ATLANTIC CITY _ For Sydney Petzinger, it was a classically-trained performance for the ages.
Parsippany's Petzinger, showing the technique of an artist like Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo or Rembrandt or a painter and sculptor like Pablo Picasso or a musical composer like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven, wove a beautifully-styled mastery of her craft on the mats at Boardwalk Hall.
A 15-year-old sophomore, Petzinger earned the 100-pound gold medal Saturday, March 2 with a dominating performance in the state tournament girls wrestling finals as she powered to a 10-0 major decision verdict over Allentown's Jasmine Aizley.
This was the first-ever state tournament in New Jersey history as the Garden State, under the auspices of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), became only the 12th state in the country and the first in the Northeast to certify girls wrestling as a varsity sport in September of 2018.
Petzinger (20-0) had polished off a pin in 2:57 over Annmarie Lebron of Pennsauken in the semifinals on Friday to advance to the state final, becoming the first girl wrestler in New Jersey history to do so.
Two weeks ago at Red Bank Regional High School, Petzinger became the initial region champion in New Jersey girls wrestling history when she pinned Belleville's Alisa Safforld in 4:22 in the North Region final. Earlier in that tournament, the masterful Petzinger had taken down Secaucus' Breanna Cervantes for a fall in 1:37 in the quarterfinals and packed Fair Lawn's Elle Sumarokov in 1:01 in the regional semifinals.
"I'm very proud and satisfied to be able to participate and then win a championship in the first state tournament ever," said Petzinger. "It was really amazing out there and I was confident I would come home with a title. It seemed a little different, though, to do it by competing against a teammate."
Petzinger and Aizley of the Allentown Redbirds from the Monmouth County school are both members of Team New Jersey, an all-star wrestling team for cadets and junior nationals, that competed in Fargo, N.D., last summer and will again this summer. They never wrestled each other. They only warmed up and practiced together.
"(Aizley) was strong in her lower body and also was quick on her feet," said Petzinger about her friend and opponent and their first bout against each other. "I was able to get a right arm bar in after at the end of the second period and almost got a pin and then, basically, I was able to control her the entire third period."
Petzinger was crowned the third state girls wrestling champion in New Jersey history. The finals format is determined by a random lottery selection of which weight will be run first. In the girls it was the 185-pound class with 235 pounds going second and then Petzinger and Aizley, a junior, going third at 100 pounds.
The first New Jersey girls state wrestling champion was Teaneck senior 185-pounder Erin Emery. Emery, a three-time USA national champion who took up the sport at the age of 6, pinned junior Mia Lazaurs of Raritan in Monmouth County's Hazlet in 2:47 in the championship bout.
For four years, Emery has been part of the Teaneck boys team and has registered 40 wins during that time. For her first three years, as an upper-weight competitor, she had to face a lot of powerfully built football linemen in her team workouts and also against opponents.
Among the spectators that was part of the crowd of 41,971 over the three days starting Thursday of the event was the last Teaneck boys state champion, Robert Willman, who won the title as a senior in 1967, defeating Dale Baldwin of Washington, now Warren Hills, in the 178-pound final at Asbury Park's Convention Hall, 2-1.
Willman was rooting for Emery to end the Highwaymen's (and now Highwaywomen's) individual state championship wrestling drought that extended for 52 years before the title Sunday.
Teaneck had won the first 20 individual state wrestling championships in Bergen County history, dating back to Ludlow Gibbons and, that same year, Highwayman Ken Brown won at heavyweight. Teaneck was actually such a power that it hosted the state tournament in 1939 and 1940 and won the team tournament part of the event for three straight years from 1938 through 1940 before that part of the states was discontinued after the 1960 season. The Highwaymen's 27th individual state title was Willman's before Emery brought home the 28th after a more than half-century absence from the Teaneck trophy case.
