March 6, 2024

Taking 6th at 138 in N.J. Wrestling Championships, Junior Mele Moves Closer to His Goal of a State Title

BLASE OF GLORY: Princeton High wrestler Blasé Mele, left, controls a foe in action this season. Last Saturday, junior Mele placed sixth at 138 pounds in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Boys Wrestling State Championships in Atlantic City.

By Justin Feil

Blasé Mele is hoping to continue his trend of improving his state finish each year.

The Princeton High junior placed sixth at 138 pounds in his third trip to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Boys Wrestling State Championships in Atlantic City on Saturday.

“It’s such a hard tournament,” said Mele. “I’ve been there twice. The environment is like no other. I’d like to say I’ve competed everywhere, and the environment is like no other. It’s starting to set in how it’s been pretty cool. I have one more year and I’m shooting for gold. I’m trying to get Princeton its first state title.”

Mele has had plenty of firsts. Two years ago, he was the first PHS freshman boy to reach the state championships. Then last year, he reached the final 12 for the first time. Places 9-12 do not compete after the wrestleback fourth round, but it set up this year’s move onto the podium. While he would have loved to place higher, just moving up is significant, and doing it after moving up a weight class this year.

“When I was a little kid and I was asking my dad about what makes a good New Jersey wrestler, what should my ambitions be moving forward, the one thing he always brought up is New Jersey state placer,” said Mele. “When I was looking at Alec Bobchin and other amazing New Jersey wrestlers, the one thing in common is always New Jersey state placer.”

Bobchin placed fourth at states for PHS in 2019, setting a standard for the Tiger program. PHS has also produced state champion girls with Chloe Ayres and Ava Rose.

“We’re hoping this medal can really jumpstart our program again,” said PHS head coach Jess Monzo. “If you look back at all the girls we’ve had too, we were fortunate to have Chloe come through the program, to have Ava (the older sister of current PHS star Cole Rose) come through, and the two years prior to Chloe, Alec Bobchin placed. Whether it’s been a boy or a girl those last seven or eight years we’ve had someone standing on a podium somewhere with a medal. It’s great. Not too many programs can say that, and those programs that can are very good. It’s our turn to start building, building to that powerhouse that Princeton can be.”

Mele was proud to represent the Tigers again in Atlantic City. He was the lone wrestler from the school to advance out of Region 5, where he placed third. Mele drew the No. 9 seed for states, which he exceeded in part because of the support he felt.

“I think that’s what really kept me focused too, knowing I wasn’t just doing it for myself, I was doing it for other people, that I was doing it for Princeton,” said Mele. “If you look at the podium, I’m the only public school kid on that podium. Everybody else on that podium is a private school kid. There is no better feeling than winning for the place that you were born, and winning for the people that you’ve grown up with, and winning to represent them. That’s what really got me through this tournament is having my friends send videos of them watching me wrestling during class at school, that’s something special. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. Being able to represent them on the biggest stage in Atlantic City when everybody else is in school, that’s something special for sure.”

Mele opened the state tournament with a pin of Vincent Kain of Manalapan before running into nemesis Giovanni Scafidi of Howell. Mele had ended Scafidi’s state tournament last year, but Scafidi pinned Mele in the region semifinals this year. This time Mele built a lead and then held off another attempt by Scafidi for a pin when he had Mele on his back in the final period. Mele advanced with a 6-5 win.

“Winning when it matters is the most important thing to me,” said Mele. “That’s when it matters — in the state tournament. I prepare in the wrestling room every day with my partners and my coaches to win big matches. I’m just grateful and happy things went my way.”

Mele credited his coaches with keeping him going in the final period of that match. While he was facing a dire situation, he had the training and the coaching to pull out the win.

“There was a brief second when I could look over and my coaches were like, ‘You’ve got this, don’t worry,’” said Mele. “I’m super grateful that they were able to keep me grounded and keep me in that match because I don’t know if I would have been able to come away with that win if I didn’t have them in my corner telling me that I just need to keep my head and I’ll come away with the win.”

Mele fell into the wrestlebacks when he dropped a 7-3 decision in the quarterfinals to top-seeded and eventual champion Caedyn Ricciardi of St. Peter’s Prep. Mele advanced in wrestlebacks with a 10-1 major decision over sixth-seeded Ryan Langenmayr of Lakeland. It was his second win in a row over a higher seeded wrestler, as Scafidi was the No. 8 seed.

“I’m super confident in my preparation, so no matter what seed I get I’m pretty content and I’m pretty happy with it,” said Mele. “One thing is the matchups, getting that second match against that kid from Howell was super good because that’s something I wanted back and I was happy to get.”

Mele pulled out another hard-fought win, 2-1, over Jake Zaltsman of St. John Vianney in their wrestleback quarterfinal match. The win pushed him closer to the podium.

“It kind of came down to last period,” said Mele. “At that level, you’re going to get the tough matches. It’s just having a sense of comfortability in those tough matches and being ready for them and being prepared for them.”

In the next round, he lost, 8-0, to Dylan Ross, the No. 3 seed out of Paramus Catholic. His final match was for fifth place, but he was edged by Anthony Depaul of St. Augustine, 5-2, to place sixth.

“Thinking back to all of the matches, the match against the 1 seed there was definitely a bit of a skill gap that I’m going to need to work to close,” said Mele. “The other two, even though the Paramus Catholic kid, the score says it was a dominant victory. If you were watching the match you would think it was a lot closer than it actually was. And then the St. Augustine kid was really a last-second takedown and I can get that back in another match for sure in my mind.”

Mele finished the year with a 41-7 record and the highest state finish for a PHS boy in five years. His season was marked by huge wins that helped build him into a state medalist.

“That was the goal at the beginning of the season,” said Monzo. “To be honest, I think his goal was to be a little higher than what he accomplished this year. Going back to December, and at the Sam Cali, he wins the tournament and has two really, really great wins over nationally ranked guys. And those two wins really helped him believe that he could do it, and gave him the confidence that he wasn’t the guy that was just dreaming.”

The season helped to prepare him for the state tournament and the toughest trek there is. He had to wrestle through a gauntlet of state qualifiers over three days all the while making weight and sustaining enough energy. By the end of states, he was as sore as anytime in his career.

“It’s a grind like no one else has done,” said Monzo. “Only a select few every year, the guys that earn their way down. That tournament, they’re beat up, they’re tired, they’re hurting, they’re hungry, and then they’re cutting weight for the next day. It’s pretty intense and it’s pretty amazing to watch it go down. They put their heart and soul out there every single match. You see it win or lose. You feel bad for the kids that don’t get their hands raised. And the ones that do, you want to hug them and tell them everything that they’re doing, everything that they’ve trained in is culminating
and working now.”

Mele could not have done it without the help of his coaches and teammates. Even with his own season done, Cole Rose selflessly traveled with Mele and helped him work out between matches and maintain weight.

“My coaches were super great about keeping me focused on what was in front of me this weekend and it was one just thing,” said Mele. “It was, ‘We’re done wrestling, let’s go check our weight and see where we are.’ This was a business trip. I was down there to get something done, to do it for Princeton, to do it for my team. As much as this is a state medal for me, this is a state medal for my wrestling family, my boys. I’ve been practicing with these guys. It’s about time we’ve had someone on the state podium.”