Pinelands Regional’s Mena Wins First Girls Wrestling Region Title at 118 Pounds

By DAVID BIGGY | Feb 20, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands Regional junior Olivia Mena has her hand raised after pinning Notre Dame’s Angelina Romero to win the NJSIAA South Regional championship at 118 pounds on Feb. 17.

The Pinelands Regional High School wrestling program is one with a solid history of success. With nine regional and 40-plus district champions dating back to the mid-1980s, individuals coming through the Wildcats’ system have acquired their share of medals.

But on Feb. 17, a new chapter in the history books was started and junior Olivia Mena began adding more notes to the archives when she became the first female wrestler to capture a region championship.

“When I was wrestling guys, nobody cared if I won or lost, but now that there is girls wrestling in New Jersey the expectations have changed and I was a little nervous about that,” said Mena, after she pinned Notre Dame’s Angelina Romero in the 118-pound South Regional final at Red Bank Regional High School.

“It’s changed how wrestling is for me. It’s more nerve-racking because now the expectations are higher and I’m expected to do well. But at the same time, it’s more motivating for me.”

As the top seed going into the first-ever NJSIAA Girls Wrestling Region Championships – for which there also was a North region and nearly 400 girls competing in the two – Mena immediately became one of the favorites to win the 118 title. Watching her during the introductions prior to the finals, she seemed to handle the pressure well.

“She’s very calm until she gets on the mat and the whistle blows,” said Pinelands coach Joe Adelizzi. “Then she wants to headlock you and throw you through the gym, or rip your head off trying. She’s good and she’s tough, and she works really hard. It’s not a surprise she’s a region champ.”

After receiving a bye for the first round, Mena faced Jackson Memorial’s Avery Meyers in the quarterfinals and recorded a pin in 1:21. In the semifinals, up against Brick’s Gianna DeDreux, Mena used a headlock-hip throw combination to send DeDreux to her back 30 seconds into the bout and worked it into a pin at 1:14.

In the final, Mena took down Romero with 1:20 left in the first period and let her up off the mat seconds later, expecting to easily take her down again. However, Romero battled well up high and prevented Mena from snagging the headlock, and Mena went into the second period with a 2-1 lead.

“Olivia was ticked off when she came off the mat,” Adelizzi said. “She was mad she didn’t get the headlock as early as she wanted. That’s the kind of competitor she is. She wins a region title and she was mad about it. I couldn’t be happier.”

Starting from a neutral position to start the second, Mena finally got the headlock and hip throw with about 50 seconds left in the period, thumping Romero straight to her back. After more than half a minute of Mena attempting to press Romero’s shoulders, time ran out and she took a 7-1 lead into the third. Starting on defense, Mena escaped  with 1:10 left in the third, then quickly snatched Romero’s head, took her down and pressed her with 44 seconds to go.

“I thought I wrestled well,” she said. “I don’t know how I ended up with the No. 1 seed, or what I did to deserve it because I thought some other girls might have been better than me. But that made me want to go out there and prove that I belonged in that spot.”

Now she gets the chance to try to become Pinelands’ first-ever state champion. As the region champ, Mena likely will have an automatic top seed for the first-ever girls state championships on March 1-2. The girls are scheduled to compete in the same place as the boys – the vaunted Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

The top three North and South placewinners will be grouped together for each weight class and the tourney will start with a quarterfinals round and semifinals to follow on March 1, with the consolation and finals bouts set for March 2.

“I’ve never been inside Boardwalk Hall, so it will be exciting and scary all at once,” Mena said. “I wish I could be cool enough to wrestle like most of those guys that will be there, but it should be a lot of fun. I don’t know if I’ll get much sleep on the days leading up to it, because I’ll probably be online trying to research more about who I might be wrestling, but it’s great that I’ll be there.”

Unfortunately, Southern’s Gracie Cordasco will have to wait another year to try to earn her place inside Boardwalk Hall. The freshman 147-pounder just missing the cut after dropping a 3-2, triple-overtime decision to Jackson Memorial’s Brandi Rado in third-place bout.

“I’m OK with where I ended up,” said Cordasco, who, interestingly, used to train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu alongside Mena when they were younger. “Whatever happened today, I knew I still have few years to get better. I have a long road ahead of me, a few more years to prove myself.”

After getting pinned by top-seeded and eventual champ Paige Colucci of Williamstown in the semifinals, Cordasco cruised to a 10-1 victory over Jackson Memorial’s Abigail Stanberry in the wrestleback semifinals. But against a much taller opponent – one she had faced twice already this season and beat her the second time in a tight contest – Cordasco had a difficult time of tying up Rado within close enough range to snag something that would take the other down.

“Both girls knew each other very well and they were both trying to set up the same single-leg shot, so it became a very close match with both girls trying to figure out how to get something else,” said Southern coach Mike Braun. “Then Gracie got a stall warning and that kind of changed things.”

A stalling warning midway through the third period of a 1-1 contest ultimately proved to be Cordasco’s undoing in overtime. After the first minute of overtime yielded the same deadlock in scoring, Rado started the second overtime on defense with 30 seconds to escape. Not only did she escape, but stalling call on Cordasco made it a 3-1 bout – meaning Cordasco had to either get a reversal in the third overtime to keep the match tied for a rideout tiebreaker, or escape and score a takedown for the win.

Cordasco ended up with the escape point but ran out of time as she snagged Rado’s leg and tried to bring her down to the mat near the edge of the circle.

“It was great to have our own tournament, and it was really fun to be a part of this historic event,” Cordasco said. “I was happy to be here because it is such a special moment in the sport’s history. Not everyone gets this kind of opportunity, but now, for girls in New Jersey we get to have this awesome experience every year. I’m already looking forward to next season.”

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