Hargrove turns slow start this season into trip to wrestle in Atlantic City

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UNION, NJ — Two years ago, Gabriel Hargrove came out for wrestling for the first time. He only wrestled eight matches at 132 pounds. He won just once, by fall in 22 seconds.

Hargrove stayed with it and improved his sophomore year, going 20-8, including 19-7 at 138 pounds and 1-1 at 144 pounds. At 138 pounds in the District 14 quarterfinals, he was eliminated by Ryan Vorndran of David Brearley-Jonathan Dayton, 11-4, and his season ended. Hargrove was not able to qualify for Region 4 at Union and could not have one more opportunity to excel in his own gym.

Competing at 126 pounds, 132 pounds and 138 pounds this year, the Union High School junior continued to progress. When Union finished fifth in the Dover Tournament, Hargrove was first at 132 pounds. When the Farmers placed third at the Parsippany Hills Tournament, Hargrove was first again at 132 pounds.

However, when Hargrove had a chance to wrestle at home in the Union County Tournament at Union on Saturday, Jan. 20, there were no wins. Just two matches, both losses. Hargrove did not even place.

“Sometimes stuff happens,” Union head coach Dino DeBellonia said.
Hargrove remained upbeat, did not get down on himself at all and continued to work hard to try to get back to the Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium at UHS for Region 4.

At District 13 in Millburn, Hargrove reached the semifinals and then wrestled back to place third at 126 pounds and advance to Region 4.

Making the most of his final competition in his own gym this season, Hargrove reached the semifinals again and, once more, was able to wrestle his way back to the third-place bout. There, he won by decision to punch his first ticket to Atlantic City.

Hargrove became Union’s first grappler to qualify for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament since Nick Zuena did so as a senior at 152 pounds in 2017.

To sum up, Hargrove went from going 1-7 as a freshman, to not qualifying for Region 4 as a sophomore, to going 0-2 in this year’s UCT, to bouncing back and placing third in District 13 at Millburn and then third again in Region 4 at Union, to lay claim as one of the best wrestlers in the state.

“It’s unbelievable and very exciting,” Hargrove said. “To do it right here at home in front of my family and friends makes it even more special.”

“We’re happy for him and for the program,” DeBellonia said.

Hargrove will head south with a 36-5 record that includes 4-1 at Region 4 and this year’s breakdown of 7-2 at 126 pounds, 19-1 at 132 pounds and 4-0 at 138 pounds for most of his matches.

Hargrove’s overall record is 57-20, including 1-7 as a freshman, 20-8 as a sophomore and, so far, 36-5 as a junior.

The NJSIAA Tournament commences Thursday, Feb. 29, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Boys preliminaries are Thursday, Feb. 29; the quarterfinals and semifinals are Friday, March 1; and the finals are on Saturday, March 2, with a start time of 3:45 p.m.

The quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday, March 1, have start times of 11:10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Here’s the breakdown of how Hargrove got through Region 4 at Union:

Friday, Feb. 23
First round

13-Gabriel Hargrove, Union, dec. 4-Joseph Stanzione, South Plainfield, 7-1.


13-Gabriel Hargrove, Union, dec. 12-Luke Sluberski, Westfield, 11-4.

Saturday, Feb. 24

1-Mason Tettambel, Immaculata, dec. 13-Gabriel Hargrove, Union, 5-3.

Wrestleback semifinals

13-Gabriel Hargrove, Union, dec. 2-Ryder Connors, Cranford, 3-1.
Third Place
13-Gabriel Hargrove, Union, dec. 8-Shane Wysocki, North Hunterdon, 3-1.

Beating Connors meant that Hargrove reached the bout for third place and was on his way to Atlantic City. Even if he lost to Wysocki, he would have qualified for the NJSIAA Tournament, because the top four wrestlers in each weight class from the eight regions were the ones that advanced.

Against Wysocki, part of the strategy was focusing on the mental part initially.

“I just blocked everything out,” Hargrove said. “I played it really smart and did what I had to do.”

After escaping for a 1-0 lead, Hargrove was then able to produce a takedown in the second period to go up 3-0.

“Being aware, focus, balance and poise,” said Hargrove, in describing how he was able to navigate through his bracket as the 13th seed, with one of the victories coming over the second seed. All five of his matches were decided by decision.

“He’s very poised and shows a lot of athleticism,” DeBellonia said. “After the county tournament, he’s done well and has become more consistent.”

Union County Wrestlers going to Atlantic City out of Region 4 at Union: NJSIAA Tournament bound

First-place qualifiers

• 106 pounds: Michael Daly (33-7), Cranford, sophomore

• 165 pounds: Jordan Chapman (38-1), Cranford, junior

• HWT: Josue Cordoba (27-1), Plainfield, senior

Second-place qualifiers

• 113 pounds: Zachary Belverio (36-6), Arthur L. Johnson, junior

• 120 pounds: Max Rotter (24-11), Westfield, senior

• 144 pounds: Joseph Ortega (40-3), Arthur L. Johnson, senior

• 215: Nathan Faxon (38-1), Governor Livingston, junior

Third-place qualifiers

• 126 pounds: Gabriel Hargrove (36-5), Union, junior

• 132 pounds: Luke Scholz (20-4), Cranford, sophomore

• 138 pounds: Braeden Valley (34-6), New Providence, sophomore

• 165 pounds: Cristian Gioia (36-4), Governor Livingston, junior

• 190 pounds: Jake Zemsky (19-6), Westfield, sophomore

• 215 pounds: Timothy Smith (32-6), Elizabeth, junior

• HWT: Samuel Henry (34-6), Summit-Chatham, junior

Fourth-place qualifiers

• 150 pounds: Joe Dasti (29-11), Governor Livingston, senior

• 157 pounds: Jake Kreisberg (35-5), Governor Livingston, junior

Photos Courtesy of Kristin Nunez