As a freshman two years ago at Howell High School, Luke Rada qualified for the state tournament in Atlantic City. But then last winter, Rada was not able to wrestle in the postseason.
After the 2018 season, he transferred to Colts Neck High School. He entered this season with the Cougars motivated to wrestle in the postseason and win trophies.
Rada first accomplished his mission on Feb. 16 at Middletown High School North. In the 145-pound District 22 championship, Rada earned a 6-3 decision over Allentown High School’s Matt Paglia.
A week later at Jackson Liberty High School, the junior won another trophy when he captured the Region 6 title in the 145-pound bracket. As the No. 1 seed, Rada dominated the field.
He pinned his first round opponent in 29 seconds. He won his second match by a major decision, 14-2. Then, in the title bout, Rada earned a 15-8 decision over Point Pleasant High School’s Ty Bailey.
“The kid worked his tail off all year,” said Colts Neck coach Brett Jankos. “He wrestled every day in the offseason to get back to where he wanted to be.”
Like Rada, Freehold High School’s Nico Messina has been a consistent winner throughout his high school career. But unlike Rada, Messina wrestled in the postseason last year, and won the Region 6 title in the 113-pound tournament.
In 2019, Messina entered the 120-pound field as the No. 1 seed. As expected, he won another regional championship.
Only it wasn’t easy. Messina pinned his first opponent in 3:46. But he won his next two matches by close decisions, 8-6 in the semifinals and 6-3 in the finals, over Robbinsville High School’s Drake Torrington.
“He wrestled well in all three phases,” said Freehold coach Matt Shepherd. “Nico pressured on top and moved it on the bottom.”
In the state tournament at Boardwalk Hall, both wrestlers held their own.
Rada earned a major decision, 9-1, in round one before bowing out in the pre-quarterfinals. Messina went 0-2 in Atlantic City last year. But he won his first two matches this winter before losing in the quarterfinals by major decision, 12-0.
“Not being able to wrestle in the postseason stunk, so I’m just cherishing every moment,” Rada said before the tournament. “I’m just approaching each match in a good mental space and having fun.”
“I think Nico focused too much on placing in AC last year,” Shepherd said, also before the tournament. “This year he just wants to go down there and wrestle well.”
Both wrestlers are only juniors, too, so they could get even better next year. They have already shown collegiate potential, and their recruitment should ramp up next winter.
Rada is happy at Colts Neck, too.
“It’s a great place for me,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
And Messina just gets better each year.
“There’s nothing new he does,” Shepherd said. “He has just gotten better.”
Manalapan High School’s Matt Benedetti placed sixth in the state tournament at 160 pounds at the state tournament. He was decsioned by Vincent Andreano of the Delbarton School, 4-0, in the bout for fifth place on March 2.