Monday, June 26, 2017

Field hockey: Potter eager to take over Blue Streaks

Josie Potter walked away from the Warren Hills field hockey program two years ago in order to spend more time with her family.

Until recently, she had no intention of making a return to the sidelines. But coming back to be the head coach at her alma mater proved to be an opportunity she couldn't pass up.

Josie Potter
Potter was officially named the eighth head coach in the program's 53-year history during a Board of Education meeting on June 6, as previously reported by Open Mike. She succeeds Kate Rothman, who guided Warren Hills to a mark of 43-8 the last two seasons, along with back-to-back North 1, Group 3 sectional titles and its second straight Group 3 title in 2015. In '16, the Blue Streaks went 20-5 and earned a return trip to the Group 3 championship game -- a 5-0 loss to nemesis Ocean City.

"Two years ago, I resigned [as an assistant coach] because of my kids," said Potter, who lives in Palmer Township (Pa.) with her husband, Ian, and their sons, Brayden (8) and Owen (4). "[Athletic director] Geri McKelvey approached me about coming back. She said, 'We need you.' I [thought] about it for two weeks. I talked it over with my husband to make sure it was the right decision for me and my family. My boys are my No. 1 priority. But I'm a Blue Streak through and through."

McKelvey could not be reached for comment.

Potter, 34, a Health and Physical Education teacher at Warren Hills, previously served as an assistant under former coach Laurie Kerr for 11 seasons from 2004-14. Potter resigned, along with Kerr, after the Streaks won their first Group 3 title in '14, the school's first state championship in any female sport.

Kerr, also a star player at Warren Hills and 1987 graduate, turned the program into a powerhouse during her 15 seasons at the helm. Her teams went 264-71-12 overall and won or shared six Skyland Conference Delaware or Raritan Division titles, while capturing four of their five county championships in 2009, '11, '13 and '14.

In addition, the Streaks claimed eight of their 14 sectional titles and appeared in the Group 3 finals seven times under Kerr, who surpassed her predecessor and coach Luanne Ferenci (226-101-41 from 1981-99) as the winningest coach in program history.

Potter, then known as Josie Schantzenbach, is a 2000 graduate and played on Ferenci's teams from 1996-99, scoring 10 goals and earning MVP honors during her senior season in '99. The Blue Streaks lost a heartbreaker in the Group 3 final that year -- 2-1 in overtime to Ocean City on a controversial goal. The '96 team was the first to reach the state finals. She went on to play and graduate from East Stroudsburg University.

"Luanne is one of the best coaches around, and I learned a lot coaching with Laurie," Potter said.

Potter knows full well what she is getting into by taking over a program that is regarded as one of the best in New Jersey and is expected to win. Potter feels she is up for the challenge, and she is also hoping to bring some stability to a program that has remarkably changed coaches twice since 2014, despite winning two state titles.

"I can't answer how long I will coach, but my goal is to bring Warren Hills field hockey back where it needs to be," Potter said. "Player first, person first and then team. The focus should be on the kids, not the coach, and that hasn't been there [the last two seasons]. I tend to focus on the positives as opposed to the negatives. We will work on fixing those, not dwell on what went wrong. Nobody plays to lose. If we win it's because of [the players] not me.

"I don't want to be a coach who is one-and-done. That's not fair to the program or the girls."

Potter's coaching staff includes former standout player Erica Russell and newcomer Sarah Kaufman. Russell is moving up from the middle school program to coach the junior varsity, while Kaufman was recently hired by the school as a Health and Physical Education teacher, filling one of the vacancies created by Ferenci's retirement from teaching. A huge loss on the middle school level occurred when highly-regarded coach Laura Blackwell stepped down due to family reasons. And while Kaufman has no field hockey background as either a player or a coach, Potter said she will be a big asset.

"She has coached softball, volleyball and basketball and is a very confident coach, so I'm excited about that," Potter said. "You can teach the game."

