Expectations high for Bears’ wrestlers in state tournament

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By Jimmy Allinder

It’s been a decade since the East Brunswick High School wrestling team won as many dual meets as it did this season.

The Bears finished 17-9, but 2017 might best be remembered for what happens in the state tournament. East Brunswick could send as many as four competitors to the state championships March 3-5 in Atlantic City next month — a worthy achievement for even the best teams in New Jersey.

They are junior Mitch Polito (24-0 at 113 pounds), senior Mark Schleifer (28-2 at 120/126), senior Alec Gleason (27-3 at 126/132) and senior Jason Minikel (22-2 at 170/182).

Polito has 12 pins, and his only close match was a 3-2 decision over Perth Amboy High School’s Jose Pacheco early in the season. Schleifer has 10 falls, and both losses came against 2016 qualifiers.

Gleason has registered 11 pins, and Minikel is the team leader in falls with 13. Both losses have been against 2016 qualifiers.

East Brunswick qualified for the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V team sectional Feb. 6 but was eliminated in the first round by Edison High School, 34-30.

The Bears capped the regular season at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Quad Meet Feb. 11 by defeating the host team, 48-30, Spotswood High School, 68-9, and North Plainfield High School, 53-24.

Up next for East Brunswick is the state tournament, beginning with District 18 competition Feb. 17 and 18 at Red Bank Regional High School. The Bears will join eight squads for the first of two tournaments that determines who earns a trip to Atlantic City. A participant needs to place first, second or third to move on to the regionals Feb. 22-24 at Brick Memorial High School. First through third medalists then earn a trip to the state finals.

“I thought the team performed well with [regular-season] wins over Old Bridge [High School], New Brunswick [High School] and Edison — all state tournament qualifiers,” said Bears coach, Matt Pazinko. “If we had won some close matches in our state match [against Edison], we would have come out on top.”

A generation ago, East Brunswick was once a top tier conference team, and Pazinko believes it’s possible to return to that level. That won’t happen until the Bears can send top contenders to the mat in all 14 weight classes.

“Depth has never been a problem because we haven’t forfeited any matches,” he said. “However, the best teams are stocked with outstanding wrestlers throughout the lineup, and that’s where they rack up points. That’s our goal.”

Lack of point production after the top four was why the Bears didn’t prevail against GMC rivals, including South Plainfield High School, Monroe Township High School and Piscataway Township High School.

Only seniors Matt Wendell (15-12 at 106), Trent Stocki (18-8 at 138) and Taylor Tiongson (17-14 at 220/285) are regulars starters above .500, while junior Mina Meshriky is 14-14 at 160. Junior Damien Ruiz is 6-4 at 220 when Tiongson moves up to 285.

“I’m predicting Mitch makes it through to Atlantic City and is seeded among the top four,” Pazinko said. “Mark’s losses have been to wrestlers who placed second and fifth last year (Joe Heilmann of South Plainfield in the GMC Tournament and Nicholas Raimo of Hanover Park High School), and Alec’s defeats have been to 2016 qualifiers (Lou Raimo of Hanover Park and Chris Scorese of Cranford High School).

“Jason has had a strong season after missing much of last season due to injury. I think he could make noise in the regions.”

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