By Michael Holcombe | For NJ Advance Media Link to NJ.com article: https://www.nj.com/highschoolsports/2023/03/trenton-times-wrestling-honors-2022-23-mele-rose-harpel-and-hopewell-valley-tops.html The past wrestling season was one of the most competitive dual meet seasons for area teams in several years. Hopewell Valley returned to its accustomed spot at the top of the pack in the Colonial Valley Conference while several other area teams made vast improvements including Allentown and West Windsor-Plainsboro North. There were also individuals who stood out as eight area wrestlers won district titles and nine Times area wrestlers qualified for the state tournament. These are the top individuals and teams from the 2022-23 season: Wrestler of the Year: Blase Mele, Princeton The local wrestling dual meet scene was as competitive as it has been in several years but when it came to individual wrestling achievements, one wrestler stood out above the rest. Princeton sophomore Blase Mele came within a single win of placing at 132 pounds in the NJSIAA/Rothman Orthopedic State Wrestling Championships, reached the finals in both the District 17 and Region 5 Tournaments, and finished the season with a record of 39-6. For those reasons, Blase Mele is the Trenton Times Wrestler of the Year for the 2022-23 season. As a freshman last year, Mele established himself as one of the area’s top wrestlers, in spite of the fact that he missed a large part of the season due to injury. He placed second in District 17 and third at Region 5 as a frosh and qualified for the state tournament. This year, he surpassed those accomplishments, at one point winning 30 straight matches before suffering a defeat in the postseason. All six of his losses came against wrestlers who placed at the state tournament this March and one of those opponents in particular, St. John Vianney’s Patrick O’Keefe, was particularly troublesome. O’Keefe was a state finalist in 2022 and it was O’Keefe who defeated Mele in all three of the post season tournaments, handing Mele a 5-3 overtime loss in the district final, a 7-5 defeat in the region final and ending his run through the state tournament’s consolation bracket with a 6-0 “blood round” loss. While he couldn’t get past the obstacle of O’Keefe, Mele turned in a stellar performance at states, in spite of getting some shabby treatment from the seeding committee, which gave him a 17-seed to start the tournament. Showing an ability to dominate his opponents on his feet, Mele won his opening round, lost in the round of 16 to the top seed and two time state champion and tournament Outstanding Wrestler Anthony Santaniello of Brick Memorial, and then won two consolation matches. In so doing, Mele beat the 16-seed, the 15-seed and the 8-seed, Giovanni Scafidi of Howell, who defaulted rather than attempt to overcome Mele’s late 7-2 lead. Before his post season exploits, Mele also racked up a championship at the Mercer County Tournament, winning the 132 pound title, his first ever, after missing last year’s MCT due to injury. Mele recorded two first period pins and a technical fall to win the MCT crown, including a pin in the final in just 1:09 over Steinert’s Devin Liriano. The tremendous season that Mele turned in is only a part of the story, according to Princeton coach Jess Monzo, who credits him with being a major part of the growth in the Little Tigers’ emergence as a competitve dual meet team. “He’s got a great work ethic,” Monzo said of Mele. “He’s got a great game plan, he’s got a great head on his shoulders. He knows what he wants to do. He knows what he wants to achieve. It’s terrific (having him in the room). Because of our young guys on the team. Even a guy like Cole Rose (Princeton’s other state qualifier), he might be the same age as Blase and they might be the same year in high school, but having a guy who does a little bit more and pushes you to do more, you see what someone else has done. “He’s done it in our room. He didn’t go somewhere else to get it done. He’s doing it in Princeton. He does a lot of traveling on his own in summer time and club-wise, but he’s doing it local. He’s a homegrown kid. He stayed local. He could have gone other places but chose to do it in our room. Now he’s leaving his stamp. So in a couple of years, it’s going to be his name that the younger guys in the program are going to look up to.” Mele had hoped to place in Atlantic City but while he didn’t, he was not disappointed with how he wrestled or where he stands at the midway point of his high school wrestling career. “I think I’m where I need to be,” Mele said after his final loss at the state tournament closed out his sophomore season. “If I was coming out here and getting shut out by kids, but I’m not. I beat a top eight seed. What does that say about me? And I beat him handily, as well. I made him walk off the mat, He didn’t want to finish the match with me. I think that says where I am at the state tournament level. “I’ll be back in the practice room in a few days and then it’s just back to it. I think I’m a lot better of a wrestler than I was last year. That’s only going to