Warren Hills, which is expected to contend for another Group 3 championship in 2017, returns seven starters, including seniors Tali Popinko (13 goals, 9 assists), Rebecca Sigman (17 goals, 10 assists) and Alyssa Appleby (14 goals, 3 assists) who combined for 44 of the team's 84 goals in '16. Senior midfielder Mikayla Dugan (6 goals), along with senior backs Sydney Moskal and Rebecca Lezon, as well as talented sophomores Kate Fenner and Sam Dugan, who both saw a lot of playing time as a freshman, are also key returning players.

Senior Maggie Titus, who Potter calls a "solid goalie," will start in the cage after seeing limited time as a backup in 2016.

"I coached this senior class, and I had some other players in class or coached them in track," said Potter, who will have about 20 incoming freshmen players, including a few blue-chippers expected to make an immediate impact. "I know the personalities, but I haven't seen some of them play."

Having been away for two years from a sport that is always changing and evolving, Potter has spoken with referee and former Blue Streaks coach Genya Pantuso about rules changes over the last few seasons and for 2017, while also relying on Russell's coaching experience.

"Erica is a great resource so I'm not too worried about [having been away]," Potter said.

Going into its 53rd season, Washington/Warren Hills is 644-256-92 overall. The program has won at least 20 games in six straight season, including a school-best 23 wins in 2014 and '15.

The schedule, as always, is challenging with independent games against state powers West Essex (last year's Group 2 champion and winner of the TOC) and Madison. And of course a rugged Skyland Conference slate including nemesis Voorhees and Hunterdon Central, as well as perennial Group 4 runner-up Bridgewater-Raritan. A season-opening game vs. powerhouse Oak Knoll was originally slated for Tuesday, Sept. 5, but Potter said that one has since been removed from the schedule. The Streaks will instead play their annual rivalry contest against Hackettstown on a date to be determined.

Warren Hills' second game at home against Hunterdon Central should be fun. After all, it was the Red Devils who ended the Streaks' three-year reign as Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament champions last season with a 2-1 win in the title game played at Hackettstown.

Another one to watch will be on Saturday, Sept. 30, when Warren Hills hosts Phillipsburg. Former Streaks star Toni Popinko, Tali's oldest sister, was recently named the new head coach of the Stateliners after previously serving as an assistant.

2017 schedule

(Times subject to change)

(Raritan Division games in bold)

Thursday, Aug. 24 (scrimmage) -- Easton (Pa.) 
Saturday, Aug. 26 (scrimmage) -- at Rumson-Fair Haven
Monday, Aug. 28 (scrimmage) -- Mount Olive
Thursday, Aug. 31 (scrimmage) -- at Newton
Thursday, Sept. 7 -- Montgomery, 4 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 9 -- Hunterdon Central, 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 12 -- at Watchung Hills, 3:45 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 14 -- West Essex, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 16 -- North Hunterdon, 11 a.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 19 -- Hillsborough, 3:45 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 20 -- Madison, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23 -- Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament first round, TBD
Tuesday, Sept. 26 -- at Ridge, 3:45 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 28 -- at Voorhees, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 30 -- Phillipsburg, 11 a.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 3 -- Bridgewater-Raritan, 3:45 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 5 -- at Montgomery, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 7 -- Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament quarterfinals, TBD
Tuesday, Oct. 10 -- at Pingry, 3:45 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 12 -- Watchung Hills, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 14 -- Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament semifinals, TBD
Tuesday, Oct. 17 -- at North Hunterdon, 3:45 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 19 -- at Phillipsburg, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 21 -- Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament final, TBD
Saturday, Oct. 21 -- Voorhees, 3:45 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 23 -- NJSIAA sectionals first round (Groups 2 and 3)
Thursday, Oct. 26 -- NJSIAA sectionals second round
Tuesday, Oct. 31 -- NJSIAA sectional semifinals (Groups and 3)
Thursday, Nov. 2 -- NJSIAA sectional finals (Groups 2 and 3)
Tuesday, Nov. 7 -- NJSIAA state semifinals
Saturday, Nov. 11 -- NJSIAA state finals at Bordentown Regional High School
Monday, Nov. 13 -- Tournament of Champions play-in game
Wednesday, Nov. 15 -- Tournament of Champions semifinals
Friday, Nov. 17 -- Tournament of Champions at Kean University

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wrestling: Flynn resigns as North Hunterdon coach

For 35 years, wrestling and Tim Flynn have gone hand-in-hand. But as the saying goes, all good things must end.

