Nutley’s Toranzo continues comeback with Sam Cali wrestling title

Nutley’s Brandon Toranzo knew that the Sam Cali Battle for the Belt Tournament provided an opportunity to tell the New Jersey wrestling world that he was back after tearing the ACL in his left knee last February.

With four consecutive wins against of the state’s best heavyweights, Toranzo left no doubt that is still among the state’s best.

“This one was definitely a big step (for me), wrestling some guys who were state qualifiers last year and lost in the blood rounds,” said Toranzo. “I think this one allowed me just to put a statement out there that I’m back and I’m ready to go.”

On Wednesday, Toranzo, the sixth seed in the 16 wrestler field, pinned Tyler Bergeron of Ponaganest by pin at 1:41 before earning a 12-4 major decision over third-seeded Jack Tierney of Seton Hall Prep in the quarterfinals.

The next day, Toranzo returned to the campus of FDU-Madison and defeated second-seeded Connor Reynolds of St. Peter’s Prep by a 7-2 decision in the semifinals. Toranzo saved his best performance for last, dominating top-seeded Cameron Baumann of Voorhees with a 10-0 major decision.

Both Reynolds and Bauman were state tournament qualifiers, something Toranzo was a win short of reaching before suffering the ACL injury in the Region 3 semifinals.

“These kids weren’t just any pushovers. I just went out there and executed what I had to do, and I’ve just been training hard,” Toranzo said, calling these two days some of the best wrestling he’s done in his career. “That just proves how hard I’ve been working.”

When Toranzo learned of his seed, No. 6, for the Sam Cali, it gave the senior an added motivation.

“Oh that got me fired up, believe me,” Toranzo said. “When I saw I was a six seed, I kind of laughed it off, but it definitely bothered me inside a little bit knowing that there’s no way that I should be the six seed.

“I had to beat the three, the two and then the one. There’s no better way to just beat a bracket like that and win a belt.”

Last season, Toranzo was 40-0 before suffering the injury against Phillipsburg’s John Wargo. It left Toranzo, who had previously torn the ACL in his other knee, the feeling that he had left a golden opportunity on the table.

“I obviously didn’t end (the season) the way I wanted to. I feel like I had so much more left in the tank,” said Toranzo. “So over this whole offseason, I’ve just been training and working hard and I feel like I have so much to prove.

Following the injury and surgery, Toranzo initially tried to return to the mat in September, but admitted he felt like he wasn’t ready at the time. By the end of October, he felt ready to go.

Toranzo opened this season with six consecutive wins, three of them coming at the Garfield Holiday Tournament where he was named Most Outstanding Wrestler.

While Toranzo was at the Sam Cali, his Nutley teammates were at the Rahway Holiday Tournament. Three Maroon Raiders – Christopher Cifelli at 106 pounds, Antonio Maiden at 132 and Aidan Rotbaum at 150 – won first place at their respective weight classes. Jacob Harlow (120 pounds), Trace Castellanos (157) and Sean Vilchez (175) finished second and as a team, Nutley finished third in the standings.

Also on Thursday, Lyndhurst-North Arlington won three gold medals at the East Brunswick Bear Invitational. Evan McNeil took first place at 113 pounds, earning three-straight early pins on the way to the title. Nate Boyd claimed first at 120 pounds and Kieran McNeill won the title at 132 pounds.

At the John Goles Tournament in Warren, Kearny’s Joshua Baez took gold at 138 pounds, pinning Hopewell Valley’s Luke Caldwell at 1:12. The senior won three matches by pin in a dominant performance.

On Wednesday, Bloomfield held its Girls Wrestling Jamboree with several local wrestlers going undefeated at the event, which featured 10 schools, including Bloomfield, Belleville and Nutley.

Izzy Timonera (100 pounds), Isabella Bobadilla (126), Kiatlyn Aguilar (165) and Carina Rivera (185) all went 2-0 on the day, as did Bloomfield’s Natalie Lopez at 107.

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)