Returning state champions Santaniello and Mays secure state tournament return

Since suffering his lone loss at the Beast of the East on the first weekend of the season, returning state champion Anthony Santaniello of Brick Memorial has been struggling as if trying to advance to the state championships for the first time and not the third.

Santaniello, last season’s 120-pound champion, moved to 36-1 and extended his personal winning streak to 31 fights when he scored his third straight technical fall en route to the NJSIAA 132-pound title. /Rothman Orthopedics Region 6 Wrestling Championships at Toms River on Saturday. It was Santaniello’s third consecutive regional championship.

Santaniello, a junior and enlisted from Oklahoma, qualified for the NJSIAA Wrestling Championships next Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Santaniello is expected to be the No. 2 seed behind Delbarton’s Tyler Vazquez at the state tournament. Vazquez beat Santaniello, 6-5, in the Beast from the East final. The state tournament will be ranked Tuesday at the NJSIAA headquarters in Robbinsville.

“For me, next week is live or die,” Santaniello said after receiving his regional medal. “I need it (a state title) and he (Vazquez) wants it. It’s out of the question that I die next week.

Meanwhile, Howell senior Hunter Mays, last year’s 160-pound state champion, also secured his return trip to Atlantic City. Mays, a rookie from Rider University, advanced to 165 pounds when he won the title with a 22-7 technical drop at 2:43. Mays, now 35-1, has won 29 straight fights since losing 2-0 to Blair’s Lorenzo Norman in the semi-finals of the Powerade tournament.

“I feel good,” May said after stepping off the podium. “I feel like I’ve worked harder than everyone else, so I’m ready to try to earn No. 2.”

Hunter Mays of Howell stands in a photo holding an award he received for Outstanding Wrestler in the District. High school students wrestling, Howell wins the District 22 Finals held at Robbinsville High School, Robbinsville on February 19, 2022. Marie Iuvone | For NJ Advance Media

Mays, ranked No. 1 in the state by NJ.com, is expected to be the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. He faces a strong group of challengers, including Louis Cerchio from Delbarton, Nick Fea from Bergen Catholic and Eric Freeman from Paramus. Cerchio was caught and pinned in the Region 3 final on Saturday by Stephen Malia of Watchung Hills. Fea won by pin over Freeman in the Region 2 Championship bout.

Santaniello is five wins shy of 100 career wins. To win his second straight state title, he would need five wins in Atlantic City. Santaniello said he was haunted by the loss to Vazquez.

“I think about it every day, before I go to bed, at school and it’s not always a good thing,” Santaniello said. “In my head, I’ve replayed that game 100 times and in my head I’ve won everything… except this one. It’s become my obsession, but I can’t stop it.

“I’m training harder than ever and doing everything in my power to make sure this (a loss to Vazquez) doesn’t happen again,” Santaniello said. “I want to be as good as I want to be and I know that’s a bit sick.”

In his three technical falls, Santaniello outclassed his three opponents, 57-12. He beat second-seeded Gabe Scalise of Shore in the championship round.

The machine-like Mays was lively in his final. He scored takedowns with 1:53, 1:41, 1:18, 1:02, 0:50 and 0:38 left on the clock in the first period. He also had a three-point drop in the opening two minutes against second-seeded Brandon Smith of Freehold Borough.

Mays has gotten just six minutes in a fight seven times all season — just once since Jan. 13.

“I challenge myself,” Mays said. “I do conditioning after every game. I have great sparring partners. I don’t care about anyone else in the state tournament except myself.

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Joe Zedalis covers the fight for NJ.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Josephzedalis

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