BELLEVILLE, NJ — For the Belleville High School wrestling team, it has been a challenging time.
Like every school in the state, the Bucs had to navigate COVID-19 protocols.
To make matters worse, the Bucs lost their gym when it was damaged by Tropical Storm Ida at the end of August.
Despite the adversity, the Bucs have persevered, much to head coach Joseph Pizzi’s delight.
“The last two years have definitely presented many challenges, but I like to use the quote ‘Make an effort, not an excuse’ to motivate my student-athletes,” said Pizzi in an email to the Belleville Post. “I remind them that we will often be faced with various challenges throughout our lives, and we will have to do our best to figure it out. As we all know, every problem has a solution.”
The Bucs opened the 2021 season at the Kearny Holiday Tournament, where they placed third out of 12 teams, an impressive feat, considering they did not have a full lineup, Pizzi said.
“Our 106-pounder, sophomore Jakob Ferrer, placed first in the tournament and has gone on to win multiple matches in our duals against Lyndhurst and Cedar Grove,” Pizzi said. “We also had our tournament this weekend (Jan. 8), but since our gym was ruined by water damage, Nutley kindly welcomed us to use their facility, in order to continue our annual Belleville Buccaneer Classic. It was the first time I ever saw a Nutley mat and a Belleville mat side by side. Jakob took second, losing a tough match in the finals, 4-3. Jakob is one of our team captains and is now 7-1 on the season.”
Senior 113-pounder Lorenzo Tafuri is one of team captains and has been having a phenomenal season, said Pizzi. Tafuri placed second in the Kearny tournament and second in the Belleville Buccaneer Classic. He is 6-2 on the season, with his only losses coming in the tournament finals.
Pizzi also has been impressed by 120-pound sophomore Leopoldo Hanz Tiankee. “He has come up through our recreation program and has shown tremendous growth and determination throughout the years,” Pizzi said. Tiankee took second in the Kearny tournament, and he currently sits at 4-3, with a few close losses against quality wrestlers.
Senior 126-pounder Francesco Lombardo also has been inspiring. “This young man will give you the shirt off of his back and will do anything for his teammates,” Pizzi said. “He was also named honorary captain in our first two weeks. We like to give the kids chances to win honorary captainship each week throughout the season. He is also currently 4-3 on the season.”
Sophomore 132-pounder Franco Russomanno started off the season with COVID-19 but has returned with a chip on his shoulder, Pizzi said. “He has come a long way in one year and is really showing the staff what he’s made of,” Pizzi said.
Rocco Negron, at 138 pounds, has been great thus far this season, Pizzi said. He is currently 9-2, with a second-place finish in the Belleville Buccaneer Classic.
Junior 144-pounder Matias Lopez, who began wrestling in his freshman year, has made tremendous strides as a wrestler and an athlete. “He has lost nearly 40 pounds over the last two years by training and perfecting his craft as an athlete. He placed fifth in the Kearny tournament and fourth in the Buc Classic, and sits at 7-4 on the season,” Pizzi said.
Pizzi mentioned other strong contributors for the Bucs.
“Our 165-pounder is senior Diego Viera, who is a great leader and has been with us since freshman year,” Pizzi said. “He placed second in the Kearny tournament and third in the Buc Classic. Our 175-pounder is Fernando Collado, who was recently out due to quarantine but has been training all off-season. We are looking forward to his return.
“Our 190-pounder is Ethan Lopez, who has been with us through thick and thin,” Pizzi added. “He has earned his way into the starting lineup and has earned the honor of captain based on his work ethic, leadership skills and persistence. He is an amazing mentor and a great kid. He took fifth place at the Buc Classic. Finally, our 285-pounder is sophomore Isaac Aguilar, who came to us last year with very little knowledge of the sport but has shown determination and the toughness to be great. He continues to progress as an athlete.”
The Bucs defeated archrival Nutley, 57-16, Jan. 14 in Nutley. The next day, the Bucs went 2-1 during a quad meet at Montclair, as they lost to Caldwell before defeating Montclair and Fort Lee to improve to 5-2 overall on the season.
“The toughness and gradual growth through each match this year has been significant,” Pizzi said. “We are 5-2 in our duals at this point in the season, and the wrestlers get better with each outing. Each weight class has contributed and has secured quality wins through the first month of our season. Giving up three forfeits is never easy, and it puts us in an 18-point hole every match before we even get a chance to wrestle. That says a lot about these young student-athletes and their ability to overcome adversity. The kids got better and better throughout the day (during the quad meet) and are really showing major development as individuals and teammates, both mentally and physically.
“Overall, we have had a great showing as we have had to overcome many challenges over the last two years. This is an amazing group of men and women who our staff is very excited about as we embark on this grueling season.”
Ferrer and Tiankee lead Bucs at ECT
The Bucs had a good showing at the Essex County Tournament held at Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange on Wednesday, Jan. 26.
Jakob Ferrer, at the 106-pound weight class, and Leopoldo Hanz Tiankee, at the 120-pound weight class, each placed third.
In the third-place consolations, Ferrer decisioned St. Benedict Prep’s Matthew D’Arcy, 6-0, while Tiankee decisioned Juan Millan of Bloomfield by a 14-6 decision.
Diego Viera took fourth place in the 157-pound weight class, losing to Mike Maglione, of West Essex, by pin in 1:59 in the consolation.
Lorenzo Tafuri took sixth place in the 113-pound weight class, losing to Oumar Tounkara, of St. Benedict’s Prep, by pin in 2:10.
Belleville finished in 10th place in the team standings among the 22 schools. West Essex won the team title.
West Essex, 274; Livingston, 265; Seton Hall Prep, 197; Irvington, 132; Caldwell, 111.5; Verona, 106; Millburn, 104; Bloomfield, 96; St. Benedict’s Prep, 72.5; Belleville, 68; West Orange, 51; Columbia, 48; East Side, 43; Glen Ridge, 42; Montclair, 42; Cedar Grove, 37.5; Orange, 20; Nutley, 17; Barringer, 11; Newark Academy, 10; Newark Collegiate, 5; East Orange Campus, 0.
Photos Courtesy of Joseph Pizzi/BHS head coach