Left photo by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors, right photo by Tom McGurk
As the high school season winds down, we only have a few state tournaments left, but the ones that did wrestle this weekend were some of the best. With traditional power states such as California and New Jersey in action, there were bound to be upsets that took place, due to the depth of talent at most weight classes. We will guide you through some of the most significant upsets of the weekend.
New Jersey 138 lb Semifinals – Jake Benner (Ocean Township) over Jojo Aragona (Pope John XXIII) 4-1
Though he was the defending state champion at 138 lbs, 16th ranked Jake Benner still could have been considered an underdog against fourth-ranked Jojo Aragona. Benner withstood Aragona’s hand fighting and physicality throughout the entire match. In the closing seconds of the first period, Benner was close to getting a takedown from a shrug. He finally did get on the scoreboard first with a three-point cross-wrist tilt in the second stanza. In the third, Aragona did not attempt to wrestle with Jake on the mat and gave an escape, which allowed Benner to cruise to victory and advance to the state finals.
California 170 lb Round of 16 – Russell Rucklos (Foothill) over Christian Rodriguez (Selma) 5-4
While Selma junior Christian Rodriguez did not have a national ranking, he did enter the California state championships as the tournament’s top-seeded 170 lber. His opponent in the round of 16 was coincidentally the 16th seed Russell Rucklos. During the 2017-18 season, Rodriguez had not lost to a California opponent and also had a previous win over Rucklos at the Doc Buchanan Invitational. From the outset, it appeared that the match would go the way of the top-ranked Rodriguez. He scored two early points with a takedown and proceeded to ride Rucklos for the duration of the first period. The tide started to turn in the second as Russell earned two back points when he caught his opponent during a half-hearted switch attempt. The deciding points were obtained in the third, when the underdog from Foothill used his leverage to his advantage, scoring a takedown in a whizzer situation. Rodriguez’s fate was sealed when he could not escape after being taken down, though he was very close to a reversal as time expired.
Rucklos was able to carry this momentum into a trip to the semifinals where he was finally knocked off by Oakdale’s Gabe Martinez. Rodriguez was able to get a small measure of revenge in the consolation semifinals when he ran into Rucklos again and this time came away with a 5-3 victory. Rucklos fell to sixth place, while Rodriguez finished third.
California 132 lb Quarterfinals – Lajon Grier (Clovis North) over Chase Zollman (Poway) 5-4
One of the most matches I anticipated seeing the most at this tournament was between third ranked Jesse Vasquez of Santiago and ninth-ranked Chase Zollman. As can often be the case, it didn’t happen because the tournament’s 10th seed Lajon Grier pulled one of the event’s bigger shockers. It appeared to be business as usual for Zollman after a takedown in the first period. However, the tide started to turn in the second period when Zollman was reversed during a crab ride. In that sequence, Grier nearly scored back points as well. Trailing by one with only five seconds left in the match, Grier shot a high crotch and was able to secure the two-point takedown as the clock hit zeros. In the semifinals, Grier could not pull off another upset and fell to 15th ranked Alex Felix, then proceeded to drop another match before placing fifth. Zollman picked himself up to take the bronze medal, however, unlike the Rodrguez/Rucklos match, he did not get a shot at redemption.
Florida 3A 145 lb Semifinals – Johnny Lovett (Miami Southridge) over Grant Aronoff (St. Thomas Aquinas) 8-6SV
Sixth-ranked, two-time Florida state champion Grant Aronoff was attempting to win his third title but was rudely interrupted by junior Johnny Lovett. From the opening whistle, Lovett displayed a strong motor and high pace, which was ultimately too much for Aronoff. Johnny took the early lead with a punishing double leg, but Aronoff responded and eventually led 4-2 heading into the third period. With seven seconds remaining in regulation, Lovett shot a low single, won the ensuing scramble and nearly ended the match in regulation with back points. The referee started counting near fall as the buzzer sounded. In the final moments of sudden victory overtime, Lovett drove into Aronoff with underhooks and threw them by for a takedown with one tick remaining on the clock. Though he pulled a tremendous upset, the Southridge grappler had not finished the job. Lovett needed an escape in the ultimate tiebreaker over Hagerty’s Devin Kohn to complete his run to a state championship.
New Jersey 132 lb Semifinals – Lucas Revano (Camden Catholic) over Nick Raimo (Hanover Park) 3-2
Technically, Lucas Revano could be on this list with two separate upsets. His first and most notable occurred in the semifinals against a then-undefeated, fourth-ranked Nick Raimo. Revano started the match aggressively, scoring a takedown within the first 30 seconds of the bout, and never looked back. He continued to attempt to add to his lead and was dangerously close to a second takedown, which was waved off by the second referee after being awarded by the head official. Lucas’ decision to stay offensive almost led to him giving up a takedown with 18 seconds left in the match when Raimo got in deep off a reshot. The Hanover Park grappler had no quit him and furiously attacked until the final seconds when he got behind Revano on the edge of the match with a shuck by. Once again, the head official awarded Raimo the go-ahead takedown, only to be waved off by his assistant.
In the state final, Revano took the title with a 4-3 decision over Howell’s Kyle Slendorn, a wrestler that spent the majority of the 2017-18 season in the national rankings.