Flynn, 40, is stepping down following eight seasons in charge of the North Hunterdon program after being appointed as the school's vice principal during Tuesday night's board of education meeting. Flynn previously had been approved as the head wrestling coach for the 2017-18 season in a previous meeting.

Tim Flynn
"It's what I have wanted to do eventually, the last year or two for sure," Flynn said of taking an administration role. "Things seemed to work out at the [school] district level. I met with the team [on Wednesday] to let them know."

North Hunterdon is coming off a surprising 17-6 campaign after going a disappointing 9-10 in 2015-16, a rare losing season and the program's first since 2003-04. Under Flynn, the Lions went 118-48 overall, capturing the North 2, Group 5 title in 2015, their 14th sectional championship overall.

Before taking over in 2009-10, Flynn served as former head coach Jason Hawk's top assistant for four seasons. Under their guidance, along with several other highly regarded assistants, North Hunterdon earned statewide respect from opponents and coaches.

"I've been in wrestling forever, since age 5," said Flynn, a social studies teacher at North who was a former state placewinner for Phillipsburg High School and a four-year varsity letterwinner at James Madison. "I've been at North for 18 years, and a head coach for eight."

Flynn's departure is a bit surprising considering the talent level rising through a solid feeder system. He insists it was a career move that was too good to pass up.

"I've been very fortunate. I've had a lot of good kids and from parents [buying into the program]. I've been very spoiled," said Flynn, who praised Mike Cole for working at the youth level and during the busy offseason. "I never thought about walking away, even [during a frustrating 2015-16 season]. Last year, we overachieved, and it kind of got the juices flowing again. This was just the right time and place."

There have been many memorable moments during Flynn's time with North Hunterdon, including winning the Group 3 title in 2002, the school's fourth and last championship. Individually, Flynn points to coaching two-time state champion Ricky Frondorf and three-time placewinner Ryan Pomrinca, the Lions' all-time wins leader (155-13 from 2011-15) and current Lehigh University wrestler as career highlights.

"We had some stud teams my first couple of years as an assistant," Flynn said. "The 2003 team was probably better than '02, but we got beat in the [Group 3 final]. All four Hunterdon County schools winning [sectional titles] in 2015, that was fun."

The search for Flynn's successor is already underway. Current assistant coach Chris Hrunka, who has served on the staff for the last six years and is a Health and Physical Education teacher at North Hunterdon, is certainly a leading candidate.

"He'd be a good choice," Flynn said.

For now, Flynn will get to spend more time with his wife Brooke and their two children, Jack (7) and Lindsey (4). But he admits, things will be strange when practices start around Thanksgiving.

"It will definitely be weird. My wife will hate me being around," he joked. "But my son will be getting involved in wrestling. I will still be around."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Source: Potter new Blue Streaks field hockey coach

For the second time in three years, one of New Jersey's premier high school field hockey programs has a new leader.

Josie Potter
According to multiple sources, Josie Potter, a former star player and assistant coach for Warren Hills, is expected to be named the next Blue Streaks head coach -- the eighth in the program's 53-year history -- during a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday.

Potter succeeds Kate Rothman, whose two-year tenure ended abruptly in December, when athletic director Geri McKelvey informed Rothman that she would not be recommended for the job in 2017.
Rothman guided Warren Hills to an overall mark of 43-8, back-to-back North 1, Group 3 sectional titles and its second straight Group 3 title in 2015. Last season, the Streaks went 20-5 and earned a return trip to the championship game -- a 5-0 loss to nemesis Ocean City.

