Michael Jannucci Jr. and Logan Waller are a senior and a sophomore, respectively, at Colts Neck High School.
Both students were solid varsity wrestlers for the Cougars during their underclassmen years.
But neither had ever made the state tournament in Atlantic City. That changed on Feb. 23 at Jackson Liberty High School, site of the Region 6 wrestling tournament.
In the 182-pound semifinals, Jannucci stunned the No. 1 seed, Jason Sherlock of Point Pleasant High School, pinning him in 5:19. With the victory, Jannucci clinched a spot in the state bracket, even though he went on to lose in the region final.
Later in the day, in the 120-pound wrestle back round, Waller tied up Monroe Township High School’s Joseph Fiordaliso from behind. The compact sophomore slammed his opponent to the mat and held him down. The referee blew his whistle and held up Waller’s arm.
Waller ran over to his coaches and slapped hands with them. Like his teammate, he had clinched a trip to Atlantic City for the state tournament, which will run from this Thursday through Saturday Feb. 28 through March 2.
Both Colts Neck wrestlers reached the state tourament by responding to adverse situations.
In the last two winters, Jannucci fell one victory short of qualifying for the state tournament. After losing last year, he realized he needed to change his lifestyle.
Jannucci called himself “a three o’clock wrestler” in his first three seasons. He would show up for school practice each day and work hard. But he rarely worked out or wrestled outside of school. Jannucci definitely didn’t focus on his diet.
In the weeks following his regional loss, Jannucci decided to start working out on his own and eating healthier.
At the gym, he focused on endurance and cardiovascular exercises. With his diet, Jannucci started eating more greens and less sugary foods.
“Like Oreos,” he added. “A rule I stick to is anything in a package is probably not good for you.”
Jannucci’s goal was to cut his weight down from 195 pounds to 182. He wanted to get leaner so he could last longer in matches.
“A big problem was my gas tank,” he said. “I used to not be able to finish. I would want to quit.”
The lifestyle change came together for Jannucci on Feb. 23. He upset Sherlock by outlasting him.
As he walked off the mat after the biggest victory of his career, Jannucci looked up into the bleachers and spotted his father, Mike Jannucci Sr. The elder Jannucci attends all of his son’s matches.
The son and father made eye contact and “had a nice little moment together,” Mike Jr. said.
“He can be a handful but he’s a great kid,” said Mike Sr. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Waller did not have to spend a year working to overcome a defeat. He just had to spend a week defeating an illness.
On Feb. 18, the Monday morning before the regions were to open, Waller woke up with the flu. He went to the doctor and got prescribed an antibiotic. He spent the rest of the week “taking pills and sleeping a lot,” Waller said, laughing.
Waller felt better by Thursday morning, but he still didn’t go to school. His mom wouldn’t let him.
But on Friday she relented. Waller powered through the day and still felt good by the final bell.
“I was ready to roll,” Waller said.