March 8, 2023

Coming Up Big in Run to 2nd Straight Girls’ State Title, Rose Finishes Her PHS Wrestling Career on a High Note

ROSE IN BLOOM: Princeton High senior Ava Rose is all smiles last Saturday at Atlantic City as she shows off her path to victory at 114 pounds at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Girls’ State Wrestling Championships. It marked the second straight state title for Rose, who is headed to the University of Iowa where she will be competing for its women’s wrestling program. (Photo provided by Bruce Rose)

By Justin Feil

Ava Rose completed a dominant run to her second straight New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Girls’ State Wrestling Championship.

It’s another achievement for the Princeton High School senior, who has far bigger aspirations, including an Olympic gold medal.

“It was a lot cooler,” said Rose of capturing back-to-back crowns at 114 pounds. “It was really awesome. I didn’t really take it all in until I was on the podium, and then I was looking around.”

Rose pinned Lennix Horsburgh of Bound Brook in their first-ever meeting after 4:40 to take gold at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday. Rose already had a commanding lead when she got Horsburgh on her back. Rose stayed away from Horsburgh’s top strength and focused on her own key move.

“The blast double because I knew her set-up and I knew it was going to be the same,” said Rose. “All her matches she did the same set up, and the blast double is one of my best moves.”

It completed a state title run in which only one wrestler didn’t get pinned by Rose. Pennsaucken’s Jada Pichardo fell, 17-2, in a technical fall in the quarterfinal round. In the semifinals, she dispatched of Lyndhurst’s Ava Krzykalski in under a minute. PHS head coach Jess Monzo believes Rose’s dominance is all in her approach.

“It’s her mindset,” said Monzo. “She believes she’s the best in the weight class. She doesn’t really believe that anybody can compete with her. She wants to dominate everyone when she steps on the mat.”

PHS came a match away from having a chance for another medalist. In the boys’ state tournament on Friday, sophomore Blaise Mele bowed out after reaching the fourth round of wrestlebacks at 126 pounds.

“We get to the wrestlebacks and now the name of the game is you have to advance,” said Monzo. “You want to place, you have to win and advance. We wrestled a couple matches and did really well and then we drew a kid that beat us twice during the year, in district finals and region finals. We’re top 12 this year. It wasn’t our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal was to be on the podium. But to be one round away is good for motivation for next season.”

Mele opened as the No. 17 seed with a 9-2 win over No. 16 seed Mason Livio of Pinelands. Mele fell in the pre-quarterfinal round to eventual Most Outstanding Wrestler and top-seeded Anthony Santaniello of Brick Memorial. In wrestlebacks, Mele was an 11-4 winner over Eastern’s Gavin Haegele, and won by default of eighth-seeded Giovanni Scafid of Howell before falling for the third time this year to Patrick O’Keefe of St. John Vianney. Mele went 37-6 this season.

“We know we belong,” said Monzo. “We’re one match away from placing ourselves. Luckily we have two years left. So we can do some good things in the next two years and we’re looking forward to doing that.”

Another PHS sophomore, Cole Rose — Ava’s younger brother — also has two years left after making his first trip to the boys state tournament. Cole Rose got three matches of experience at 113. After losing in the first round to third-seeded Robert Duffy of Christian Brothers Academy, the 30th-seeded Rose rebounded with an 11-6 win over 14th-seeded Christian Hoopes of Washington Township.

“He’s grown,” said Monzo. “Being down on the mat and actually getting a win does tremendous things for you knowing you have two years left. Getting yourself on that flood under those bright lights at Boardwalk Hall is something that not a lot of people can say they did.”

Cole Rose’s season ended with a tight 4-2 loss to fourth-seeded Jake Talarico of St. Peter’s Prep in the second round of wrestlebacks. He finished 34-10 in his second high school season and advanced a step further than last year to states.

“To be in the top 24, to get your hand raised once, says you’re on the right track and doing the right things,” said Monzo. “He realized he can really do this.”