All fall coaching positions at the Warren County school, per its policy, were opened up at season's end and the appointments for 2017 will be made official on Tuesday.

Potter, 34, a Health and Physical Education teacher at Warren Hills, previously served as an assistant under former coach Laurie Kerr for 11 seasons from 2004-14. Potter resigned, along with Kerr, after the Streaks won their first Group 3 title in '14, the school's first state championship in any female sport.

Kerr, also a star player at Warren Hills and 1987 graduate, turned the program into a powerhouse during her 15 seasons at the helm. Her teams went 264-71-12 overall and won or shared six Skyland Conference Delaware or Raritan Division titles, while capturing four of their five county championships in 2009, '11, '13 and '14.

In addition, the Streaks claimed eight of their 14 sectional titles and appeared in the Group 3 finals seven times under Kerr, who surpassed her predecessor and coach Luanne Ferenci (226-101-41 from 1981-99) as the winningest coach in program history.

Potter, then known as Josie Schantzenbach, is a 2000 graduate and she played on Ferenci's teams from 1996-99, scoring 10 goals and earning MVP honors during her senior season in '99. The Blue Streaks lost a heartbreaker in the Group 3 final that year -- 2-1 in overtime to Ocean City on a controversial goal. The '96 team was the first to reach the state finals. She went on to play and graduate from East Stroudsburg University.

Going into its 53rd season, Washington/Warren Hills is 644-256-92 overall. The program has won at least 20 games in six straight season, including a school-best 23 wins in 2014 and '15.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wrestling: Paulsboro joins rugged Boresch Duals

State wrestling powers just seem to keep finding their way to Newton High School.

Paulsboro, the reigning Group 1 champion and longtime South Jersey powerhouse, will join a stellar field for the 13th annual Henry Boresch Duals to be held on Jan. 6, 2018.

"We are very excited about the 2018 field," said Newton coach Eric Bollette, who has guided the Sussex County program for the past 16 seasons and a runner-up finish in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division in 2016-17.

"Since we started this tournament, we have set out to bring in a field that covers all areas of New Jersey. With the addition of Paulsboro and Northern Highlands, we now have teams from Bergen County to Salem and Burlington counties. We look forward to an exciting day of wrestling."

South Plainfield, last season's Group 3 champion, has been a regular in this event -- winning four of the last six championships, including back-to-back titles in 2016 and '17, and finishing second in '15.

Also returning is Hanover Park, the Group 2 runner-up, which dropped a 43-23 decision to South Plainfield in last season's Boresch Duals title match. Coach James LaValle's Hornets won their only championship in this event in 2014.

Caldwell, Morris Hills, Northern Burlington, Northern Highlands return to round out the eight-team field.

South Plainfield (30-1), which returns state placewinners Joe Heilmann (third at 120 pounds) and Zach DelVecchio (fourth at 220), finished as the highest-ranked public school at No. 3 in the final New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 25 poll. Paulsboro (23-0) was No. 9, followed by No. 10 Hanover Park (17-5), which features 126-pound state champion Nick Raimo.

Paulsboro, which will return nine starters and celebrate its 75th season in 2017-18, is a nice get by Bollette for this event. The Red Raiders, who have gone 656-42-4 in 31 seasons under coach Paul Morina and 1,133-88-12 overall, rarely venture to Northwest Jersey, and have not done so since their series with Phillipsburg ended in 2014 -- a 38-21 loss at The Pit.

"We are extremely excited to have perennial Top 10 teams," Bollette said. "Add in Caldwell and Northern Burlington, which have been consistent winners and teams that are on the cusp of the [NJWWA Top 25], and we have a very competitive field with some great potential team and individual matchups."

Newton has won its event four times -- 2007-10 -- and most recently made the championship match in 2011, a 41-24 loss to Raritan.

