For athletes who have spent much of their lives dreaming of standing on top of the podium at the state wrestling championships in Atlantic City, there’s only one thing better than getting there.
“Winning two, that would be something special,” Delsea senior Billy Janzer said after capturing the Region 8 title Saturday night at Egg Harbor Township.
Janzer joins Kingsway’s Quinn Kinner and Gateway’s Antonio Mininno as South Jersey wrestlers on a special mission this weekend at Boardwalk Hall. They are trying to repeat as state champions.
All three are undefeated. All three are multiple-time Region 8 champions from Gloucester County high schools. All three are among the top seeds in their weight classes, with Janzer No. 1 at 182 pounds, Kinner No. 1 at 138, and Mininno No. 2 at 120.
“It just means I have to dig deeper,” Mininno said of winning a second state title. “I have to work even harder.”
Mininno (35-0) might be in the most-loaded weight class in the tournament, which will begin with Round of 32 action Friday afternoon. He is a defending state champion, winning the 113-pound title in 2017.
The top seed is Seneca’s Joe Manchio (40-0), another former state champion. He won the 106-pound state title as a sophomore in 2016 and suffered a knee injury while he was pursuing his second crown last season in Atlantic City.
And the third seed is Bergen Catholic’s Robert Howard (31-1), who lost a wild bout to Mininno in the state finals last year. Howard is ranked No. 1 in the nation in the weight class by Intermat, FloWrestling, and Openmat.
“I want it more than last year,” said Mininno, a Drexel recruit. “I want to show I can beat the No. 1 kid in the country. I want to prove that I should be there.”
Mininno said he doesn’t begrudge Howard his lofty national ranking, even though he defeated Howard last year.
“He definitely earned the spot,” said Minnino, who also beat Manchio in a dual-meet showdown last season. “But I want it just as bad as him. I want to prove I can win the toughest weight class in the state.”
Kinner (39-0), who mixes his competitive fire with a cerebral, celebratory approach to the sport, relishes the opportunity to wrestle for the last time on the first weekend in March in Boardwalk Hall. He has been a regular in the building since he was a preschool athlete.
“More than anything, for me it’s the love of the sport,” Kinner said.
Kinner’s weight class includes third-seeded JoJo Aragona (37-1) of Pope John, whose lone loss was to Kinner at the Beast of the East in December, and second-seeded Jake Benner (35-2) of Ocean, who won the 138-pound state title last season.
“I just love to wrestle,” said Kinner, an Ohio State recruit. “I love to wrestle the best, compete against the best. I can’t say it enough. This is the best sport in the world.”
Janzer (28-0), who won the 170-pound crown in 2017, knows that winning a second state title would put him in select company, both among South Jersey’s all-time best wrestlers and among the legends who haunt the hallways at Delsea.
“To be great at Delsea, you need to win two titles,” Janzer said. “That’s what I’m trying to do, to get to that level at my school.”
Janzer might face Collingswood’s Aaron Carter (33-4), the No. 4 seed, in Saturday night’s semifinals.
The bottom half of the bracket includes third-seeded Santino Morina (36-3) of Paulsboro, who lost two close bouts to Janzer this season and fell to second-seeded Josh McKenzie (17-0), one of the few wrestlers in the state who might be close to matching Janzer in upper-body strength.
“I’m hungrier than last year,” said Janzer, a Rutgers recruit. “I didn’t let that state title from last year go to my head. I stayed competitive. I focused on getting back and winning another one.”
Wrestling state championships
At Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
Round of 32, 2:30 p.m.
Round of 16, to follow
Wrestle-backs, 9 a.m.
Quarterfinals, 12:30 p.m.
Semifinals, 6 p.m.
Wrestle-backs, to follow
Wrestle-backs, 10 a.m.
3rd-, 5th-, 7th-place consolations, to follow
Finals, 3 p.m.