Willman, a former baseball player and now a paraprofessional for the Atlantic City Board of Education, gave Emery a pep talk before her match and Emery was happy for the useful advice from her fellow state champion. Emery is also a soccer player and a softball player who will start practice soon for the diamond sport.
Another softball player who earned a state title was Rancocas Valley junior Kaila Mungo, who decisioned freshman Kiera Hubmaster of Kittatinny, 2-1, in a tiebreaker after the two had been tied, 1-1, after three periods. Mungo became the second Rancocas Valley champion in state wrestling history, joining Eric Church, who accomplished the feat in 1988. Mungo stayed even with Hubmaster for the first 30 seconds of the overtime stanza, rode her Sussex County opponent out in the second 30-second period then, in the third 30-second extra time session, earned an escape point for the narrow victory.
The Red Devils' Mungo (16-1) from the Burlington County school had come out for the sport and been introduced to it only four months before in December to keep in shape with some of her teammates for the softball season.
Hubmaster, the top seed in the bracket who at 177 pounds was giving away approximately 50 pounds in weight to her South Jersey opponent, had won the North Region two weeks ago, while Mungo was forced to win four wrestleback bouts at the Regions to advance as a third seed at the states. Mungo had earned a 10-2 major decision victory over Elise Harrison of Dwight Morrow of Englewood in the quarterfinals on Friday before pinning second-seeded and South Region champion Joelle Klein of Lower Cape May in extra time in seven minutes in the semifinals on Saturday.
The Cougars' Hubmaster (3-1) from Sussex County consoled herself after being edged by running to the south portico loading dock of the Hall - where many of the other second place girls and boys went after their matches.
Besides Petzinger, also competing from Parsippany High School was senior Hailey Budney (11-3), the North Region champion at 136 pounds. Budney finished fifth at 136 pounds, falling to eventual champion, sophomore Jesse Johnson of Manalapan, 2-0 in the state quarterfinals on Friday. The unseeded Johnson, who was upset in the Regional finals, became the fifth state champion in Manalapan history when she pinned the girl she lost to at the South Region semifinals, America Garay of Manasquan in 2:18 in the state semifinals and then pinned Jaala Williams of Montclair in 1:39 in the state final. Johnson got into the sport through competing at jiu-jitsu (her father is a black belt teacher).
Budney, who will wrestle at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky. next season, was edged by Veronica Whitacre of Monroe Township, 3-1, in sudden victory No. 1 in the consolation semifinals wrestleback bracket before defeating Garay, by an 11-2 major decision in the consolation fifth/sixth place bout.
"They were both very defensive-oriented bouts," said Parsippany coach Joe Dasti of Budney's two narrow defeats. "She was very competitive and just came up a little short. I think she has a bright future."
Budney had lost to Whitacre, 2-1, in the North Region 136-pound final two weeks ago. Dasti, a former wrestling and baseball standout at Governor Livingston High School in Union County's Berkeley Heights, made it to the pre-quarterfinal round at the 1982 state tournament and the quarterfinal round at the 1983 state tournament, both at 101 pounds at Princeton University's Jadwin Gym.
Dasti also had plenty of praise for Petzinger.
"Sydney wrestled aggressively and smart and is very tough to score points against," said Dasti. "She knows when to go on the offense and when to stay on defense. She has a great deal of talent and spirit."
Petzinger becomes the first Morris County girls state wrestling in history and the third Parsippany High School wrestler to earn a state crown. Heavyweight Roy Baker won the heavyweight championship over Greg Freaney of New Providence, 9-2, in 1970 at Princeton and Mike Codella at 141 pounds won the state championship over Phillipsburg's Mike Barna, 8-7, in 1983, also at Princeton University's Jadwin Gym. Both were under legendary coach Gary Vittorio, now retired. Petzinger becomes, along with Baker and Codella, only the third person from Parsippany to win a state tournament wrestling gold medal.
