Individual wrestling tournament begins at 4 area districts
The march to the State Individual Wrestling Tournament in Atlantic City begins tonight with the start of district high school wrestling tournaments.
Wrestlers in 32 districts across the state will compete, with the top three in each advancing to next week's region tournaments where the top three will advance to the finals at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on March 8, 9 and 10.
There is a small change this season as two of the area's four districts have gone to a one-day format instead of traditionally spreading it out over two days.
The District 24 tournament at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River and District 31 at Delsea Regional will be all day Saturday.
Thirteen area wrestlers competing today are defending district champs. St. Augustine Prep is the defending team champion from District 32.
Southern Regional has won back-to-back team titles and 10 of the last 11 but will have a tough time matching up with Toms River South's bonus points in District 24.
Here's a weight-by-weight look at the four districts where area wrestlers will compete.
The top seeds are listed in the following order: District 24, District 30, District 31 and District 32.
Top seeds: Owen McClave, Toms River South (32-2); Nick Passarella, Washington Township (28-6); Patrick Higgins, Woodstown (29-4); Pat D'Arcy, Holy Spirit (30-3)
Back points: Holy Spirit sophomore D'Arcy is a defending champ in District 32 and favored to win again this season.
Keep an eye on: Southern Regional's Jimmy Knoeller has been wrestling well the last few weeks and is seeded second in District 24.
Top seeds: Kevin Corrigan, Toms River South (30-1); John Amato, Timber Creek (27-2); Tom Carney, Delsea Regional (20-12); Zach Hicks, Lower Cape May Regional (23-8)
Back points: Middle Township's Ronray Harris, the would-be top seed, is not wrestling for undisclosed reasons. Lower Cape May's Hicks slides into the top seed with Absegami freshman Yanni Patsaros moving to No. 2. District 24 top seed Corrigan finished fifth in the state last season.
Keep an eye on: Vineland's Steven Bergamo is seeded second in District 31. Bergamo finished third in District 32 last season for St. Augustine Prep before transferring.
Top seeds: Brandon Murray, Toms River South (23-6); Mike McGeehan, Washington Township (28-5); Stanley Atkinson, Kingsway Regional (26-3); Tom Gattinella, St. Augustine Prep (29-3)
Back points: One of the deepest weights in District 32 with a rematch of last year's district final a real possibility. Top seed Gattinella and No. 2 seed Zach Valcarce of Lower Cape May met in last season's final with Gattinella winning by fall. Gattinella and Valcarce each went on to qualify for states.
Keep an eye on: Vineland's Daniel DeTetta is seeded third in District 31 and looking to reach Region 8 for the first time.
Top seeds: Andrew Tonneson, Southern Regional (23-10); Anthony Racobaldo, Williamstown (30-3); Stewart Richardson, Schalick (21-3); Billy Ward, Buena Regional (24-3)
Back points: Buena Regional's Ward will be looking to become a four-time District 32 champ. Ward will be looking for a fourth Region 8 title next week if all goes well this weekend.
Keep an eye on: Vineland's Zach Nealis is seeded second in District 31 and will look to reach the final for a second straight season after a second-place finish in 2012.
Top seeds: Zach Wilhelm, Southern Regional (25-8); Isaiah DeGuzman, Timber Creek (24-5); John Pierson, Delsea Regional (23-8); Shawn Bryant, Egg Harbor Township (22-3)
Back points: District 32 top seed Bryant and No. 2 seed Jarred Hodges of St. Augustine Prep met on Jan. 23 with Bryant winning a 4-3 decision.
Keep an eye on: Buena Regional's Chaz Bramble and Ocean City's Cliff Owens are seeded third and fourth, respectively, in District 32 and will each look to finish top three to earn a spot in next week's Region 8 tournament.
Top seeds: Richard Lewis, Toms River East (25-0), Brandon Keller, Timber Creek (20-1); Rian Lamanteer, Delsea Regional (28-3); Eric Hanusewicz, Cedar Creek (22-4)
Back points: Cedar Creek's Hanusewicz finished second in District 32 last season. Holy Spirit's Brandon Bower sat out the first 30 days of the season after transferring from Egg Harbor Township and appears to be Hanusewicz's top challenger. District 24 top seeded Richard Lewis is a two-time Region 6 champ and two-time state placewinner.