continue. This is not the last (the state tournament) is going to hear of Blase Mele. I will be back.” Girls Wrestler of the Year: Ava Rose, Princeton At this point, there isn’t much more to say about Princeton’s Ava Rose. So let’s just review. Two time state champion, three time state finalist, the state’s first ever four time region champ, four time state qualifier and a full ride to wrestle at the University of Iowa. Rose capped off that illustrious high school career by winning her second straight state title in Atlantic City, making her the Trenton Times Girls Wrestler of the Year for 2022-23. She wasn’t the only state champ from the Times area as Ewing’s Shelitha Collins won the 235 pound title at Boardwalk Hall, but there is no doubt that Rose was not just the best girls wrestler in the area, she was also the most feared girls wrestler in the state. Ironically, Rose wrestled very few girls this season, winning only her seven post season matches. She was so valuable to the boys team that Rose could not be spared for girls meets and instead, she compiled a record of 13-2 against the boys, bringing her overall season record to 20-2. That capped a wildly successful boys wrestling career for Rose, who went 51-11 in her four years for the Princeton varsity, including a fourth place finish at the Mercer County Tournament in 2022, which included a 10-7 semifinal loss to Robbinsville’s Anthony Viscido, the eventual champion and a two time state qualifier. She wrestled fewer matches against girls, competing mostly in the post season tournaments. And she lost only four times, going 32-4 for a combined record of 83-15. In the end, the numbers are the least important things about Rose’s four years at Princeton. She was a ferocious competitor who was always ready to compete come match time. It made her the opponent that girls wrestlers around the state least wanted to see. Her intensity was legendary and her aggressive style was unstoppable as she blew through opponent after opponent en route to her two state titles. “If we can learn a little bit from her, it’s how to prepare and work ethic,” Princeton coach Jess Monzo said of Rose. “And what to do right before you have a match. Because I think she’s got it mastered. It’s almost a little too much at times, I think, but it works for her. So if it’s working, you let it go. If she can leave that imprint in our program and we can have some girls come up through the ranks in a little while, that’s someone you want to emulate.” For Rose, all of the preparation and intensity is part of her desire to compete and win. And she makes no bones that winning is what she has always set out to do. “It’s just the job I do,” Rose said of winning back to back state titles after failing to place at the tournament her sophomore year due to a severe bout of undiagnosed anemia. “If I’m going to enter a tournament, I’m going to look to win it every single time. I don’t care how hard that tournament is. That’s why I don’t have goals that are like, place or get second. I want to win it. If I’m going to make weight, I’m going to win it. That’s what I do.” After Chloe Ayres won three state titles for Princeton, Rose has now added two more and she is content with her place in the young but impressive record of girls wrestling at her school. “I look up at that board (in the wrestling room) and I’m like, ‘It would be cool if I won again,” she said. “I just want to win. That’s the heart of it. But I think, in general, it’s important, especially for girls who are just getting into it, to have that to look up to. You look up there and it’s me and Chloe and it’s showing you that you can do anything. You’re new, so what? I think it’s really cool.” While Rose will head off to Iowa to wrestle for the Hawkeyes, Princeton will now need to regroup and begin to live the post Ava Rose reality. “It’s been an exciting four years with her,” Monzo said. “Very similar, but different, than Chloe. I don’t want to draw comparisons. They did a lot of the same. They both had lofty goals for themselves. And now we’re going to Iowa. So let’s hope they don’t mess up what we’re sending them.” Team of the Year: Hopewell Valley This year’s Colonial Valley Conference dual meet season was as competitive as it has been in years. But even so, one team separated itself from the pack as Hopewell Valley overcame an inexperienced lineup at the start of the season, and several key injuries along the way, to establish itself as the area’s unquestioned leader. For that reason, the Hopewell Valley Bulldogs are the Trenton Times Wrestling Team of the Year for 2022-23. Hopewell suffered heavy graduation losses after last season and struggled through the early going, with a record of just 6-4 in its first 10 dual meets thanks to matches with state powers like Delaware Valley and Ridge and the team’s relative inexperience. But the Bulldogs righted their ship and went on an 11 match win streak when they returned to local action, winning the CVC’s Valley Division title and easily winning the Mercer County Tournament by outdistancing runner up Princeton 216-164.5. At the MCT, Hopewell Valley had only