Petzinger, who competes in many national tournaments, including Irving, TX last year, has heard some question her grappling abilities, along with her mother Ronnie, who has heard the same thing at some tournaments. People say that she should not be wrestling against or with the boys. But that was proved wrong emphatically. Petzinger also wrestled in Irving, TX in a national tournament last year.
Also overcoming gender prejudice was second-seeded senior Bella Serrano of Manasquan, who won the 111-pound title over top-seeded junior Daniela Tacuri of West Orange, 6-4, in overtime. Serrano becomes the first Manasquan wrestler ever to win a state championship.
The boys on her own team questioned her chances to do well at Atlantic City and Serrano says she will "laugh in their faces" this week after claiming the state crown with a come-from-behind victory. She came from behind to win the match in the final and is a jiu-jitsu, judo and mixed martial arts veteran.
Junior No. 1 seed Jewel Gonzalez (14-0) of Phillipsburg was named Most Outstanding Wrestler of the State tournament, pinning senior Diane Johnson of Millville in 53 seconds in the 161-pound state final. In the semifinals, Gonzalez pinned Bri Simic of High Point in 1:02. Gonzalez pinned all her opponents in the first period this season, most in one minute or less. She also won the North Region MOW two weeks ago at Red Bank Regional High School.
Gonzalez became the first Stateliners state champion since senior Brandon Hull won at 220 pounds for Phillipsburg in 2012, defeating Lex Knapp of Lacey Township in the state final. Gonzalez is also the second P-burg wrestler in 23 years to claim a state crown with Tim Moore at 130 pounds and Mark DeFrancesco at 189 pounds winning in 1996.
Gonzalez is the 34th wrestler in Phillipsburg history to win the state crown and will have a spot on the wrestling wall practice room at the school.
Winning the 105-pound crown was Princeton High School sophomore Chloe Ayres. She earned a 13-2 major decision victory over junior top-seeded Randi Miley (3-1) of High Point in the final. Ayres (11-0), the South Region Most Outstanding Wrestler two weeks ago, was the second seed and won a 14-6 major decision over Isabel Saire of Rahway in the semifinals. She becomes the first Princeton wrestler ever to win a state final and the first ever to advance to a state championship bout.
Ayres is the daughter of Chris Ayres, the head wrestling head coach of the Princeton University men's team. He also was a former standout at Newton High School and Blair Academy in Blairstown and also a multiple-year all-American at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. and an assistant coach at Lehigh.
The elder Ayres is now in his 13th year at Ivy and national power Princeton University. He and his wife, Lori, were instrumental in convincing New Jersey to offer varsity wrestling as a girls varsity sport this season in 2018-2019, along with NJSIAA assistant director Bill Bruno (in charge of wrestling for the association) and NJSIAA executive director Larry White.
Other girls state champions were Raritan freshman top-seeded Cristine Gavasheli (4-0) at 118 pounds, pinning second-seeded Angelina Romero of Notre Dame of Lawrenceville in Mercer County in 2:36 in the final round. Gavasheli has six years training in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competition.
Winning at 127 pounds was junior top-seeded Stephanie Andrade (4-1) of Hunterdon Central, who pinned second-seeded senior Kayla Gregory (3-2) of Jackson Memorial in 1:48 in the finals. Andrade, a seven-year wrestling veteran, becomes at least the 10th Hunterdon Central wrestler in history to win a state championship.
Taking the gold medal at 147 pounds was unseeded freshman Gabby Miller (4-1) of Monroe Township, who defeated top-seeded North Bergen freshman Amanda Pace, 6-3, in the finals. Miller had been pinned by Pace in 3:22 in the North Region final two weeks ago. But she was determined - and made good on - a different result in the biggest match of her career.
There's already speculation that more than 1,000 girls will come out for wrestling next season. After seeing the spectacle at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, that may just be underestimating the interest in the sport.
Focus. Determination. Energy. Power. Speed. Focus. The girls showed they have just as much of it as the boys on the mats. And then some.