Keep an eye on: Southern Regional's Jake Campana was a District 24 champ in 2011 and will look for an upset of Lewis.
Top seeds: B.J. Clagon, Toms River South (34-0); Brandon Virgilio, Timber Creek (18-5); Patrick McCurdy, Woodstown (32-1); Dillan Berghof, Buena Regional (17-2)
Back points: Buena Regional's Berghof is looking for a third District 32 title. Berghof hasn't wrestled since earlier this month as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Clagon is a defending state champion and recently committed to wrestle at Rider University next season.
Keep an eye on: Absegami's Jack Willette was a District 32 champ last season and is seeded second this year.
Top seeds: Chris Serpico, Southern Regional (20-5); Dom Ruggerrio, Timber Creek (25-3); John Hennelly, Delsea Regional (29-4); John Mallett, Middle Township (28-5)
Back points: Mallett and No. 2 seed John Fitzpatrick of Mainland Regional met on Jan. 26 with Mallett winning a 13-9 decision.
Keep an eye: Serpico is looking for his first title after finishing second last season. Serpico came one win away from qualifying for states last season.
Top seeds: Antrez Clagon, Toms River South (20-10); Bryce Shade, Timber Creek (26-2); David Gresk, Delsea Regional (27-6), Cesar Balmaceda, Atlantic City (27-0)
Back points: Balmaceda enters the tournament unbeaten and looking for a District 32 title after a second-place finish last season.
Keep an eye on: Hammonton's Kellen Whitney is seeded second in District 30 and appears headed for a showdown in the finals with defending district champ Shade.
Top seeds: Luke Fernandez, Lacey Township (28-1); C.J. LaFragola, St. Joseph (17-2); Dylan Dobzanski, Delsea Regional (31-0); Cooper Gallagher, Ocean City (25-3)
Back points: Fernandez wants to make sure the Lions have a District 24 champ for the third straight season. LaFragola finished third in District 32 last season before transferring from Holy Spirit.
Keep an eye on: St. Augustine Prep's Tyler Sentman is a defending District 32 champ but seeded second in District 32. This is one of the toughest weights of any district in South Jersey in District 31 as defending champ Steffen Rodriguez of Vineland could only manage a No. 3 seed.
Top seeds: Connor Case, Southern Regional (20-9); David Williams, Hammonton (32-0); Billy Leone, Kingsway Regional (27-6); John Benard, Oakcrest (22-6)
Back points: Three of the four top seeds in these districts feature local wrestlers. Williams is looking to repeat as District 30 champ and should compete for a state title.
Keep an eye on: Benard has quietly had a solid season for Oakcrest. He lost in last season's district final by just one point. Vineland Tiawahn Cosby finished third in District 31 last season and is seeded second.
Top seeds: David Mitchell, Toms River North (17-9); Brandon Beebe, Hammonton (27-5); Ed Shockley, Millville (26-2); Cory Damiana, Lower Cape May Regional (26-5)
Back points: Shockley finished third in District 31 last season. Damiana is looking to defend his District 32 title.
Keep an eye on: Beebe finished fourth in the District 30 last season and will look to reach regions this season.
Top seeds: Jesse Bauta, Southern Regional (23-8); Jamal Clark, Lindenwold (22-4); Bryan Dobzanski, Delsea Regional (33-0); Nigel Toussaint, Egg Harbor Township (26-2)
Back points: Bauta will likely need to beat Lacey Township's Patrick Schinder for the second time this season to win District 23. Bauta won a 5-4 decision against Schinder, a defending district champ.
Keep an eye on: Toussaint and Ocean City's Josh Johnson are seeded first and second in District 32, respectively. Toussaint finished second at 220 and Johnson third at 285 last season.
Top seeds: Marvin Hayden, Toms River South (24-9); Roy Lucas, St. Joseph (31-0); Cody Dooley, Pennsville (24-6); Tom Lynd, St. Augustine Prep (25-6)
Back points: Lucas may have to go through a cross-town rival and second seed Bobby Frederico of Hammonton to repeat as district champ.
Keep an eye on: A tough weight class to call in District 32 as a number of the top wrestlers have wins over one another. Lynd and Lower Cape May's Doug Flitcroft are the top two seeds, respectively, but look out for Holy Spirit's Ray Ellis, who has won 19 of his last 20 matches entering tonight's tournament.
Contact John O'Kane: