I have said it before and I will say it again, there’s nothing that compares to the drama of a wrestling dual match.
With the holiday tournaments now behind us and 2013 upon us, it’s time for the best two months of the season as we begin the march to Toms River and the NJSIAA Group Championships. It began last night with a pair of MSG Varsity-ranked squads clashing when No. 7 Phillipsburg held off No. 11 Delbarton, 37-30, at “The Pit”. It was the first-ever meeting between the Green Wave and the defending Group IV state champion Stateliners.
Even with the graduation of several standouts, including state champion Brandon Hull, Phillipsburg looks as dangerous as ever. Sophomore Corey Zinsmeister is one to watch at 126 pounds. He majored Delbarton senior Matt Davis, who finished eighth at the Beast of the East earlier this season.
Delbarton had to forfeit a pair of weights because of an injury and one wrestler who missed weight. Depth is an issue, but that seems to be the case for many programs around the New Jersey region. Expect the Green Wave to be a stronger team in a month.
The big matches will keep coming this week. Tonight Jackson Memorial and Jackson Liberty meet in an important Shore Conference nondivisional match. Jackson Memorial’s program needs no introduction. An always-strong program was turned into a powerhouse by Scott Goodale, the current Rutgers University head coach, and has continued to dominate under Doug Withstandley and now Aaron Gottesman. This season is different for the Jaguars. They have a star in two-time state medalist Brian Hamann along with stalwarts Spencer Young and Ken Bradley, but the lineup as a whole is as inexperienced as the Jags have fielded in a long time.
Across town, Jackson Liberty is a program on the rise under head coach Mike Eddy. The Lions boast state medalist Nick Zak, outstanding twin brothers Mike and Matt Russo and junior T.J. Liquori, and have a fairly balanced lineup. For the first time since Jackson Liberty opened its doors in 2005 the Lions have a legitimate shot at winning the battle of Jackson.
The Jaguars might not be a top-five team in New Jersey like most seasons, but they’re still an elite program. They traveled to Toms River South in the first week of the season and came away with a victory as a slight underdog. If a team is going to beat them, they’re going to have to earn it. Joe Perry Gymnasium should be rocking.
On Friday there’s another highly-anticipated matchup as No. 1 South Plainfield travels to Jersey City to take on No. 6 St. Peter’s Prep. The Tigers are the favorites, just like last year when the Marauders handed them their only in-state loss. Revenge will surely be on the Tigers’ minds.
South Plainfield, outside of a 16-point win over Bergen Catholic early in the season, has not been tested at all. St. Peter’s has yet to wrestle a dual match, but has been impressive in winning the Caldwell Tournament and performing well at the Beast of the East and the Mustang Classic, where they had six finalists and two champions.
By the time Sunday rolls around the state’s pecking order could look entirely different because Saturday’s slate features several more big-time matches.
South Plainfield will be at the 8th annual Henry Boresch Duals at Newton High School. The Tigers, the top seed, will face Waldwick/Midland Park in the first round. (4) Morris Knolls meets (5) Newton, (3) Raritan takes on (6) Livingston and (2) Hanover Park clashes with (7) Boonton.
No. 4 Bound Brook will wrestle at the Patriot Duals at North Warren Regional with Kittatinny, Mendham, Hopatcong, North Warren, West Essex, Pequannock and Morristown also competing.
In North Jersey, No. 14 St. Joseph visits No. 6 St. Peter’s Prep. Also, No. 2 Bergen Catholic hosts No. 8 Southern Regional along with Long Island’s St. Anthony’s.
The mother of them all on Saturday will take place at Jackson Memorial when the No. 12 Jaguars host No. 3 Don Bosco Prep, No. 10 High Point and No. 15 Long Branch.
In a span of four days there are over 10 matches involving ranked teams. It’s time to buckle up.
Gravina joins BCCA elite
By winning the 160-pound title at last weekend’s George Jockish Bergen County Coaches Association Holiday Tournament, Northern Highlands senior Nick Gravina joined some select company.
With his second-period pin of River Dell’s Tyler Kalensee the Rutgers-bound Gravina became just the sixth wrestler to win four BCCA titles. He joins Jason Hernandez and Bryan Nunziato of Bergen Catholic, Eric Norgaard of St. Joseph, Chris Bitetto (current Don Bosco Prep head coach) of Hackensack and Frank Cagnina of Bergen Catholic and Queen of Peace. Cagnina had been the last to accomplish the feat in 2009.
