By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The Lower Cape May Regional and Middle Township high school wrestling teams have produced three district champions and have sent a total of nine wrestlers through to the Region 8 Tournament as the individual postseason tournaments began Saturday.
Lower Cape May saw two of its wrestlers, Brock Zurawski and Marcus Hebron, win championships and four others place among the top three in their weight classes at the District 32 Tournament at Absegami High School.
Middle Township came away with one champion in Alick Killian and two other top-three finishers at the District 31 Tournament at Delsea Regional High School.
As district champions, Zurawski, Hebron and Killian have each earned byes to the quarterfinals of the Region 8 Tournament, which begins Friday at Egg Harbor Township High School. Second- and third-place finishers from district tournaments will wrestle in preliminaries earlier on Friday.
The following is a recap of the performances by Lower Cape May and Middle Township at the district tournaments:
LOWER CAPE MAY
Lower Cape May’s six region qualifiers are believed to be the program’s most in at least 30 seasons.
Leading the way for the Tigers were junior Brock Zurawski and senior Marcus Hebron, who won District 32 titles at 165 pounds and 215 pounds, respectively.
The top seed, Zurawski was dominant at the tournament. He won his first two bouts by first-period fall before posting an 8-2 decision over No. 2 seed Dennis Virelli of St. Augustine in the final. After giving up a takedown in the first 15 seconds of the match, Zurawski controlled the pace from there and was never threatened the rest of the way.
It’s the second district title for Zurawski, who won as a freshman while at St. Augustine Prep. The Division I Rider University commit transferred to Lower Cape May prior to this season.
Hebron, also a district champion as a sophomore, was also a dominant performer. After a first-round bye, he decked Nathan Drinkard of Absegami in 1:34 in the semifinal before a stunning 21-second pin of second-seeded Asher Jenkins of St. Augustine in the title match.
“It was good for Brock to get six minutes in the final and Marcus was just dominant today,” Lower coach Billy Damiana said.
Sophomore Eric Coombs (106) and senior Brody Saltzman (190) each lost championship bouts to qualify for regions as second-place finishers.
After a first-round bye, the second-seeded Coombs won by fall over EHT’s Peter Steed in the semifinal round. He then suffered a loss by pin late in the first period to top-seeded Andrew Siteman of Mainland in the final.
Saltzman, the third seed in his weight class, needed a little over a minute to win by fall in the quarterfinal round before posting a 7-6 decision in a mild upset of No. 2 Sam Williams of Ocean City. He then lost by 16-0 technical fall in the second period to top-seeded Alex Marshall of St. Augustine in the final.
Third-place finishers for Lower included senior Nathan Stewart at 150 pounds and Brayden Castillo at 175 pounds.
Stewart won by 14-5 major decision in his third-place match, while Castillo needed just 38 seconds to win by fall in his third-place bout.
“One of the most we’ve gotten through in school history, to have six guys go through to regions,” Damiana said. “We had a nice little run. … Overall, the kids did a really nice job.”
Alick Killian has endured some bad luck over the course of his career.
He won 30 matches as a sophomore, only to suffer an injury that prevented him from competing at the district tournament. He then missed out on last season’s shortened postseason due to the complicated qualifying rules.
Then, in the runup to this weekend’s district tournament, Killian, along with quite a few of his teammates, came down with a non-COVID illness that threatened to again prevent him from competing.
But Killian began feeling better on Friday and was well enough to take the mat on Saturday as the No. 2 seed at 150 pounds.
He rolled through his first two bouts, pinning Julius Mendina of Millville late in the first period before scoring a 16-1 technical-fall victory late in the second period over No. 3 Kenny Lowry of Woodstown in the semifinal. Lowry had entered the tournament at 20-5 on the season, wrestling mostly at 157.
Wrestling top-seeded Austin Boos in the final, Killian scored two takedowns in the first period and successfully defended while on bottom in the third period to post a 4-2 decision.
“After everything he’s been through, all the trials and tribulations, Alick winning there makes it that much sweeter,” Middle coach Matt Wolf said. “That moment is the reason you coach. It was so fantastic.”
Middle senior David Giuilan placed second in the 190-pound weight class. The No. 2 seed, Giulian earned a bye in the quarterfinals before beating Cole DuBois of Schalick by first-period fall in the semifinal round. He then suffered a 9-3 loss to top-seeded Danny DiGiovacchino of Delsea in the final in a match that was much closer than the final score. Leading by a point, DiGiovacchino executed a takedown and three back points in the final 10 seconds of the match.
“It’s devastating in the moment but in the grand scheme of things, when we get to next weekend, what happened (in the district final) isn’t going to matter,” Wolf said. “(DiGiovacchino) is very good and we knew it. But the gym was on edge the whole match. Dave wrestled him well, but it just didn’t go our way. It was a great match to watch, a high level match between two really good wrestlers. Hopefully in another week, Dave will get a second shot at him.”
Middle had a surprise region qualifier in sophomore Sam Keppel at 157 pounds. Seeded fifth, Keppel upset No. 4 Clarence Mays of Cedar Creek by 9-4 decision in the quarterfinal before losing by third-period fall to top-seeded Khari Boulware of Schalick in the semifinals. Keppel became a region qualifier behind a 5-3 overtime victory over Woodstown’s Blake Wenzel.
Keppel has enjoyed a remarkable rise this season. He began it by wrestling at the junior varsity level but cracked the varsity lineup in late January after going 10-0 in JV matches. He had won seven of his 10 varsity bouts going into the district tournament.
“Sam found his way into the varsity lineup and he’s one of those kids who listens to every word you say and he finds ways to win,” Wolf said. “He had a bunch of exciting, close wins throughout the season and then he goes and wins an OT match for third. It’s an exciting moment anytime you qualify for regions.”