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Local trio seeking gold at state finals

Kayla Vazquez of Kinnelon is headed back to Atlantic City for the Girls Wrestling State Tournament finals. Photo courtesy of Kayla Vasquez Kayla Vazquez of Kinnelon is headed back to Atlantic City for the Girls Wrestling State Tournament finals.
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PHILLIPSBURG _  Sparta's Paige Weiss, Kinnelon's Kayla Vazquez and Newton/Kittatinny's Liliana Zaku-Ramos all made the penultimate step to mat glory on Sunday, Feb. 26. Next comes the biggest stage of all, the New Jersey State Girls Wrestling Finals on Saturday, March 4 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

The Northwest Jersey triple-threat troika of Weiss at 100 pounds, Vazquez at 132 pounds and Zaku-Ramos at 126 pounds all won their state tournament semifinal bouts at Phillipsburg High School on Feb. 26 and need one more win down in Atlantic City next weekend to mine a gold medal.

Weiss, a freshman, will face senior and a runner-up in the 107-pound state final a year ago, Theresa Zeppetelli of Bogota/Ridgefield Park, in the 100-pound state final and Vazquez, a junior, will be pitted against a returning state champion in senior Maya Hemo of Cherry Hill East in the 132-pound final. Braves/Cougars junior Zaku-Ramos most probably has the toughest task of the three locals as she will go up against three-time defending state champion senior Kiara Pipkins of Bloomfield - seeking to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive girls wrestling state crown - in the 126-pound final.

The second-seeded Weiss pinned 15th-seeded sophomore Rihanna Allas of Warren Hills in 1:16 in the 100-pound pre-quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, the Spartans' frosh sensation decisioned seventh-seeded sophomore Kloi Tighe of Gloucester, 4-0. In the semifinals former state champion, third-seeded senior Isabella Santos of Elizabeth, was pinned in 4:33 by Weiss as she advanced to the final against Zeppetelli.

Zeppetelli, the top seed moving down one weight class from a year ago, had a bye in the first round before pinning eighth-seeded freshman Princessstorm Woody of Trenton Central in 2:42 in the 100-pound quarterfinals.In the semifinals, Zeppetelli pinned senior Madeline Gavares of Old Bridge in 43 seconds.

The third-seeded Vazquez, a junior, was 2-0 in her freshman year against her opponent in the 132-pound final. Kinnelon's Vazquez took a 10-0 major decision over sixth-seeded senior Paisley Fox of Hunterdon Central in the quarterfinals and then decisioned second-seeded junior Olivia Palmer of Timber Creek, 6-2, in the semifinals. Hemo, the senior top seed, got a bye in the pre-quarterfinals, then claimed an 8-0 major decision over ninth-seeded sophomore Danna Ramirez of Ocean City in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Hemo pinned 13th-seeded sophomore Dalia Tsyrlin of Fair Lawn in 3:12.

Pipkins, who will be going for a four-peat, got a bye in the first round. She then pinned eighth-seeded junior Emma Sagi of Old Bridge in 3:44 in the quarterfinals and won a 10-2 major decision over fourth-seeded senior Stacy Bloomfield of Glen Ridge in the 126-pound semifinals.

Pipkins' opponent, Newton/Kittatinny's second-seeded junior Zaku-Ramos, also got a bye in the pre-quarterfinals. She pinned seventh-seeded sophomore Natalie Tucker of Vernon in 2:49 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Zaku-Ramos pinned sixth-seeded senior Jackeline Oviedo of Mainland Regional in 2:27 to set up her biggest match ever against the Bloomfield Bengals' superb Pipkins in the 126-pound final on Saturday.

Girls high school wrestling is in its fifth season and it has certainly grown as evidenced by the full house at Phillipsburg for the state tournament pre-quarterfinals, quarterfinals and semifinals.

In a truly heroic performance, Morris Hills senior and third seeded Kyara Montoya finished out her stellar career with a flourish, taking a bronze medal at 120 pounds.