Ava Rose has had her hand raised plenty over the season. She went 20-2 with a 13-2 record against boys and 7-0 mark against girls after coming off an offseason when she was focused on freestyle wrestling, not the folkstyle of the high school season. She made her place in PHS history with two state gold medals.

“I thought it was good; I wish I would have beat the two people I lost to,” said Rose. “They were close matches and I honestly should have beat them. This season, I improved a lot. Even though my neutral was good coming in, better than my top and bottom, I think I also improved my neutral. It’s exciting to see. Maybe I’ll see more little opportunities when I’m wrestling. I can see an opening or understand things better, and it’s really sweet. I’m coming into the freestyle season and I’m feeling good about my neutral and I’m ready to add stuff to my neutral. I feel really good.”

Rose is gearing up for the next steps in her promising career. She is looking forward to competing for a national title in Fargo, N.D., before she begins her college career at wrestling powerhouse Iowa where she will compete for its women’s program.

“I already got committed to the college I was dreaming of wrestling for,” said Rose. “This was like a victory lap. It was a goal I was working towards. I put a ton of effort into it and I wanted this. But I have bigger goals to work towards. I have a lot of bigger stuff to work towards.”

Rose credits hard work for getting her to the top of the podium at states. It hasn’t been the easiest of paths. The COVID-19 pandemic cut her freshman year, then Rose battled through weakening anemia her sophomore year before being diagnosed and recovering for a breakout junior year. The adversity that she faced strengthened her.

“My sophomore year that was so hard for me really made me love the sport a lot more because of how bad it was,” said Rose. “And when I came back, wrestling was magical because it was so much better than it had been.”

Rose grew remarkably over last year while finally healthy enough to compete up to her potential. She rode the momentum of that success this year with no signs of settling for a little success. Regardless of where she is practicing, she makes it a point to be noticed for her work ethic.

“Everybody says that they work the hardest, but I feel like I work the hardest,” said Rose. “I know everybody thinks that. I always think that. I definitely think the girls’ wrestling in New Jersey has grown tremendously, but I put in the work and I care about my wrestling. I’m always wanting to improve on my wrestling. I’m looking at spots some girls aren’t looking at, and I’m training with some that girls aren’t training with. I’ll be in the room with boys state champs and training with them. I seek out places out where I can get better that are hard for me because I want to have it hard. Sometimes some girls don’t have opportunities to get in these really good rooms.”

Challenging herself allowed her to grow more. She focused this year on improving in neutral and top and bottom, and using fakes effectively. She tried to incorporate more variety into her repertoire of moves so even if an opponent knew one of her tendencies, she had another to go to. With her technical improvements came the same intense resolution before every match.

“Her way of approaching every match, when she gets that game face on, it’s something different,” said Monzo. “It’s a scary look in her eyes and I don’t know if I want to talk to her, go over our game plan, or leave her alone. It frightens me. I’m thankful I’m not on the mat with her. She’s really excelled the last couple of years.”

Rose was happy with another state title, but she still has a lot to accomplish on her checklist. Another gold was confirmation that she is on track to bigger things.

“My main goal overall is to keep improving,” said Rose. “My goals are points that I can set as motivation. I improve a lot more with those high goals than without them. That is what I really want to take away. All my goals in general, I want to improve and be the best wrestler I can be. That’s important to me.”

Rose doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to improve. It’s why she seeks new ways to develop and focuses on multiple aspects to become more dominant. She will have more opportunities ahead at the next level as college brings its own challenges.

“She’s approaching every day like ‘if I don’t win the day, I’m in trouble,’” said Monzo. “Her approach is right for that level. She’s doing really, really good things and the sky’s the limit for her. She has aspirations to win an Olympic gold medal in the future. I think that’s what makes her so dominant right now — is she’s not training to win a state title. She wasn’t training to win a region title. She’s training right now as a 17-year-old girl to win an Olympic gold medal.”

Ava Rose was happy to win another state championship to cap her high school career. There are other goals ahead that will drive her into the future after leaving her mark at PHS.

“She’s been such a factor in our program and such a leader in our room the last couple years,” said Monzo. “From last year to this year, her mentality changed. Her match preparation and how she went about business has been really second to none.”