MAPLEWOOD, NJ – Columbia High School wrestlers Blake McGowan and Naquan Tory, both seniors, gave strong efforts at the NJSIAA state finals at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Feb. 28, March 1-2.
McGowan was seeded 30th in the 170-pound division. In the preliminary round, McGowan was pinned by No. 3 seed Garret Bilgrav of Robbinsville in 1:00. The next day, McGowan returned and faced nemesis Nick Riggio of Verona in the consolation first round. McGowan posted a 6-4 decision in sudden victory over Riggio, who was seeded 19th. It was sweet revenge for McGowan, who had lost to Riggio in both the District 10 and Region 3 tournaments. McGowan lost to Riggio in the finals of the District 10 tournament at Randolph, Feb. 16 and lost again to Riggio in the Region 3 semifinals at West Orange, Feb. 23.
McGowan’s run ended unfortunately when he lost to Shawne Ramsby of Delaware Valley in a tough 2-0 decision loss in the consolation second round.
Tory, meanwhile, was seeded 22nd in the 106-pound division. He upset 11th-seeded Jack Bertha of Mendham in the preliminary round with a 5-1 decision win. But later that night, Tory dropped a 12-2 major decision loss to No. 6 seed Shane Percelay of Pope John in the pre-quarterfinals.
Tory then was moved to the consolation second round the next day, but was pinned by No. 28 seed Ethan Liptzin in 3:02 to become eliminated.
This season, Tory took fifth place at the Essex County Tournament, first place at the district; and third place at the region, while McGowan took third place at the county, second place at the district and fourth place at the region.
CHS head coach Mike Freedman was proud of both wrestlers.
“I am very proud of both Blake and Naquan and how they wrestled this past weekend at the state tournament in Atlantic City,” he said.
Freedman was particularly proud of McGowan, who was able to get revenge on Riggio.
“Blake was able to defeat his Verona nemesis Nick Riggio after four setbacks in the year,” said Freedman. “Nick had defeated Blake in the Essex County semifinals, the dual meet versus Verona, the district finals, and the region semifinals. I knew going into this match, we must develop a better strategy or it was probably going to be the same result. The coaching staff focused on creating one for Blake and he executed it perfectly. What was different from this match than in the past was we had to make sure Blake came out of the first period, 0 to 0. In previous matches, Riggio always had a lead heading into the second period. After a scoreless first period, Blake gave up a point for stalling, and after a reversal, Riggio lead 3-0 heading into the third period.
“Blake choose bottom, and for the first time all season, was able to reverse Riggio on a counter we worked on the entire season. This made the score 3-2 and then Blake had to intentionally release him, making it 4-2. Blake then immediately took him down with a double, tying the score at 4. Blake then had to ride him out for 40 seconds to force overtime. He did just that and then in overtime, hit a single leg and took Riggio down for the win.
“Blake lost his next match, 2-0, to Ramsby of Delaware Valley. Ramsby was one match away from placing on the podium and I thought he wrestled Ramsby very tough for his last career high school match.”
Freedman also was proud of Tory’s performance.
“Naquan defeated 11th-seed Jack Bertha of Mendham, who was actually the top seed in his weight in the regions. I was upset that match didn’t happen in regions and felt Naquan should have won the regions. I thought Naquan wrestled the best match of his career versus Bertha. The score was 5-1 and Naquan controlled the match from the opening whistle to the end of the match. Naquan then lost to Perceclay of Pope John, who ended up finishing seventh in the state, and Liptzin of Howell the following match.
“I honestly felt Naquan was one of the most improved wrestlers I have ever coached in my career. To make the state tournament in just his second year ever wrestling and do it at a weight class like 106 where you see some of the best technically-sound wrestlers in the state, is unbelievable.”
Indeed, McGowan and Tory, as well as Devin Rocha, left their mark on CHS wrestling.
“Both wrestlers finished up in the Top 24 in the state, each winning one match at the highest level of the New Jersey wrestling,” noted Freedman. “In addition, both seniors will be missed and cannot be replaced. They both have left their mark on this program and have shown the underclassmen that if they dedicate themselves, anything is possible. This was a fantastic year for our program where in addition senior Devin Rocha set the career mark for most wins with 102 and is now the all-time win leader in Columbia High School history.”