Overcoming several significant bumps and bruises, Montoya pinned fifth-seeded freshman Reagan Roxas of Kingsway in 4:12 in the third place/fourth place consolation bout to earn her bronze. After a bye in the pre-quarterfinals the third-seeded Montoya pinned freshman and sixth-seeded Briana Dugo of Jackson Memorial in 1:33 in the quarterfinals then was pinned by second-seeded junior Valerie Maldonado of Somerville in 5:44 in the semifinals.

In the wrestleback consolation semifinals, Montoya pinned fourth-seeded senior Amanda Connors of Northern Highlands in 2:35. In 2022, Montoya suffered a seizure and had to injury default against South Plainfield's Eva Altamirano in the 132-pound North region semifinals at FranklinTownship High School.

As a sophomore in 2021, Montoya lost to Northern Highlands' Connors, 7-3,in the 128 pounds fifth/sixth place state tournament bout. When she was a freshman, Montoya advanced to the state tournament third/fourth place bout where she was beaten by injury default to Trenton Central's Karielys Reyes.

"I'm really proud of what I accomplished in my four years here at Morris Hills," said Montoya, a resident of Wharton. "I won several conference championships and other tournament titles during that time. This is a really great, tough, sport, and I'm glad I gave it my all here for four years. It was a great experience with my teammates and my coaches and everyone associated with the program."

On Jan. 22 at Rockland County Community College in Suffern, N.Y., Montoya was pinned in 5:20 in the 120-pound final by Cedar Creek's Riley Lerner in the Bergen County Invitational. Lerner, a junior with 29 victories, will appear in her third straight state final. Lerner is the top seed at the 120-pound state final and will oppose Somerville's Maldonado for that weight class' championship.

Boonton's sixth-seeded sophomore Samira Kupa earned a bronze medal at 145 pounds and fellow Bomber fourth-seeded sophomore Julia Fongaro rallied to claim fourth place at 132 pounds at the Bergen Tourney. In the pre-quarterfinals, Kupa pinned 11th-seeded junior Victoria Gin of Raritan Regional in 20 seconds. In the quarterfinals, Kupa had another quick bout, taking down third-seeded sophomore Isabella Prem of Lenape Regional in 59 seconds.

In the semifinals, Kupa was decisioned by second-seeded sophomore Saniyah Queen of St. Thomas Aquinas of Edison, 11-8. Then in the consolation semifinals Kupa pinned ninth-seeded sophomore Samantha Henrich of Southern Regional of Manahawkin in 17 seconds and garnereed the bronze when she pinned seventh-seeded sophomore Thea Rowland of Middletown South in 53 seconds in the third place/fourth place consolation bout.

"I just wanted to hang in there and do the best that I could," said Kupa, who came back from 11-2 down against Queen with six points, four of the bonus variety in the final period, to make Queen sweat to earn her bout in the finals on Saturday. "I'm quite happy with the way the year has went and I expect to get better and stronger as a junior next year."

Fongaro, who as a freshman, lost to Cherry Hill East's Hemo by a pin in 5:32 after leading 1-0 early in the third period a year ago in the 126-pound state final, pinned by second-seeded junior Olivia Palmer of Timber Creek in 2:55 in the third-place 132-pound consolation bout this year.

In the first round of the tournament the fourth-seeded Fongaro was pinned by 13th-seeded sophomore Dalia Tsyrlin of Fair Lawn in 5:25. Fongaro came back to edge sixth-seeded senior Paisley Fox of Hunterdon Central, 2-1, on the consolation second round then won by injury default over seventh-seeded sophomore Rosabella Kearns of Freehold Township in the consolation quarterfinals.
Fongaro then avenged her loss to Tsyrlin by defeating the Cutter wrestler, 16-9, in the consolation semifinals before the loss to Palmer in the bronze medal bout.

"Overall, I was happy with the way everything turned out. (Tsyrlin) just kind of caught me in that opening round, but then I came back and reversed the score," said Fongaro. "I get a lot of help from my brothers (Joe, a state champion in 2022, only the second Boonton wrestler ever to accomplish that feat and Dan, a top-five state finisher) and I'm looking forward to going down to the states again the next two years, too. It's been an exciting time."