Memory lane of champions

2006 -- Don Bosco 50, Haddonfield 24

2007 -- Newton 54, Pequannock 9

2008 -- Newton 36, Haddonfield 31

2009 -- Newton 43, Haddonfield 18

2010 -- Newton 34, Don Bosco 32

2011 -- Raritan 41, Newton 24

2012 -- South Plainfield 47, Raritan 18

2013 -- South Plainfield 62, Raritan 8

2014 -- Hanover Park 35, Raritan 29

2015 -- Howell 40, South Plainfield 15

2016 -- South Plainfield 45, Howell 20

2017 -- South Plainfield 43, Hanover Park 23

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wrestling: Phillipsburg sets schedule for 2017-18

Phillipsburg coach Dave Post confirmed on Wednesday that his schedule for the 2017-18 season is nearly complete, with the exception of two dates -- Dec. 20 and Feb. 1, 2018 -- that have yet to be determined. 

Phillipsburg celebrates its fourth straight Group 4 title in February.
The Stateliners, who finished 16-1 this past season and won their fourth straight Group 4 title for the program's 21st state championship overall, will open next season by returning to the King of the Mountain Tournament at Central Mountain (Pa.) High School, where they competed from 2010-13. Post's teams had opened the past two seasons at the Beast of the East Tournament in Newark, Del., since the Warren County school was unable to attend King of the Mountain, which ran the weekend before the season officially opened in New Jersey.

"We are really excited to go back," said Post, whose 2014-15 team went to the Reno Tournament of Champions. [King of the Mountain] finally moved [the dates] back this past year so we could go, but we unfortunately sent the Beast of the East contract in already."

In addition to its mandated six dual meets against Skyland Conference Raritan Division opponents, Phillipsburg, which is 112-18 overall in Post's seven seasons, will once again face Raritan, Cranford, Kittatinny and Hanover Park in independent matchups. All four of those teams appeared in the final New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 25 poll for 2016-17.

One notable addition is Newton, which owns a 9-6-1 edge overall against P'burg dating to 1947. The Braves are the only program in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area that leads in an all-time series vs. the 'Liners, including a 31-27 victory in the last meeting on Dec. 30, 2009. P'burg, which is 260-52-3 against HWS teams in its 71-year history, won the six previous matchups from 1956-2008.

P'burg, which returns 10 starters, including state medalists Cody Harrison (eighth at 126) and Brian Meyer (third at 145), will square off against Ocean Township for the first time in its final dual meet of the regular season on Feb. 3, 2018. The 'Liners are 41-15 overall against Shore Conference schools.

The annual matches against Pennsylvania's District 11 are also on the docket -- Easton (Jan. 20) and Parkland (Jan. 25). The 'Liners have beaten Easton in three of the last four seasons, including a 40-27 victory on Jan. 21 -- the most points ever scored against the Red Rovers in the series. However, Easton still has a 63-17 overall lead since the storied rivalry began in 1947.

Here's the complete P'burg schedule:

Dec. 15-16 -- at King of the Mountain Tournament (Mill Hall, Pa.)
Dec. 20 -- TBD
Dec. 22 -- Delaware Valley
Dec. 23 -- Newton
Dec. 28-29 -- at Bethlehem (Pa.) Holiday Classic (Liberty High School)
Jan. 3 -- at Bound Brook
Jan. 4 -- Raritan
Jan. 6 -- Cranford
Jan. 10 -- at Hunterdon Central
Jan. 11 -- at Kittatinny
Jan. 13 -- Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament (at Phillipsburg)
Jan. 17 -- at Warren Hills
Jan. 18 -- at Hanover Park
Jan. 20 -- at Easton (Pa.)
Jan. 24 -- North Hunterdon
Jan. 25 -- Parkland (Pa.)
Jan. 27 -- Southern
Jan. 31 -- Voorhees
Feb. 1 -- TBD
Feb. 3 -- Ocean Township
Feb. 5 -- Sectional first round
Feb. 7 -- Sectional semifinals
Feb. 9 -- Sectional finals
Feb. 11 -- Group championships at Toms River North
Feb. 17 -- District 9 Tournament at Phillipsburg
Feb. 21, 23-24 -- Region 3 Tournament at West Orange
March 2-4 -- State Tournament at Atlantic City

