Lex Knapp will be the first to admit he's spent this season in the shadows.
Despite an unbeaten record, the Lacey wrestler hasn't made the state rankings, and hasn't gotten a lot of attention. That's likely about to change, however, as the senior upset top-seeded and top-ranked Colton Bigelow to win the 220-pound title at the NJSIAA Region VI wrestling tournament on Saturday at Pine Belt Arena before 2,710.
Knapp's upset gave Lacey its first region champion since 2003, and earned him Most Outstanding Wrestler honors.
Toms River South saw a resurgence, with three region champions for the first time in 34 years, and four wrestlers total advancing to the NJSIAA Individual Championships in Atlantic City, which begin Friday night.
The top three placewinners in each weight class -- a total of 42 wrestlers -- advance to the state championships from each of the state's eight regions. From Region VI, which comprises the Shore Conference, was dominated on Saturday by Brick Memorial and Ocean Township, with five wrestlers apiece headed to Atlantic City. Jackson Liberty also is sending four wrestlers to the state championships, while Jackson Memorial and Christian Brothers Academy are sending three apiece.
A number of local schools are represented, however: Howell had a pair of placewinners, Cole Cameron and Zach Bohm, while Toms River East, Central, Point Boro, Brick, Manchester and Long Branch each have one wrestler headed for Atlantic City. Barnegat has a wrestler headed to the state championships for the first time in school history.
For Knapp, representing Lacey at the states means a lot to him.
"I wanted to put Lacey on the (wrestling) map," Knapp said. "I wanted to show it doesn't matter what singlet you're wearing; if you work hard you can succeed."
Beating the No. 1 wrestler in the state at his weight class meant wrestling Bigelow, his friend and wrestling partner, carefully.
"I wanted to make all my shots clean shots, so he couldn't use them against me," Knapp said. "It's tough because we're friends. You never really want to wrestle one of your friends, but you have to just go out and wrestle."
Cole Cameron of Howell was in a similar situation when he faced Toms River South's BJ Clagon. Clagon, the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 138, did what he does best: aggressively attacked and recorded a 15-5 major decision over Cameron -- a result that didn't faze the Howell senior.
"After the semifinal win over (Brick Memorial's Cliff) Ruggiero, I was relieved," Cameron said. "I knew I could just wrestle without a lot of pressure."
Clagon, a state runner-up last year, repeated as a region champion, and was joined as a champion by Indians teammates Kevin Corrigan and Ken Theobold, while Matt Theobold advanced by taking third.
The Theobold brothers wrestled at Manchester last year, but moved to Toms River for this school year.
"It's been great coming to South," Ken Theobold said. "I was new, but they treated me like I was part of the family right away. I'm loving every minute of it."
Corrigan, who beat CBA's Erik Beshada 5-0, was happy to have another shot in Atlantic City, after his trip last year ended before he reached the medals stand.
"It feels good to have all the hard work pay off," Corrigan said.
Brick Memorial sophomore Joe Ghione earned his second straight trip to Atlantic City and a bye on Friday night -- a reward for the region champions -- in the 106-pound class. He will be joined by teammates Anthony Miller (182) and Matt Moore (195), who both placed second, and Evan Berti (145) and Tyler Richardson (170), who were third.
"It feels great, but it's not the ultimate goal," said Ghione, who beat Max Russo of Jackson Liberty for the region title. Ghione, who finished sixth in the state last year, said he allowed himself to see limitations to what he could do last year.
"There really is no limit to what I can do," Ghione said. "There shouldn't be any limits next week."
Richard Lewis of Toms River East, who beat Jackson Memorial's Brad Royle for the title at 132, also is focused on a better outcome in Atlantic City this year, after losing in the quarterfinals last year and winding up seventh.
"I learned you can't take anyone for granted," Lewis said. "I had beaten the kid (his quarterfinal opponent) during the season, and wasn't ready. I didn't wrestle my match.
"I've been waiting 364 days to get back there," Lewis said.
Dan Nobbs of Point Boro, who lost to Ocean's Zach Hertling in a battle of freshmen in the 120-pound final, was nonetheless excited to be representing the Panthers in Atlantic City.
"It's awesome," he said. "I've been working for this my whole life. My brother wrestled, my dad wrestled, and I've wanted this. I really wish my teammates were joining me."
Central's Jalen Ramos, who fell to Jackson Memorial's Brian Hamann in the 126-pound final, said reaching Atlantic City was "especially nice, since I came up short last year."
Ramos said opening the season by winning a title at the Hawk Classic and being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler boosted his confidence right away.
"That was the first time I thought I had a shot (at reaching the state championships)," Ramos said. "I feel like it's an accomplishment, but I want more."
Starting Friday, Ramos and the other 335 wrestlers who placed at the region championships will get that chance.
Championship bout results
170: Nick Zak (Jackson Liberty) d. Dae'Sean Brown (Neptune), 3-0.
182: Dallas Winston (Jackson Memorial) md. Anthony Miller (Brick Memorial), 10-1.
195: Hayden Hrymack (CBA) p. Matt Moore (Brick Memorial), 5:25
220: Lex Knapp (Lacey) d. Colton Bigelow (Ocean Township), 5-3.
HWT John Appice (Manalapan) d. Kyle Gora (Ocean Township), 3-1.
106: Joe Ghione (Brick Memorial) d. Mike Russo (Jackson Liberty), 7-3.
113: Kevin Corrigan (TR South) d. Erik Beshada (CBA), 5-0.
120: Zach Hertling (Ocean Township) d. Dan Nobbs (Point Boro), 11-4.
126: Brian Hamann (Jackson Memorial) md. Jalen Ramos (Central), 10-1.
132: Richard Lewis (TR East) d. Brad Royle (Jackson Memorial), 3-1 OT.
138: BJ Clagon (TR South) md. Cole Cameron (Howell), 15-5.
145: Ken Theobold (TR South) d. Withler Marcelin (Ocean Township), 6-0.
152: Nick Herring (Middletown South) d. Jake George (Long Branch), 5-2.
160: Vin Favia (CBA) d. Dan Wojtaszek (Brick Township), 5-1.
106: Max Rallo (Ocean Township) d. Grant Brown (CBA), 8-5.
113: Matt Russo (Jackson Liberty) p. Nick DePierro (Freehold Twp.), 2:29.
120: Anthony Scarcella (Raritan) d. Danny Saraiva (Marlboro), 7-0.
126: Matt Theobold (TR South) d. Nick Liguori (Raritan), 1-0.
132: Jesse Meaney (Manchester) p. Thomas Nulty (Freehold Boro), 1:35.
138: Brandon Kosheff (Jackson Liberty) d. Jake Campana (Southern), 9-8.
145: Evan Berti (Brick Memorial) d. Chris Serpico (Southern), 9-2.
152: Steve Johns (Southern) p. Jon Buhagiar (Central), :28.
160: Zach Bohm (Howell) p. Anthony Ferraro (St. John Vianney), 5:59.
170: Tyler Richardson (Brick Memorial) p. Jimmy Ilvento (Holmdel), 2:28.
182: Glenn Cross (Matawan) d. Andrew LaMura (RBC), 8-3.
195: Matt Schofield (Barnegat) d. Vic Ianello (Raritan), 5-2.
220: Taylor Avino (Rumson) d. Andrew Matter (Point Boro), 10-8 OT.
Hwt: Brandon Russo (Colts Neck) d. Tyler Poling (Brick Memorial), 8-2.