a single champion in 190 pounder Chase Overman, but placed five other wrestlers in the finals, including Dean Meissner at 106, Luke Caldwell at 120, Michael Meissner at 144, Konrad Haugeto at 150 and Tim McKeown at 157. In true Hopewell Valley style, there was additional strength in the wrestle backs as all 14 wrestlers scored team points and four other wrestlers fought back to place after being knocked out of the championship bracket. Landon Schafer, at 165, took third, Dylan Hersh was fourth at 113, Gael Vasquez was fifth at 215 and Nate March was sixth at 175. The Bulldogs also made a strong showing in the sectional tournament, defeating Somerville 45-22 in the quarterfinals of Central Jersey, Group 3 and Ocean Township 42-33 in the semis to reach the final. There, they lost to South Plainfield 37-30. A week later Hopewell had a big tournament at District 18, winning two titles, placing five in the finals and qualifying nine wrestlers for the Region 5 Tournament. Dean Meissner was the champion at 106 and McKeown finished first at 157. Luke Caldwell was second at 120 as was Michael Meissner at 138 and Landon Schafer at 165. Also qualifying for regionals were third place finishers Dylan Hersh at 113, Rex Peters at 126, Nate March at 190 and Jon Trainor at 285. Although not moving on to regions, four other wrestler finished fourth, meaning the Bulldogs placed 13 of their 14 wrestlers in the top four. Those fourth place finishers included Isaac Miller at 132, Adam Beigman at 144, Konrad Haugeto at 150 and Overman at 175. That performance enabled Hopewell Valley to place second as a team at the District 18 Tournament, finishing just behind champion Manalapan and ahead of East Brunswick, Holmdel and South Brunswick, which rounded out the top five. Coach of the Year: Mario Harpel, Hopewell Valley A legendary ex Mercer county wrestling coach once opined that for a coach of the year award to have any meaning, he would have to win it every year. That coach has long since left the local scene but his words have resonance this year as one of the area’s most estbalished coaches had one of his most successful coaching seasons. That coach, of course, is Hopewell Valley’s Mario Harpel, who led a young team, that was hampered by injury to some of its most exprerienced veterans, to a CVC divisional title, A Mercer County Tournament championship and a second place finish in both the Central Jersey, Group 3 Sectional Tournament and at District 18. He may not be the coach of the year every year, but Hopewell Valley’s Mario Harpel is this year’s Trenton Times Wrestling Coach of the Year for 2022-23. The record that Harpel has posted in his tenure with the Bulldogs certainly makes the case for retiring the award in his name. Over his 18 years at the helm of the Bulldogs, Harpel’s teams have dominated action in the Colonial Valley Conference, turning in a combined conference record of 200-6 over the last 16 seasons, including going 88-2 over the last 90 dual meets. The Harpel coached Hopewell Valley teams have won 14 of the last 16 MCT’s and 14 of 16 CVC divisional championships. He has coached his Bulldogs to a district team title and recently collected his 300th coaching victory while at Hopewell. Rough estimates place his career win total, including victories with various other programs, at 400 or better. But the mere stats don’t tell the story of his coaching effort this season. After graduating seven seniors from his squad that had finished second to Robbinsville in the MCT in 2022, the Bulldogs struggled through the early going, losing to both Delaware Valley, the eventual Group 1 State Champion, 65-4 and Ridge 37-28. There were two more out of area losses before Harpel led his squad into its conference schedule and by the time the season was done the Bulldogs had gone 19-6 and had swept all 13 CVC dual meets. In winning the MCT, Hopewell had six finalists and maintained its reputation for being the toughest team in wrestle backs as four others placed and all 14 scored team points. There were injuries along the way and Harpel was forced to dig deep into his wrestling room to fill the gaps. It was a testament to the competitiveness of Harpel’s room that wrestlers such as Isaac Miller at 132 and Nate March at 190 stepped into the lineup and contributed wins in dual meets. The two even contributed in the post season, with March finishing third at District 18 and qualifying for the region tournament and Miller finishing fourth. In all, Hopewell Valley had two district champs, five seconds, four thirds and four fourths, sending nine wrestlers to compete in Region 5. For Harpel, his philosophy is about the work and about the wrestling. After his team had defeated Ocean to move into this year’s sectional final, he talked about his approach. “To be honest with you, I kind of take that approach every day,” Harpel said about his team’s preparation. “We work hard in the room. I don’t get too much stress on the end result, just that we’re working hard and it usually follows.” Trenton Times All Area Team 106: Blaise Grippa, Robbinsville, Jr. The Ravens’ junior rolled thoguh his conference schedule undefeated this year, finishing the season with a record of 25-4. He was the Mercer County Tournament champion and finished fourth in District 22. 