TOMS RIVER — Pope John XXIII had too much horsepower for the Holy Spirit High School wrestling team Sunday.
Pope John won the first six bouts en route to a 48-21 win to take home the state Non-Public B title.
But Holy Spirit had no reason to hang its head when leaving the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena at Toms River North.
Pope John (17-2) features five returning state qualifiers, including three returning state place-winners. Eddie Ventresca and JoJo Aragona lead the Lions. Ventresca finished sixth in the state last season at 113 pounds and is ranked 16th in the country, according to InterMat.
Aragona finished second in the state last season and is ranked sixth in the country. Pope John beat eight-time defending North Jersey champion DePaul Catholic to earn its spot in Sunday’s final.
“We came in here and competed as hard as we could, but these kids are tough,” Holy Spirit senior Tim Fitzpatrick said.
The Spartans (8-13) didn’t just hand Pope John the title.
With the Lions leading 32-0, Spirit reeled off three straight wins and a stretch of five wins in six bouts to make it a match.
Conner Boal put Spirit on the board with a 20-second pin at 160. Fitzpatrick followed with a first-period pin at 170 ,and fellow senior captain Michael Waszen made it three in a row with a 7-3 decision against returning state qualifier Reece Mulduun at 182.
After a loss at 195, Azim Baker-Coley and Dimitris Pali came through with back-to-back close decisions.
“The atmosphere here is great,” Waszen said. “It’s really nice to come up here as a team and really fight for every match. It’s really cool.”
Holy Spirit had never won a South Jersey title prior to the current group of seniors arriving, but Friday’s 36-29 win against Donovan Catholic gave the Spartans their third straight sectional crown.
“We started off slow in the beginning of the year,” Waszen said. “We had injuries and people in different spots, but we came together in the end, and we figured it out. We came in Friday night as underdogs, and we realized we had to get a job done, and we did it.
“Three years ago, we couldn’t even fill a lineup, and we won our first one that year. It’s been great to keep it going.”
Spirit coach Ralph Paolone was happy with his team’s effort Sunday.
“I thought we wrestled great,” Paolone said. “I’m very proud of this team. I don’t think anybody expected us to get here. We graduated five seniors last year. When we got down to weight, we were very good. I thought we wrestled really well.”
With the team portion of the season now over, wrestlers like Waszen and Fitzpatrick have to quickly shift their focus to individual success.
They each got their 100th career wins this season, joining former state champions Mac Mancuso and Pat D’Arcy as the only four in school history to reach the milestone.
Now, Fitzpatrick and Waszen have their sights set on the top of the awards podium at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
“Top of the podium — there is no doubt,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is the best time of the year. This is a different mindset now. It’s not as much team as individual mindset now, but I’m ready. I’m ready, and I want to be on top of the podium.”
Added Waszen, “Just keep working hard — that’s the recipe to success. I just have to keep working hard every day.”
106 — Shane Percelay PJ p. Jason Klemm 1:03; 113 — Michael Ritacco PJ md. Luke Spotts 12-2; 120 — Eddie Ventresca PJ tf. Kevin Mason 19-4 (1:41); 126 — Kaya Sement PJ md. Dominic Sacco 13-3; 132 — Matthew Garcia PJ p. Kolin Driscoll :45; 138 — Jake Rotunda PJ tf. Zach Long 17-1 (2:33); 145 — JoJo Aragona PJ p. Patrick Newman 1:57; 152 — Robert Garcia PJ p. Ryan Keil 1:31; 160 — Conner Boal HS p. Joseph Arbolino :20; 170 — Tim Fitzpatrick HS p. Quinn Mulduun 1:13; 182 — Michael Waszen HS d. Reece Mulduun 7-3; 195 — Jake Brown PJ p. Kurt Driscoll 1:33; 220 — Azim Baker-Coley HS d. Cole Zydel 7-5; 285 — Dimitris Pali HS d. Jack Morelli 2-1 (2OT).
Match started at 120
Records-Holy Spirit 8-13; Pope John 17-2.