PHS Wrestler Mele overcame a knee injury mid-season, becoming the program’s first freshman to make state wrestling

RISING FORCE: Princeton High wrestler Blase Mele lifts an enemy off his feet in a fight at 126 pounds this season. Earlier this month, Mele competed in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Boys State Wrestling Championships, becoming the first freshman in program history to achieve the feat. Mele placed third at 126 in the Region 5 tournament to earn his spot in the state tournament. In the United States, Mele lost two close fights to finish the season with a 17-4 record.

By Justin Feill

Blase Mele achieved his goal of reaching the state wrestling championships in Atlantic City, but it was how he got there that made him all the more remarkable.

Mele overcame a knee injury that required midseason surgery to make history as the first Princeton High freshman to reach the New Jersey Boys’ State Wrestling Championships. State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) earlier this month.

“It’s a great experience to go to the state tournament,” Mele said. “I’m very grateful because a lot of things had to happen even for me to have the opportunity to compete. It really was a 50-50 chance. There was no guarantee that I would even be able to wrestle in the districts.

Mele went 17-4 in his first high school wrestling season. He was undefeated at 126 pounds until reaching the finals of the District 17 tournament. His second place finish qualified him for the Region 5 tournament in which he placed third to earn one of four berths for the state tournament.

“I think it’s great,” said PHS head coach Jess Monzo. “Since 2017 we’ve had at least one guy there every year so the fact that Princeton is continually represented there only shows in smaller areas, it’s not always the big school, we’ re generating a lot of popularity now in the school. We hope to feed on it. »

Heading into the season, Mele was confident in his ability to advance this far. He was aiming high and staying focused even with some of the challenges he faced from being a young competitor and enduring a potentially season-ending knee injury.

“The state tournament was always the goal,” Mele said. “I knew I had the potential to get into it this year. Training with these top kids, I knew I had the potential. It was all about executing when I needed it, staying consistent throughout the season and peaking at the right time. The struggle throws things at you, and life throws things at you, and you need to be on your toes and ready to adapt. I think I did very well this year.

Mele capped off her season with a trip to take on the ultimate wrestling competition in New Jersey. In Atlantic City, he lost in the first round, 5-2, to St. John Vianney’s Joe Giordano. He was knocked out by Giovanni Alejandro of St. Joseph’s Metuchen with a 3-2 loss in the first round of consolation wrestling.

“It’s a very cool environment because everyone deserves to be there,” Mele said.

“Everyone there worked very hard. Each point is a point to be proud of. Nobody is giving out points there. Warming up with all these kids, every single one of them is serious about sports. Each of them has put in countless hours. It’s really cool to be around other people who are committed to this kind of lifestyle and who are willing to do what other people don’t want to do to achieve their goals. Watching the finals, I don’t know what else can motivate you more than that. Getting on this podium is my goal.

Mele has gained experience and confidence in the offseason heading into his freshman season in high school. He’s trained against some of Pennsylvania’s top competitors and traveled around the state to areas like The Brick that are known for their success. He sought out those kinds of challenges.

“That’s what it takes to be at the top level,” Mele said. “You have to simulate that level of competition in practice in order to see success when it really matters.”

Mele has the trip to Atlantic City fresh on his mind as he rests his knee before resuming his intense off-season training schedule. He can build on the experience, which made him more eager to come back.

“It’s good for the future knowing he’s been there before,” Monzo said. “He tasted it, he saw the bright lights. It didn’t go our way. Speaking with Blase, it wasn’t the result he wanted, he knew he could have done more. He wanted more, and it left a taste in his mouth of unfinished business.

Getting there took resilience. Mele started his season well when he started having more knee pain than before the start of the year. After 10 days off, however, he returned to the mat. When the knee started to bother him again, he had to have an MRI which showed he had a tear in the medial meniscus which was obstructing the movement of his knee. He underwent surgery that cost him a chance to play in the Mercer County Tournament, but instead of taking four to six weeks to return, he pushed himself back much sooner.

“I gave myself 10 days and then I was back on the mat,” Mele said. “Of course it hurts, but the prospect of missing a season after all the things I’ve been through and all the adversity I’ve been through, and all the things I’ve worked for in my career, this wasn’t an option and I just had to push.

Mele only had a few days to prepare for the districts. He had to fall back on his previous training as he entered the final competitions of the season. He was motivated to continue the year and finish on his terms.

“Fortunately, I have such a strong base,” Mele said. “My dad has worked with me since I was 5 years old to strengthen my foundation. I have coaches who will arrange private sessions, they will train with me at all times, they will bring the best drilling partners for me. They made me a great wrestler. I was able to come back after going to live one day. I was able to pull myself together. It was more of a mental component, working through the pain.

Mele was a finalist in the Districts upon his return to the mat. He came back with the same focus he had when he left for surgery.

“He always had fire in his eyes,” Monzo said. “Even when he was away, you could see the angst of being back in the program. He wanted to come back. He always had that motivation behind him and that fight. You saw it, if he was going to be allowed to leave, he was going to leave.

The success in the districts gave Mele confidence to head to the regions. Needing a top-four berth, he advanced far enough to contend in the third-place match, which he won, 4-3, against Alejandro after already securing a trip to the Championships. State.

“It’s a cool feeling,” Mele said. “People tell me that coming to the United States is such a big accomplishment. It really is and I have a lot to be grateful for. It really puts into perspective all the hard work that I accomplished and all the time my parents invested in me, all the time the coaches invested in me People don’t realize all that goes into those wins, even those little wins, even just winning a match. It’s a feeling that you don’t get off the wrestling mat. It comes with all the work you put into it. It’s great to know that I made the statements especially under the circumstances. C It’s even cooler to know that I did it in first grade and it’s never been done before in the history of the school.

Mele credited his training at the start of this year and was grateful to have good partners in the PHS team so he could continue to progress. Marty Brophy traveled with him to help him warm up in Atlantic City and served as his main partner in workouts with the lighter Cole Rose helping along with a few others. They immediately saw his potential in the practice room, and others across the state quickly recognized him as well.

“Maybe he cringed a bit as a freshman — nobody would know who he is,” Monzo said. “We knew from the start that he was special, but not many people knew that. Going into next year, he’s going to be one of those names and I think he likes that. He likes that part that people will know his name next year.

Mele had the chance to prove himself despite struggling with his freshman year in high school and a knee injury that eventually required surgery. He overcame these obstacles to make individual history and help PHS strengthen its training environment.

“I think I turned some heads this year, and I’m proud of that,” Mele said. “At the same time, I just have to keep working and doing my thing. This is where the results come from.

Ryan H. Bowman