Holy Spirit's Ellis looking to make some noise at Boardwalk Hall

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ellis Mike Schultz/Holy Spirit heavyweight Ray Ellis wrestles at the Region 8 Championships last weekend. While many wrestlers circle the mat in warmups, listening to their Beats by Dre headphones and getting pumped for their match, Holy Spirit heavyweight Ray Ellis prefers peace and quiet.

The only thing on his head while he circles the mat in warmups is his headgear. The only thing in his head is his opponent.

"I can't listen to music before I wrestle," Ellis said. "It gets me too pumped up, to where I wrestle bad."

Ellis, a junior, is one of five local wrestlers to compete in the NJSIAA State Championships this weekend at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. He is joined by teammate Pat D'Arcy (106), Egg Harbor Township's Shawn Bryant (132) and Nigel Toussaint (220), and Atlantic City's Cesar Balmaceda (160).

This season, Ellis has compiled a 31-8 record. He placed second in District 32 and second in Region 8. He wrestled the Beast of the East tournament in Delaware and won two of four matches, both by decision.

Last year, Ellis did not even wrestle. Holy Spirit's heavyweight spot was filled by Dom LaFragola.

If Elllis wanted to wrestle he would have had to cut weight. He weighed 260 at the time and needed to weigh 220.

"It was rough; that's a lot of weight to cut in a short amount of time," he said.

He last wrestled in his freshman year for St. Augustine Prep and has only wrestled a total of three years. That includes eighth grade when he wrestled at the Alder Avenue Middle School in EHT.

"I didn't know a lick about wrestling."

He relied on his eighth grade teammate Jarred Hodges, who now wrestles 132 for St. Augustine Prep, to show him the ropes.

"He taught me some moves and basically showed me how to wrestle," Ellis said about Hodges.

In his freshman year, Ellis was introduced to cutting weight. He weighed 245 but needed to weigh 215.

"It was rough cutting weight for the first time," he said. "I wasn't used to it. I was drained before every match. I wasn't eating healthy, I wasn't doing it right, I didn't know how to do it right at the time."

He eventually figured out that he needed to plan and time his diet better.

In the meantime, he had a difficult freshmen wrestling season at St. Augustine, going 4-18.

Although he still loved the sport, his father began to grow less fond of his wrestling due to the fact that he had to cut so much weight. He felt like that contributed to him not winning as many matches as he could.

It was a meeting in a Holy Spirit hallway between Spirit coach Ralph Paolone and Ellis' father that helped to shift his dad's thinking.

"I told his dad, ‘Look, he's gonna be a good wrestler,’" Paolone said. "He said, ‘No, I don't want him to cut weight,’ and I was like, ‘Look, he doesn't have to cut weight, I want him to be heavyweight - he can gain weight.’"

With a little more convincing from his son, the elder Ellis finally agreed to let him wrestle.

"He's starting to enjoy it again," Ellis said of his dad. "In my eighth grade year he loved it when I wrestled, then when I started cutting weight it was horrible. Now he's starting to enjoy it again."

Ellis is raw. What he knows of wrestling has been learned in three years. He has gotten stronger and faster since his freshmen year.

"He's so athletic it's unbelievable," his coach said. "I think he's a lightweight in a heavyweight's body. The more he wrestles, the more savvy he will get."

He is also familiar with what it takes to become a state champion. He is a speedy defensive end for Holy Spirit, winners of the 2012 Non-Public II state championship.

His only exposure to a state tournament in wrestling came as a spectator.

Friday night, that will all change. He will wrestle a preliminary bout against Nicholas LaShell from Hanover Park. LaShell finished third in Region 3 and has a 31-5 record.

If he wins, Ellis will face Region 7's top finisher Alex Thompson (Haddon Heights). Thompson, the top seed in the bottom bracket, is 34-0 this season and picked as a favorite to win a state title. Which means Ellis, the eighth seed, has a tough draw.

Cutting weight is no longer interfering with Ellis’ success, and that is music to his ears. He can now focus on wrestling. And eating.

“I eat what I want now,” he said. “And definitely lasagna.”

Placing in the state tournament is Ellis’ goal this weekend. If he does, Ellis has a good shot of gaining recognition as a state power next year.

“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” coach Paolone said. “If he can continue to improve over the summer, I think he is a threat to win a state title next year.”

Ellis’ Holy Spirit teammate Pat D'Arcy also has a tough draw at the Championships. If D'Arcy can defeat Hillsboro's Adam La Bracio (35-4) in preliminaries, he would meet the winner of Ferdinand Mase (Eastern, 35-1) vs. Anthony Cruz (Passaic Valley, 31-10).

If D'Arcy were to win that, he would face the best 106 pounder in the country, Bergen Catholic's Nick Suriano (34-0). Suriano is the second seed in the top bracket while D'Arcy is the sixth seed in the top bracket.

NJSIAA Wrestling Championships

Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, March 8-10


  • Friday - 5 p.m. preliminaries and pre-quarter finals
  • Saturday - 10 a.m. Morning session quarter finals and wrestle-backs I and II
  • Saturday - 5 p.m. Evening session semi-finals and wrestle-backs III and IV
  • Sunday - 10 a.m. consolations followed by finals and award ceremony at 2 p.m.

Doors open one hour prior to each session.

On Saturday, following the morning session, Boardwalk Hall will clear the facility and re-open the doors at 4 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the Boardwalk Hall Box Office, by calling Ticketmaster or through www.ticketmaster.com.

Senior Citizens (65 and older), children (2-12) and students with a valid grade school or high school ID are eligible for $2 tickets the weekend of the event.

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