113: Cole Rose, Princeton, So. Rose followed up his breakout freshman year with a banner sophomore campaign, winning 36 matches and claiming his second consecutive MCT title. He finished second at District 17, fourth at Region 5 and won his first round match at the state tournament in Atlantic City. 120: Gal Zeppadoro, Northern Burlington, Jr. Zeppadoro won his second district title this season when he won the 120 pound crown at District 24. He was a fourth place finisher at Region 6 and qualified for the state tournament, finishing the year at 21-5. 126: Anthony Viscido, Robbinsville, Jr. Viscido became a two time state qualifier this year when he finished third at Region 6 after a runner up finish at District 22 at Wall. He finished the season at 35-4 and won his first 30 matches in a row before losing to Howell’s Sebastian Ortega in the district final. 132: Blase Mele, Princeton, So. Mele went farther than any area wrestler this season, bowing out of the state tournament in the “blood round,” one win shy of placing. He finished second at both the District 17 and Region 5 Tournaments and won three matches at the state tournament, including one championship bracket bout. At 37-6, he lost to only three wrestlers all season and all three were state placewinners. 138: Gavin Mavoides, Peddie, Sr. A Cranbury native, Mavoides became the first county champion from Peddie in recent memory when he pinned Princeton’s Martin Brophy in the MCT final to win the 138 pound crown. Mavoides had to fight his way out of the 7-seed to win the title, defeating the 2-seed, 3-seed and 1-seed to be champion. He finished the season at 30-13. 144: Martin Brophy, Princeton, Sr. While he wrestled at 138 in the post season, Brophy spent much of the year at 144 where he defeated WW-P North’s Kieran Sattiraju 3-1 in a dual meet. Brophy was 29-9 for the Little Tigers, finished third at District 17 and placed sixth at the Region 5 Tournament. 150: Red Franzen, Notre Dame, Sr. Franzen completed a successful career for the Irish when he won his second District 24 title and then finished third in Region 6 to qualify for the state tournament. He won 33 matches this season and also captured the MCT crown at 150, his second MCT title in a row. 157: Devron Lewis, Hightstown, Jr. Lewis was the Mercer County Tournament champion at 157 as he swept through the early rounds with pins before scoring a 3-2 decision over Hopewell Valley’s Tim McKeown in the final. After finishing third at District 24 a year ago, Lewis made it to the final this season. 165: Julien DeLorenzo, Bordentown, Sr. The Bordentown senior won 27 matches for the Scotties this season before finishing third at District 22. He pinned the MCT champ, Omar Ebrahim of Lawrence in the first round of the Region 6 Tournament and went on to finish fifth. 175: Patrick Brady, Lawrenceville, Sr. A Montgomery native, Brady was a 2022 MCT champion, although he was ineligible for this year’s tournament. He went 19-7 for the Big Red this season, winning both the Blue Devil Classic at Ewing and the Ralph Wetzel Classic at Hatboro Horsham (Pa.). He reached the final of the National Prep Qualifier before having to injury default to Blair’s Lorenzo Norman. 190: Richard Esterly, Robbinsville, Jr. Although he wrestled most of the year at 175, Esterly won several matches at 190, including a first period pin over Hopewell Valley’s 190 pound MCT champ Chase Overman in a dual meet. Esterly rolled through his conference schedule and won his first 25 matches of the season, finally finishing with a record of 34-6. He was the District 22 champion at 175 and finished fourth in Region 6, qualifying him for the state tournament, where he won his first round match. 215: Collin Elam, Ewing, Jr. Elam reached the District 24 final for the second year in a row, winning the crown with an overtime win against Jackson Memorial’s Justin Krosnicki in the final. He went on to finish second at Region 6 and qualified for the state tournament. He was the 21-seed but defeated 12-seed Steven Coghan of St. Thomas Aquinas11-5 in the first round. He finished the year with a record of 34-5. 285: Jacob Howland, Hamilton, So. After winning the District 21 title as a freshman, Howland had to settle for second place this year. He had plenty of tournament success throughout the season, winning the Mercer County Tournament title as well as the Blue Devil Classic at Ewing and the Rumble in the Pines at Lakewood. He posted a record of 29-5 on the season. All CVC Team 106: Blaise Grippa, Robbinsville, Jr. 113: Charles Case, Allentown, So. 120: Cole Rose, Princeton, So. 126: Anthony Viscido, Robbinsville, Jr. 132: Blase Mele, Princeton, So. 138: Martin Brophy, Princeton, Sr. 144: Kieran Sattiraju, WW-P North, Sr. 150: Red Franzen, Notre Dame, Sr. 157: Devron Lewis, Hightstown, Jr. 165: Omar Ebrahim, Lawrence, Jr. 175: Richard Esterly, Robbinsville, Jr. 190: Chase Overman, Hopewell Valley, Jr. 215: Collin Elam, Ewing, Jr. 285: Jacob Howland, Hamilton, So.