Gravina won by fall in all four of his bouts and was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.
The group could be expanded again next season. North Bergen’s Anthony Giraldo, Don Bosco Prep’s Luis Gonzalez and Bergen Catholic’s Johnny Sebastian each captured their third BCCA titles Sunday.
A Rivalry is Born
The most anticipated bout of the BCCA finals was easily the 106-pound final between Bergen Catholic freshman Nick Suriano and Don Bosco Prep freshman Kyle Bierdumpfel.
Suriano entered ranked No. 1 in the nation by InterMat after winning the Beast of the East while Bierdumpfel was ranked 11th at 106 pounds. The final didn’t disappoint as Suriano held off Bierdumpfel 2-1 in the tiebreaker overtime period.
A lot has to happen over the next four years, foremost is the pair being in the same weight class. Kids grow at different rates, so who knows what they’ll look like in two years. But given all the factors this is going to be fun to watch play out. A pair of nationally-ranked wrestlers in the same county wrestling for bitter rivals is about as good as it gets. For at least this season, we’ve only seen the beginning.
Bound Brook impressive at The Clash
Fourth-ranked Bound Brook took its high-powered squad to Rochester, Minn. last weekend for the Clash XI national duals. The Crusaders went 5-1, finishing ninth in the 32-team field, to push their national ranking to 29.
Bound Brook nearly knocked off national power Apple Valley (Mn.) before falling, 30-27. The Crusaders won seven bouts, including Josh Ugalde’s 8-6 decision over Daniel Woiwor at 160 pounds. Woiwor, now ranked 20th in the nation at 160, was a top-15 wrestler at the time.
Historic win for Neptune
Neptune earned the program’s biggest victory in some time Wednesday night when it defeated Shore Conference Class B North rival Ocean Township, 28-27.
According to head coach Tim Jobes it was the first time Neptune had defeated Ocean since 1979. Ocean was without last season’s 120-pound, state third-place finisher Zach Hertling, who did not weigh in, but that should not lessen the accomplishment for Neptune’s program.
Sophomore Nasiyr Brown and seniors Isaiah Haymon and John Seidle each earned crucial victories in the one-point win. Brown defeated Ocean’s Max Rallo, the Region VI third-place finisher at 106 last season, 4-2, at 120 pounds. Haymon topped District 22 third-place finisher (113) Jordan Eugenis, 3-1, at 126 pounds. At heavyweight, Seidle outlasted Dan Arias, who was second at the Mustang Classic, 3-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker.
Gross out indefinitely
Don Bosco Prep senior Razohnn Gross, the defending 195-pound state champion, will be out for at least two weeks, Ironmen head coach Chris Bitetto told MSG Varsity.
Gross hurt his ankle in the consolation semifinals at the Beast of the East and ended up injury defaulting in the third-place bout to finish fourth. He did not participate at the BCCA Holiday Tournament. Bitetto said the plan is to keep him out for two weeks and then re-evaluate him. The Ironmen are currently ranked No. 3 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey rankings.
Four area schools and 17 individuals are nationally ranked by InterMat in the site’s latest update.
In the Fab 50, South Plainfield is 27th, Bound Brook is 29th, Bergen Catholic 42nd and Don Bosco Prep is 50th.
Individually, the rankings are as follows:
106: No. 1 Nick Suriano (Bergen Catholic), No. 9 Kyle Bierdumpfel (Don Bosco Prep)
126: No. 11 Mike Magaldo (Watchung Hills), No. 12 Anthony Giraldo (North Bergen), No. 14 Corey Stasenko (South Plainfield), No. 17 Dave McFadden (DePaul).
132: No. 7 Scott DelVecchio (South Plainfield), No. 16 Jason Estevez (Livingston).
138: No. 2 Anthony Ashnault (South Plainfield).
145: No. 4 B.J. Clagon (Toms River South), No. 11 Troy Heilmann (South Plainfield)
160: No. 4 Jonathan Schleifer (East Brunswick), No. 9 Nick Gravina (Northern Highlands).
170: No. 12 Ethan Ramos (Hawthorne).
182: No. 8 Johnny Sebastian (Bergen Catholic).
195: No. 18 Razohnn Gross (Don Bosco Prep).
220: No. 13 Zach Chakonis (Don Bosco Prep).
Bob Badders covers wrestling for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @Bob_Badders.