March 20, 2024

Making Huge Progress in 2nd Season Back Wrestling, Princeton Resident Renda Made States for Notre Dame

WILL TO WIN: Notre Dame High wrestler and Princeton resident Will Renda celebrates with coach EJ Nemeth at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Region 6 tourney after clinching a spot at 215 pounds in the Boys Wrestling State Championships in Atlantic City. Junior Renda went on to go 2-2 in his debut at states, falling in the third place consolations. (Photo provided by Will Renda)

By Bill Alden

Will Renda enjoyed competing for the Princeton Amateur Wrestling Society (PAWS) as a grade schooler, but he eventually got away from the mat.

The versatile Renda focused on football, lacrosse, and basketball in middle school before entering Notre Dame High in 2021.

But as he worked out after his freshman football season at Notre Dame, Princeton resident Renda started thinking about returning to the mat.

“I would be downstairs in the weight room lifting and I would see the team working out,” recalled Renda. “I was itching to wrestle; I was like, ‘Sophomore year I will try it out.’”

Renda followed through on that renewed interest and joined the Notre Dame wrestling squad for the 2022-23 season. As Renda transitioned back to the sport, he took his lumps.

“Getting back into it was an adjustment, I made my fair share of beginning mistakes,” said Renda.

Learning from those mistakes, Renda went on to place third at 215 pounds in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) District 24 tournament.

“That was big, it all stems from the program that we are trying to build at Notre Dame,” said Renda, who went on to lose in the first round of the NJSIAA Region 6 tournament to finish the season with a 17-9 record. “We have 6 a.m. practices all of the time. Most days out of the week, I am getting two workouts a day. It was working out all of the kinks, making sure I scout my opponent. That is a huge element of my success.”

Heading into this winter, Renda was determined to build on that success.

“At the end of last season, I took a pair of my old shoes and I wrote down goals,” said Renda. “I wanted to get 25-plus wins, I want to be a state qualifier.”

Continuing his rapid progress, Renda achieved both of those goals, going 35-7 this winter and ending his season competing in the (NJSIAA) Boys Wrestling State Championships in Atlantic City.

“We got them, both of those things,” said Renda. “It comes down to working hard every single day in the room.”

Losing in the Region tourney as a sophomore helped motivate Renda to put in extra work.

“The level from districts to regions, that step, I thought this is where I need to be next year,” said Renda. “I just worked out a bunch, I was constantly thinking about wrestling. I wrestled with my buddies. We did some Notre Dame clinics and I always participated in those.”

In order to reach a higher level, Renda made a key technical adjustment.

“This year it was all on feet, it was just developing one good move from the neutral position,” said Renda. “In my weight class, it will skyrocket you. It will help so much to get those first two points.”

Renda’s development helped him win the NJSIAA District 21 title at 215, pinning Dream Hemingway of Steinert in the final.

“That was a huge accomplishment for me, I took my opportunity in the finals,” said Renda. “I got to wrestle somebody who gave me one of my first losses of the season and knocked me out of MCTs so that was very personal for me.”

In the NJSIAA Region 6 tourney, Renda topped Hemingway in the quarterfinal round and won a third-place consolation match with a pin of Manalapan’s Sergey Zavalnik to punch his ticket to Atlantic City.

“That was like a great moment between me and my coach (EJ Nemeth),” said Renda, reflecting on making states. “It was look, these kids are all good. You can’t go out there and wrestle scared. You have to go out there and try to score on every single guy. If you are scoring points, you are going to win the match. You just have to go out there aggressive. You can’t be thinking these guys are bigger than you or older than you. You have got to go out there and wrestle.”

For Renda, the electrifying vibe in Boardwalk Hall surrounding the state event was inspiring.

“It was amazing, it took my breath away,” said Renda, who was seeded 21st at 215. “As someone who plays three sports, I live for the competition. That is what I am all about; the bigger the stage, the brighter the lights that is the environment I want to be in. We are in Boardwalk Hall and there are 6,000-7,000 people there, all of them to come watch this wresting. It is, ‘Great, bring it on. I am here to wrestle. I don’t care about the results, I am going to punch you in the nose and I don’t care if you punch me back.’”

After falling 9-0 to 12th-seeded Ethan Mendel of Northern Highlands in the preliminary round of the state competition, Renda punched back with a pair of wins in the third place consolations (pinning 5th-seeded Timothy Smith Jr. of Elizabeth and a posting a 6-4 victory over Bryant Mejias of Cliffside Park) before suffering a second loss (losing 15-0 to 14th-seeded Ben Szuba of Brick Memorial) to end his season.

“My third match was really a dogfight — getting to AC nothing is going to be given to you,” said Renda.

“If you are going to get a win, you are going to have to fight for that. You are not just going to be handed a win, No one there is going to be pushed around, everyone is there to try to win the state championship. Getting two wins is a big accomplishment, especially against good wrestlers who are seeded higher or as high as you are.”

Fighting through the wrestlebacks at states has Renda fired up to make a return trip to Atlantic City next winter.

“It really just showed me how high the highest level really is,” said Renda, reflecting on the competition. “It showed me the things I need to improve on to be able to knock at that podium. It was a good experience. You are able to see what the top guys are like and what you need to do to beat those top guys.”

With his older brother Jake, who started at quarterback at Princeton High as a freshman before transferring to Notre Dame, playing tight end at Pitt, and older sister Sammy competing at lacrosse for Stevens Tech, Renda is looking to follow in their footsteps to compete at the next level. He is currently considering his college options in football and wrestling.

“Those are the ones, it took me a little bit to decide,” said Renda, a defensive lineman and tight end for the Notre Dame football team. “I loved lacrosse growing up. Wrestling and football, that is where we are trying to play at the next level.”

This spring, Renda will be ramping up his wrestling training.

“I am taking a year off lacrosse, I will be in the room all of the time,” said Renda. “I am talking to coaches with Elite Wrestling (a club located in Jackson) right now to train as much as possible with some good 215 wrestlers and to get as much mat time as possible just to improve on those things to take a knock at the podium next year. One of the reasons I am excited about Elite is that it can help me with the wrestling recruitment process a little bit.”

No matter how the recruiting process ends up, Renda knows that he made the right move by returning to the mat.

“I think it definitely helps, wrestling is probably one of the hardest things anyone is ever going to do in their whole life,” said Renda. “Like Dan Gable says, once you wrestle everything else is easy. That is totally true, wrestling makes everything about football easy. It puts you in amazing shape, helps you with the tackling, and just being tough.”