Other top eight finishers from North Jersey include seventh place and fourth--seeded senior Olivia Klein of Paramus at 100 pounds, a state champion last year at that same weight class, eighth place and eighth-seeded junior Gianna Simeone of Newton/Kittatinny at 107 pounds, sixth place and fifth-seeded sophomore Ava Krzyzalski of Lyndhurst/North Arlington at 114 pounds and also at 114 pounds seventh place and sixth-seeded junior Ahlexa Montalvo of Bloomfield. Paige Kirk, a fourth-seeded junior from Ramsey, took eighth at 114 pounds.
At 120 pounds senior Amanda Connors of Northern Highlands took fifth place as the fourth seed.

Senior Stacy Bloomfield of Glen Ridge was fourth as the No. 4 seed and junior Catherine Weigel of Rutherford was sixth as the 13th seed at 126 pounds.

At 138 pounds, senior Maura White of Jefferson won a bronze medal as the third seed, junior Kayla Franson of Paramus was fourth as the sixth seed and senior Carney Wyble of High Point was eighth as the seventh seed. Top-seeded senior Taylor Peterson of Garfield was sixth at 145 pounds.

At 152 pounds, sophomore and fourth-seed Emma Mees of Paramus won a bronze medal. Junior and second-seed Kailin Lee of Newton/Kittatinny was fifth at 165 pounds and sophomore and eighth-seeded Rene Prochillo of Bloomfield was eighth at that same weight class.

Sophomore and third-seeded Caitlin Hart of Vernon won a bronze medal at 185 pounds, seventh-seeded junior Olivia Raia of Warren Hills was fourth at 185 and eleventh-seeded freshman Saharia Quamina of Bloomfield was seventh at 185.

At 235 pounds. fifth-seeded sophomore Talisha Lewis of Bayonne took a bronze medal and fourth-seeded senior Allison Brandt of Vernon claimed fourth place. Junior Alissa Alcindor of Union, the sixth seed, took sixth place at 235 pounds.

Other finals Saturday at Boardwalk Hall will match fourth-seeded freshman Marlowe Donato of Jackson Memorial vs. sixth-seeded junior Leeana Mercado of Lodi at 107 pounds, third-seeded junior Lennix Horsburgh of Bound Brook vs. top-seeded senior Ava Rose of Princeton at 114 pounds.

At 138 pounds, second-seeded senior Kamila Bieszczad of Jackson Memorial will square off against top-seeded senior Jayla Hahn (25-0) of Southern Regional of Manahawkin, a state champion at 143 pounds as a sophomore at Lakewood High School in 2021 and a four-time regional champion. And at 145 pounds fifth-seeded freshman Olivia Georges of DePaul Catholic in Wayne will go against second-seeded sophomore Saniyah Queen of St. Thomas Aquinas in Edison.

In the 152-pound final, top-seeded sophomore Kamila Castro of Ridgewood will face second-seeded senior and defending state champion Jenna Filieri of Immaculate Conception of Lodi.

"I just never stopped being aggressive," said Castro, who fell behind 6-2 before earning a hard-fought 10-6 decision verdict in the 152-pound semifinal against fourth-seeded sophomore Emma Mees of Paramus, who won the bronze medal at this weight class. "I was calm even when I was down because I knew I could come back. I am looking forward to a good match in the state final Saturday. This has been a great experience."

"Kamila is a battler," said veteran Ridgewood coach Torre Watson. "Even when she was behind Kamila was confident in a quality comeback."

At 165 pounds, fourth-seeded senior Savanna Marlin of Rancocas Valley will take on third-seeded sophomore Ari Tyson of Cherry Hill West. In the 185-pound final freshman Jade Hahn of Donovan Catholic of Toms River, Jayla Hahn of Southern Regional's sister, will take on second-seeded senior Apryl Coffman of St. Thomas Aquinas of Edison.

And in the 235-pound final, third-seeded junior Shellitha Collins of Ewing will take on eighth-seeded sophomore Caroline Biegel of Lakeland Regional.

Last modified onThursday, 02 March 2023 14:30

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