with Montville and Passaic Valley.
“Clearly Wayne Valley is the favorite, but I like our chances right now, given the way our boys have wrestled over the last couple of weeks,” said Benvenuti. “During my days at West Essex and here at PV, this team is very similar to some of the district championship teams that I have coached in the past, that really peaked at the right time. ”
In the state sectional match with Roxbury, the Hornets did a good job.
“I was very proud of the effort against Roxbury,” said Benvenuti. “We had them on the ropes there for a little bit, That is all we could ever ask for, to see our boys do their best and earn some respect. We talk all the time of taking winning and losing out of the equation, and focus on your effort and your attitude. In a losing effort, our boys showed outstanding effort and attitude.”
The Hornets defeated New Milford and Saddle Brook in regular season bouts and last Saturday, the team rallied to edge a strong Cedar Grove team, 36-32.
Heading into the districts, Benvenuti noted some of his top wrestlers should rise to the occasion.
“(Team captains) Tom Marretta and Yousef Karmi prevailed in all matches last week, and both had important, hard-fought victories against Saddle Brook,” said Benvenuti. “These two young men have set themselves up perfectly for this end-of-season run to Atlantic City. We fully expect them to be district champions this weekend.
“Beside being great on the mat each week, our coaching staff is more impressed with how Tom and Yousef have led this young and inexperienced team throughout the entire season. Since January rolled around, Luke Geleta has been a major contributor to our team. He is someone that I have great confidence in, to become a district champion. Jordan Sconciafurno is another athlete that should make a major name for himself with a district championship. Now that he has gotten a taste of gold, when he won the Passaic County title, he is even more hungry to add to his success. Jeremy Galletta is someone I feel will help his team in a major way on Saturday. He should be seeded very well, and again is another wrestler that got a taste of gold at the county tournament. With both Jeremy and Jordan, the talent has always been there. The missing piece was the focus. These two have matured into confident leaders, and that has been such a positive transformation.
“Greg Sabbak has been a kid that always rises to the occasion. His weight class will be the toughest at our district. Knowing Greg and his unique ability to come up big when it matters most, it would not surprise me at all if we are talking about him being a champion as well.”
In addition, look for Novain Gonzalez, Colby Sellitto, Logan Rodriguez and Zach Ulrich to earn good seeds for this Saturday and make a run to Region 2.
“If our boys wrestle with great effort and positive attitudes, I am confident they will not only be a better teammate, but they will also be champions,” said Benvenuti.