By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Billy Damiana was an accomplished wrestler at Lower Cape May Regional High School, twice placing at the state tournament. So he’s earned his share of accolades in the sport.
But he was quite humbled by the honor he received Saturday.
Damiana, Lower Cape May’s second-year coach, was named the district Coach of the Year at the District 30 Tournament at Delsea Regional High School.
The Caper Tigers also sent two wrestlers through to the Region 8 Tournament, as sophomore Wesley Tosto placed second and freshman Brayden Castillo finished third in their respective weight classes.
Damiana took over a program that was struggling with numbers following the 2016-17 season. In just two seasons, interest both among the student body and the community is as high as it’s ever been. The team posted a solid 15-11 record this season, the first time the Tigers have been over .500 in four years.
“It’s pretty cool to win that,” Damiana said of the Coach of the Year award. “I guess the biggest thing for me is that when I took the program over two years ago we had eight kids. Then (Saturday) in the stands we had 36 kids up there. We got six kids in the semifinals, which was double from last year. I’m just happy that we’re much improved and our kids keep getting better.”
Tosto had wrestled just 14 matches going into the tournament due to injury. The third seed at 120 pounds, he posted a tough 5-4 decision over Oakcrest’s David Flippen, who was the second seed, to advance to the final. He then lost 7-0 to top-seeded Asa Walton of Delsea.
“Wesley did a great job, especially considering he’s been hurt a lot of year,” Damiana said. “He had to win a (close) match in the semifinal and he really gutted that out. He rode the kid the whole last period. Then he had a tough match against a really, really good kid in the final.”
Tosto enters Wednesday’s Region 8 preliminary round at 13-4 on the season.
Castillo, the third seed at 145, suffered a 10-7 loss to Penns Grove’s Wayne Scott, the third seed, in his semifinal. He took out his frustration in the consolation final, decking Chris Gehring of Oakcrest in 41 seconds to place third.
“Brayden let a match go in the semifinals and he knows that,” Damiana said. “He made a couple freshman mistakes against a veteran wrestler. But then he came right back and did his thing against the kid from Oakcrest. Anytime you get a freshman to qualify for regions, that’s really good.”
Castillo takes a record of 29-5 into Region 8 preliminaries.
Four other Lower wrestlers also won their openers but each lost in both the semifinal and consolation rounds to finish fourth. They included Cameron Leslie (138), Jake Baxter (160), Sean Connelly (195) and Matt Craig (220).