GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The podium pictures at the District 32 wrestling tournament at Absegami High School featured some familiar faces on Saturday.

Buena Regional senior 126-pounder Billy Ward led a group of six repeat champions by winning his fourth district title for Outstanding Wrestler honors.

Ward is the 12th wrestler in District 32 history and the 15th in CAL history to win four titles. Bobby Hansen, a 1995 Buena grad, is also on that list.

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"I said to myself my freshman year it would be really cool to get four districts and regions," Ward said. "I'm halfway there now."

St. Augustine Prep senior Tom Gattinella (120 pounds) won his third district title.

Holy Spirit's Pat D'Arcy (106), Absegami's Jack Willette (145), St. Augustine Prep's Tyler Sentman (170) and Lower Cape May's Cory Damiana (195) each won their second.

The 14 champions advance directly to Friday night's Region 8 quarterfinal at Egg Harbor Township with the champs from Districts 29, 30 and 31. The second- and third-place finishers wrestle Wednesday night in the prequarterfinals.

All of the repeat champions had one thing in common - none planned on spending too much time celebrating.

There is still work to be done.

"The most important thing is I have to stay mentally prepared and ready and focused on my goals now," Ward said. "Region champ, state champ."

Ward pinned each of his first two opponents in districts before methodically pulling away for a 9-0 major decision against St. Augustine Prep junior Ed Donahue in the final.

Ward resisted comparing the four titles.

"You can't really because each match is its own," he said.

Gattinella beat a familiar opponent for his third trip to the top of the podium - Lower Cape May Regional's Zach Valcarce.

Gattinella met and beat Valcarce for the third straight season in a district final with a 3-2 decision.

It was the seventh time the two have wrestled in high school with Gattinella taking all seven, almost all in close matches.

"He's a great wrestler," Gattinella said.

But Gattinella is a two-time runner-up in Region 8 and said he would give all three district titles for one region.

"I came up short the past two years," he said. "This year I have to get it."

Gattinella said his key to securing a third trip to states at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City is simple.

"Work hard," he said. "That's all I need to do. If I put the time and effort in working, then the results will show."

Willette had one of the more dramatic wins of the night in a dual of defending district champs, beating Buena two-time champ Dillan Berghof by injury default.

Berghof, who is wrestling with an injured shoulder, took two injury timeouts, giving Willette choice of position late in the third. Willette chose bottom and escaped to a 2-1 lead when the Buena coaches and Berghof decided not to push the issue.

Willette looked ready to wrestle another couple of matches after winning.

"I'm so fired up," he said through a smile.

Berghof won a 13-1 major against Willette on Jan. 12, tilting Absegami's senior captain three times in the first period.

But Willette did his homework this time around and came through with a big win for Absegami. Willette's win ensured Absegami of having a district champion for the 28th straight season.

"I'm the captain of the team," Willette said. "That's my job."

D'Arcy was focused after winning his second title in as many years.

"It's a nice accomplishment," he said. "But I've got to get ready for regions. There is still work to be done in the season."

D'Arcy said he would love to be answering questions similar to Ward's in a few years as fellow four-time champs.

"That would be an honor," D'Arcy said. "Ward is a fantastic wrestler but I still have two more years left so I don't want to get ahead of myself."

Buena's Luis Rivera (113), Egg Harbor Township's Shawn Bryant (132) and Nigel Toussiant (220), Holy Spirit's Brandon Bower (138), Middle Township's John Mallett (152), Atlantic City's Cesar Balmaceda (160), Lower's Frank Zeigler (182) and St. Augustine Prep's Tom Lynd all won their first titles.

The Hermits won the overall team title with Lower Cape May, Buena, EHT and Absegami rounding out the top five.

Buena's Doug Castellari was named district coach of the year in his 24th and final season as head coach of the team.

Contact John O'Kane:


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