For Brandon Toranzo, the only surprise of last week’s Essex County Tournament was the announcement of being selected as Most Outstanding Wrestler. Everything leading up to that on Thursday night was everything he and everyone else that went to Codey Arena the previous two evenings had expected.
For the second year in a row, the Nutley heavyweight steamrolled the competition in the 285-pound bracket to repeat as county champion.
Toranzo, who a year ago became the first Nutley wrestler to ever win OW, is now the first in recent memory to be a multi-time OW in the prestigious tournament’s history.
“That was a great feeling. I wasn’t sure if I was going to win (OW) because I got a major decision in the finals even though I felt like I did have a dominant tournament,” Toranzo said. “I didn’t expect to get it back to back years. So when I did get my name called, I was pretty surprised about it. It’s a really cool feeling that I get to leave my mark on Nutley like that.”
Knowing that he was set to wrestle four times in two days, Toranzo made sure to make quick work of his opponents on Wednesday’s first night, pinning Lekhi Bryant of St. Benedict’s in 28 seconds in the first round, then pinning Orange’s Delano Stirrell in just seven seconds in the quarterfinals.
The lighter workload on night one, proved beneficial on Thursday night. In the semifinals, Toranzo pinned Verona’s John Stockelberg in 3:35. Then, in the final, Toranzo was matched up with a familiar foe in Seton Hall Prep’s Jack Tierney. Toranzo, who defeated Tierney at the Sam Cali Battle for the Belt Tournament as well as in a dual meet, once again was victorious by major decision, this time winning 15-4.
“Jack is definitely a tough heavyweight, it’s my fourth time competing against him,” said Toranzo, who is now 22-0 on the season. “And you can tell we both kind of know how each other wrestle. So I always have to bring a different aspect to my game when I wrestle him. I was just working on new stuff this time around to score more points.”
“He’s always dominant,” head coach Mike DiPiano said. “As a head coach I’ve had great, great teams and great individuals. I’ve had national prep champions, I’ve had people place top three at the Beasts of the East. Brandon works just as hard, if not harder than any kid I have ever coached so it does not surprise me that we are where we’re at with him.”
While Toranzo’s wrestling stole the show, it was hardly the only big performance by a Maroon Raider. In total, seven Nutley wrestlers placed among the top eight in their respective weight classes, the most in recent memory, allowing Nutley to finish a strong fourth place in the team standings.
“Our goal was to place in the top five,” said DiPiano. “We want to compete with the best and this week, we were considered one of the best and that’s a testament to how we work.”
Sophomore Chris Cifelli led the contingent of underclassmen by placing third at 106 pounds. Two of Nutley’s promising freshmen, Antonio Miaden at 132 pounds and Aidan Rotbaum at 150, each finished fourth in their respective weight classes.
Sophomores Jacob Harlow and Patrick Chell finished sixth at 120 and 126 pounds respectively, and freshman Jack Finklestein took seventh at 113.
“We sped up the process this week. Toranzo was the only senior of the group. The other six guys were freshmen and sophomores. Having six freshmen and sophomores finishing in the top eight is a big deal for us.”
For DiPiano, the rapid growth of these underclassmen is a testament to their work as well as the tireless efforts of assistant coaches Nicky Ritacco, Sabino Coppola, Aaron Dunn, Neals Pucillo and Ralphie DiPasquale
“They’re the best staff around,” DiPiano said. “They work so hard and we are who we are because of this staff! I am extremely lucky to have them by my side!”
Belleville had a pair of wrestlers finish on the ECT podium. Standout senior Jakob Ferrer took second at 113 pounds. Ferrer, who opened the season with 21 consecutive wins, fell just short of a county title, losing an 8-4 decision to Seton Hall Prep’s Anthony Pellegrino.
Another Bucs senior, Leo Tiankee, took third place at 126 pounds.
Bloomfield had four wrestlers finish in the top eight. Michael Hamberlin (144 pounds) and Trevor Frantantoni (175) each finished in sixth place. Nick Kopacz (106 pounds) and Ayden Fox (215) took home seventh place in their respective weight classes.
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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 (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)