Nutley’s Toranzo caps off historic HS wrestling career, takes 3rd in AC

The pain from Friday night’s semifinal still remained, but Brandon Toranzo wasn’t going to let one loss ruin what has been an otherwise historic season.

So on Saturday morning, just hours after seeing his state title dreams dashed in the semifinals, the Nutley senior went back out there and capped off his stellar career with two more victories.

First, Toranzo beat Paramus’ Daniel Elyash by a 4-3 decision in the wrestleback semifinals. Toranzo followed it up with a 3-2 decision over Benji Shue of Bergen Catholic to take home third place in the 285 pound weight class this weekend at the NJSIAA State Wrestling Championship in Atlantic City.

Toranzo’s third place finish is the highest by a Nutley wrestler in 43 years and caps off an incredible 46-1 record this season.

“It was definitely a (bad) feeling all night. I tried not to think about it, but how could you not?” Toranzo said about the hours following his loss in the semifinals to Delbarton’s Connor Martin. “I just had to tell myself that I owe it to myself to wrestle my way back to third or fourth place. I couldn’t just give up now, even though half of you want to give up because you know you’re officially not going to be in the state championship and that’s what I was working for the whole time. But I owed it to myself to keep persevering through it.”

In a tournament that pushes wrestlers more than any other physically, Saturday’s two matches showed a level of mental toughness. Head coach Mike DiPiano has seen wrestlers in Toranzo’s position not recover mentally after a late loss and fall further down the medal stand the following morning.

DiPiano knew Toranzo wasn’t going to falter when the first question he got from Brandon on Saturday was what time he thought he was going to wrestle that morning.

“Right then, I knew that he was ready to compete,” DiPiano said. “He wasn’t moping, said he felt  good and he wanted to know what time he thought he was wrestling. When he said that to me, I knew that he was ready to compete and go after it.

“To come back and take third really shows his character and that toughness that he has. His dream got dashed at 8:30 at night and then he had to weigh in at 7:30 the next morning and battle for third place. The fact that he did that shows what kind of young man he is. It shows what kind of man he’s going to be in the future and we’re very proud of him.”

Toranzo, who was the No. 2 seed in the 32-wrestler field, began his state tournament run on Thursday with a pin over Bordentown’s Nick Levah in 51 seconds, followed by a 14-7 decision over Christopher Oliver of Ridge.

On Friday, Toranzo defeated Red Bank Catholic’s Lorenzo Portella by a 3-2 decision in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Toranzo was pinned by Martin at the 54 second mark, providing a stunning and sudden end to his state title hopes.

“Honestly, it hasn’t really settled in yet,” said Toranzo. “I think it was just a bad moment in my wrestling career. Stuff happens and you don’t know why. I worked really hard for it, but I’m not going to let one match define the wrestler that I am.”

Two last two years do a much better job of defining the wrestler Toranzo has been at Nutley. After transferring from home from St. Joseph Regional before his junior year, he ripped off 40 consecutives wins before having to injury default in the Region 3 semifinals due to a torn ACL.

After months of rehab, Toranzo showed no ill effects of the injury, winning OW at the Essex County Tournament for the second year in a row. He also won the Sam Cali Battle for the Belt in December and became a two-time District champion and is sure to be wrestling for a major Division 1 program next season.

While Toranzo officially takes his spot as one of the top wrestlers in Nutley’s 60-year history of wrestling, DiPiano believes the impact he’s left will be felt for seasons to come thanks to the example he set as the only senior in a lineup that started 11 underclassmen.

“He showed these young kids what the correct way to work is, what the correct way to treat your body is, and what the correct way to lift in the offseason and be prepared is,” said DiPiano. “He was a perfect role model for the group that we’ve had these last two years.”

Toranzo was the only Observer-area wrestler to place at this year’s tournament.

Belleville’s Jakob Ferrer shook off a first round loss at 113 pounds to go 3-2 overall and teammate Rocco Negron went 1-2 at 144 pounds. Kearny’s Joshua Baeza went 2-2 at 138 pounds, Kieran McNeil of Lyndhurst-North Arlington was 1-2 at 132 pounds and Bloomfield’s Gabriel McCulloch finished 1-2 at 285 pounds.

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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.)