Out of all of the top-three placewinners during Saturday’s District Tournament at Pascack Valley, none were seeded lower than eighth-seeded AJ Menendez, a PV junior.
Menendez had a 4-4 record on Varsity this past season. He was not a starter, since senior Zach Olson occupied the starting job for most of the season while Menendez filled in as his backup. Due to Olson deciding to forgo the tournament in favor of lacrosse training, Menendez was thrust into the role. Olson told Pascack Valley coach Tom Gallione to “give AJ a chance.”
With the opportunity, he had upset victories over the 1 and 4 seeds, respectively. Menendez defeated West Milford’s Mike Podmokly in a 4-3 decision and then proceeded to beat New Milford’s Doug Korzelius by a 3:34 pin. He described Gallione’s decision to put him in the lineup as the “best feeling in the world.”
PV senior Matt Beyer rolled to the 152-pound title and was named the tourney’s Outstanding Wrestler as Pascack Valley finished second in the tournament as a team. Beyer, Menendez and the other six Pascack Valley placewinners advance to the Region 1 Tournament, which starts Thursday at West Milford High School.
Menendez has described his wrestling career as pretty illustrious. He won 17 matches his freshman year, where he wrestled on both the Junior Varsity and Varsity teams, and he has been getting more Varsity experience each year. However, he has never felt quite the same after a match as he did after defeating Podmokly.
”I honestly felt so hyped,” Menendez said. “I had never felt so happy after a match. I felt like that was the best I’ve ever wrestled. I had one of my best weeks of practice and it’s my first shot I had at Districts. I wanted to make the most of it, and I’m really happy about how I did.”
Gallione said that Menendez was focused and followed the game plan that he had in mind. Also, he said that practicing with senior heavyweight Andrew Demboski throughout the past week has made him a better wrestler. Menendez said his coaches have always told him not to force certain moves and that during the tournament, he was forcing a lot less than he normally does.
”He practices with Zach [Olson], he practices with Jack [Tsokanos], and he practices with [Demboski],” Gallione said. “He’s in a room with tough competition every day. We felt he had a chance, and it was a great day for him.”
Two of PV’s five first-place finishers, Stephen Soravilla and Jack Tsokanos, were first time District champions. At 160, Soravilla was the top seed while Tsokanos was the second seed at 195. Soravilla defeated Butler’s Steven Schubert by a 9-2 decision and Tsokanos toppled first-seeded Joey Heisler from West Milford in an 8-4 decision.
In the wrestling practice room, there is a list of names on the wall that list every single District champion in PV history. Both wrestlers looked at that list as freshmen and aspired to be on the wall. They got their wish.
“I remember my first time actually practicing, I looked up to that wall and thought, ‘man it’d be amazing to one day be on that wall,’” Tsokanos said. “But as a freshman, I was like ‘no way that’s going to happen, but it would be pretty cool wouldn’t it?’ When I stood up there on the podium, I thought, ‘wow, I actually did it.’” Tsokanos currently has a 24-14 record heading into Regions.
Soravilla, who now has a record of 30-8, had similar sentiments. He said that he was excited, given that he’s never been a No. 1 seed or won a tournament.
“I just thought about the work I’ve put in. I’ve practically been in [the practice room] for months,” Soravilla said. “Looking at those names [of the District champions] every day in the wrestling room, it’s always been a driving force. Now that it’s finally happening, it’s a shock.”
PV had placers at 113, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, and 285. It potentially could had a potential ninth placer at 132, but Tyler Pizzi was pulled from the tournament with an injury. Other champions include Luke Petaccia and Tommy Chiellini, while Jake Averna and Andrew Demboski placed third.