Wrestling’s Road To Atlantic City

By on March 6, 2015

Mark Riggio is headed to Atlantic City after coming in third in Region 4.

Mark Riggio is headed to Atlantic City after coming in third in Region 4.

The NJSIAA wrestling championships kick off tonight in Atlantic City and Verona High School’s Mark Riggio will be among the more than 300 wrestlers competing for a New Jersey title.

Riggio traveled much of the way to Atlantic City with his VHS teammates. In one of the strongest performances in recent years, Verona had seven wrestlers qualify for the Region 4 tournament last week by placing in the top three in the District 13 championship: Jimmy Loudon (106, 2nd place); Frank Gabriele (120, 2nd place); Joe Ballantyne (126, 3rd place); John Gabriele (132, 2nd place); Billy Czupak (160, 3rd place); Mark Riggio (182, 1st place); and Patrick Paluszek (220, 3rd place).

The next stop was West Orange High School, for the Region 4 tournament. In the first round on Wednesday, February 25, Loudon pinned Christopher Guzman, his opponent from Union City, advancing to Friday. Joe Ballantyne also took the next step by winning 3-2 over John Candela from Glen Ridge, a wrestler he had previously beaten twice during the regular season. Freshmen Frank and John Gabriele, who have both had a stellar debut season at VHS lost to their first Regions opponents; Frank Gabriele’s was to John Iurato, the Hasbrouck Heights wrestler who would become the eventual region champ at 120 pounds. Billy Czupak lost 4-2 to Shawn Sodora from St. Mary’s, while Patrick Paluszek was pinned by Devon Morrisey from Passaic. Riggio had a bye due from the first round since he was the district champ at 182.

Jimmy Loudon kicked off Regions by pinning Christopher Guzman of Union City

Jimmy Loudon kicked off Regions by pinning Christopher Guzman of Union City.


Riggio was, however, one of only two Verona wrestlers to come through Friday unscathed, pinning Marquez Roberts from Montclair. Stephen Kellner, a Verona resident who wrestles at 160 for St. Peter’s Prep, made it all the way to the semifinals in that weight class. Of the VHS team, Loudon, a sophomore, lost 10-2 to Victor Lopez, the eventual region champ from West Orange at 106. Ballantyne lost 8-1 to his opponent from Clifton, and would lose his wrestle-back on Saturday.

There was some measure of redemption for Loudon on Saturday, when he started the day by pinning his opponent from Passaic Valley. He lost his next match, however, finishing five out of six in the region in his weight class. Riggio, meanwhile, lost in the semifinals to Chris Morgan, the eventual region champ from West Orange, but he wasn’t out: The junior pinned his opponent from North Bergen before defeating his opponent from Caldwell 4-2 in the 3rd place match and qualifying for the state tournament.

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Riggio faces Kyle McMahon of Clearview in his first match tonight. The action starts at 5 p.m.

Joe Ballantyne won 3-2 over John Candela from Glen Ridge in Regions.

Joe Ballantyne won 3-2 over John Candela from Glen Ridge in Regions.


Photos copyright Donna Giuliano. Used by permission.

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