SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. -- At first glance of the brackets for the 8th annual Iron Horse Invitational, one may ask, "Where are the weight classes?" There were 31 brackets and all competitors weigh in before the invitation-only event. In each bracket, the wrestler's weigh near the same as one another, but talent is also a factor in grouping. It is a round robin of five where all in the bracket will wrestle one another. The wrestler with the best record is recognized as champion of the bracket.
Mike Pongracz (Delaware Valley, N.J.) defeated Scott DelVecchio (South Plainfield, N.J.) en route to winning the championship in Bracket 14 (Photo/Rob Preston)Take Bracket 14. It consisted of a state champion, a state third and fifth-place finisher, and state qualifier, all from New Jersey ... oh and an NHSCA Junior Nationals champion from the state of New York. Mike Pongracz (Delaware Valley, N.J.) came out on top of that talented bracket by having the day of his life on Sunday. A fifth-place finisher in the New Jersey state tournament in 2012 at 126 pounds, Pongracz, after a first round bye, methodically defeated NHSCA Nationals champion Chris Araoz (Wantagh, N.Y.) in his first match 2-0. In Round 3 he upset 132-pound New Jersey state champion Scott DelVecchio (South Plainfield, N.J.) in the tiebreak of overtime 4-2. He was not done impressing onlookers as he beat Zach Hertling (Ocean Twp., N.J.) 13-0 in the fourth round of the round robin. Hertling placed third in the state as a freshman at 120 pounds last season. His day was over after he won his final match by forfeit. Pongracz defied the odds and swept through a "Who's Who" among Mid-Atlantic region wrestlers to have a fine start to his senior year.
Darian Cruz (Bethlehem Catholic, PA) returned to the South Plainfield Police Athletic League gym after winning his bracket in 2011. Cruz is a recent Lehigh University commit and added weight to his frame for his senior year. Planning to compete in the 120-pound weight class in less than two weeks at the Super 32 Challenge in North Carolina, Cruz dominated his competition in Bracket 7 with a fall, major decision, and two decisions that were not indicative of the scores. Cruz, who won a Cadet National title in Greco-Roman in 2011, was joined by a new face to the tournament in fellow Fargo champion Josh Llopez (St. Mary's Ryken, MD). Llopez placed first in the Junior National freestyle competition in July of this year at 152 pounds. After competing for LaPlata High School in his first two years of high school, Llopez transferred to a private school and will compete in the National Prep tournament this season. In the first round of Bracket 23, Llopez was opposed by senior Wayne Stinson (Northern Burlington, N.J.). In a back-and-forth match, Stinson was victorious by a score of 8-5. Stinson is a previous Beast of the East placewinner who has 100 career victories in high school. That would be the only bout for Llopez as he was diagnosed with dehydration and did not compete the rest of the day.
Bracket 1 featured three InterMat top 20 freshman. In the first bout of the morning, two InterMat Top 10 freshman squared off when No. 7 Nick Suriano (Bergen Catholic, N.J.) scored a 5-0 decision over No. 10 Luke Karam (Bethlehem, Catholic, PA), a Cadet National freestyle runner-up in 2011. In the second round, Suriano defeated No. 20 Gage Curry (North Hills, PA) 5-1. Highly regarded, Suriano is a three-time Tulsa Nationals champion, which is considered the top youth wrestling tournament in the nation. Karam and Curry had their match in the fifth round with Karam winning by a 2-1 margin.
Winning the Most Outstanding Wrestler award was Troy Heilmann (South Plainfield, N.J). His key victories were over New York state champion Nick Kelley (Shenendehowa, N.Y.) and New Jersey state fourth-place finisher Brian Hamann (Jackson Memorial). Heilmann was a state runner-up in 2012 at 120 pounds. He recently verbally committed to wrestle at the University of North Carolina.
The Iron Horse Wrestling Club is directed by Gary Mezzacapo. He works tirelessly year-round to put the best field together by keeping the tournament to a low number of competitors, while keeping the level of competition at its highest. His work showed this year as wrestlers from as far north as Vermont and as far south as Florida, wrestled in this prestigious regional classic. It has come a long way in eight years and he continues to make the tournament tougher as time passes. His eventual goal is to have the top five wrestlers in the country at their weight class to attend. That sounds like a tall order but knowing Gary Mezzacapo, he will find a way to achieve it through his network of connections throughout the country.