Southern Wrestler Dan Lynch Captures District 29 Title Despite Heartache of Dad’s Passing

By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 22, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

The road through the past few years hasn’t always been paved with a smooth surface for Southern Regional wrestler Dan Lynch. When he signed up to be a part of head coach John Stout’s program as a sophomore, he did so only as a favor to Josh Bento, so that his friend had a workout partner in the practice room.

At the time, Lynch was some 290 pounds and didn’t know a thing about wrestling. Essentially, he started wrestling to be a big body for Bento to move around as he practiced. Wrestling certainly wasn’t easy for Lynch. But as his sophomore and junior seasons passed, he developed into a formidable wrestler and lost a lot of weight doing it.

Coming into this season, Lynch was deemed as Southern’s top upperweight, but now in the 220-pound weight class instead of heavyweight. On Saturday, Feb. 18, Lynch finally came full circle. He won an NJSIAA District 29 tournament championship, but he first had to endure another difficult moment in his life.

His dad, Martin, passed away on Feb. 12.

“This was a tough week to get through,” said Lynch, moments after he knocked off Holy Spirit’s Justin Figueroa, 4-2, and was swarmed by his tearful family after walking off the mat once his hand was raised in victory. “I wanted to win the title for my dad. Winning this title means the world to me and my family right now. My dad would have loved to have been to here to see this. He never missed any of my matches. Words can’t describe what I’m feeling right now.”

After easily scoring a 9-3 victory over Shalick’s Tyree Newman in the semifinals, the top-seeded senior battled through a scoreless first period against Figueroa, also a senior. Figueroa chose defense to start the second period and scored a reversal 11 seconds into the period to go up 2-0. Lynch escaped to trim the deficit to a point heading into the third period.

With Lynch starting the period on defense, Figueroa kept him on the mat for the better part of the first minute. But Lynch managed to escape with 1:07 left to tie the contest at 2-2. Lynch pressed his attack during the final minute but was warded off by Figueroa several times.

Finally, Lynch got in on Figueroa’s right leg near the edge of the circle, then snagged his other foot as Figueroa tried to scramble out of bounds and scored the takedown with 10 seconds to go. When the match ended, Lynch rose from the mat and scanned the crowd, his eyes wide and mouth agape, as he appeared to take in what had just happened.

“I started going to Triumph Wrestling Club during the offseason last year, and I worked really hard to get better,” Lynch said. “I wanted to do all I could to help my team, and that meant putting in the time to improve my skills as a wrestler. Winning this title proves that hard work pays off.”

Lynch’s district championship also helped solidify Southern’s team title, its first in District 29 after many years of dominating District 24. After sophomore Nick O’Connell won the 145-pound crown, the Rams amassed 194 points, 28 more than second-place Woodstown.

“We definitely needed this,” Stout said after receiving the team championship trophy. “With all we’ve been through the past few weeks, and then the loss of Dan’s father on Sunday, winning the team title meant a lot to all of us. Given the opportunity we had, to accomplish something no team at Southern has done by winning championships in two different districts, this is pretty special.”

Of course, O’Connell was a big part of the Rams securing that title, beating Washington Township’s Evan Fisler, 5-4, in their championship bout. O’Connell reached the final after pinning Schalick’s Steven Italiano in the semifinals following byes for both the first round and quarterfinals.

“It was kind of tough being here all day and not wrestling until later in the afternoon,” O’Connell said. “The final was a bit chippy. My opponent tried to get me off my game. But I just had to make sure I got to his legs and hold him off defensively.”

O’Connell scored his first takedown with 35 seconds left in the first period, and Fisler escaped soon after to make it a 2-1 bout heading into the second period. Fisler started on defense and escaped to tie the contest, but O’Connell snagged Fisler’s legs for a takedown with 15 seconds left to go up 4-2.

About 40 seconds into the third period, Fisler scored a takedown to again tie the match, but O’Connell escaped within 15 seconds to regain the lead, 5-4. Fisler pressed his offensive attack, but O’Connell kept him at bay.

Both Lynch and O’Connell are now among the higher seeds heading into this week’s Region VIII tournament, and if they finish among the top three within the region, they will earn a spot in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall for the individual championship tournament slated for March 3-5.

“I’ve been thinking about getting to Atlantic City since I was a little kid,” O’Connell said. “I was hurt most of last season, but I went to Atlantic City to watch the state tournament, and I could hardly watch because it was tough sitting in the seats for it. But I’ve got great coaches who have been working me really hard, and I believe I have a good chance to get on the medals podium in Atlantic City.”

The road to Atlantic City became a little tougher for a bunch of Rams following Saturday’s district tournament, as Dan Gorman, Owen Kretschmer, Sebastian Delligatti, Matt Barnett and Matt Mackanic each finished second in their district finals. The significance of placing either second or third in the district means each wrestler in those positions must wrestle a pre-quarterfinals bout on Wednesday, Feb. 22, to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals on Friday.

Gorman, a junior, reached the 152-pound district final and lost a 6-3 decision to Woodstown’s Cody Wolf, while Kretschmer, a 113-pound sophomore, fell short against Woodstown’s Jack Prendergast, 5-2, and Delligatti dropped his 120-pound final, 8-0, to Washington Township’s Alex Baisch. Barnett lost in the 132-pound final by way of technical fall against Kingsway star Quinn Kinner, and Mackinac was pinned in the 195-pound final by undefeated Chad Watt of Woodstown.

The Rams will have 11 wrestlers in the Region VIII tourney, as three others placed third in the district tournament: 106-pounder Jayson Scerbo, who won, 8-4; 160-pounder John Stout, a 12-2 winner; and 182-pounder Vin Miele, who won, 2-1, in their respective third-place bouts. Nick Pepe, a 126-pound sophomore, also advanced to the region tournament.

Joining the 11 Southern wrestlers will be two from Pinelands Regional and one more from Barnegat, as those squads competed in District 31 and 32, respectively, on Feb. 18.

The most likely candidate to reach Atlantic City among those three is Pinelands’ Chris Nielsen, a District 24 champion last year who on Saturday won a 10-9 contest against Delsea’s Vince DeGeorge in the 182-pound title bout in the District 31 tournament. En route to his second district crown, Nielsen, who also scored the 100th victory of his career, pinned Timber Creek’s Christian Wells in 1:22 during the quarterfinals and scored a 9-3 win over Highland’s Joe Tripoli in the semifinals.

Meanwhile, Pinelands’ Brennan Richardson reached the 145-pound final by pinning Mainland’s Peterson Francois in 5:04 during the quarterfinals and scoring a 7-2 win over Delsea’s Vito Genna in the semifinals, before falling short in a 10-9 battle with Highland’s Tom Cuffari.

In the District 32 tournament, Barnegat junior Sean Foley placed second at 113 pounds, falling short in the final, 3-2, against Hammonton’s Anthony Roman. Foley cruised through the quarterfinals by pinning Winslow’s Joshua Hughes in 1:03, then pinned St. Joseph-Hammonton’s David Iuliucci in 4:00 during the semis.

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