Note: Bold indicates Skyland Conference Raritan Division matches.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Wrestling: Easton Lions Club Classic matchups, info

The 37th annual Easton Lions Club All-Star Wrestling Classic -- originally slated for Tuesday night -- was postponed until March 21 at Easton Area High School's 25th Street Gymnasium.

The match pits seniors from New Jersey against their counterparts from Pennsylvania's rugged District 11. The high school event, slated for 8 p.m., is preceded by a youth event at 6.

Pennsylvania won last year's event, 33-15. New Jersey, which has lost the last four events, had won three straight and four of the five classics prior to a 32-15 setback in 2013. Pennsylvania leads the overall series, 21-15, dating to 1981.

Bouts will be three periods of 2 minutes, 1 1/2  and 1 1/2 minutes in length.

Tickets, available at the door, are $6 for adults, $4 for seniors (65 and older) and $3 for students.

Tentative high school matchups (New Jersey listed first):

113 -- TBA vs. Diego Santiago (24-11, 52-23, D5, R4), Easton.

120 -- Jacob Falleni (35-8, 90-26, D1, R2), Lenape Valley, vs. Luke Werner (36-6, 141-36, D2, R2, S2), Liberty.

126 -- Alec Gleason (42-5, 109-24, D1, R1, S5), East Brunswick, vs. Trevor Tarsi (27-16, 68-35, D2, R5), Nazareth.

132 -- Matt Valli (35-8, 105-23, D1, R3), Warren Hills, vs. KJ Fenstermaker (39-3, 159-16, D1, R1, S3), Northampton.

138 -- Matt Kolonia (43-4, 130-32, D1, R2, S7), Delaware Valley, vs. Dan Moran (43-6, 151-27, D2, R2, S2), Northampton.

145 -- Nick Lombard (38-3, 119-19, D1, R2, S5), Monroe, vs. Brock Wilson (41-7, 125-38, D1, R1, S3), Nazareth.

152 -- Cole Marra (33-7, 69-27, D1, R3), North Hunterdon, vs. Hayden Keleher (36-11, 45-22, D3, R4), Easton.

160 -- TBA, vs. Ryan Farber (25-2, 123-25, D1, R1, S2), Northern Lehigh.

170 -- Joey Schiele (44-3, 107-32, D2, R1, S7), Morris Hills, vs. Mike Labriola (44-0, 166-12, D1, R1, S1), Bethlehem Catholic.

182 -- Michael Iodice (38-9, 100-26, D1, R2, S6), Hunterdon Central, vs. Travis Stefanik (37-2, 154-34, D1, R1, S1), Nazareth.

195 -- Jack Miller (42-5, 94-32, D1, R3, S5), Westfield, vs. Carlo Perugini (24-10, D1, R6), Liberty.

220 -- Robert Melise (38-4, 121-22, D1, R1, S5), Phillipsburg, vs. Nathan Feyrer (29-12, 61-48, D2, R2), Parkland.

225 -- Victor Lacombe (41-3, 92-18, D1, R1, S3), Hunterdon Central, vs. Devin Fontanez (42-5, 121-25, D1, R2, S3), Saucon Valley.

285 -- Charlie Tordik (32-4, 83-24, D1, R4), North Hunterdon, vs. Niko Camacho (42-5, 93-19, D1, R1, S5), Bethlehem Catholic.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Wrestling: Home is where it's at for HWS champs

ATLANTIC CITY -- Homegrown champs are a special thing these days.

Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner, who dominated his way to the 195-pound state title and one of eight underclassmen to win titles, will look to join Jamie Wicks (1987-88) and Brent Conly (1992-93) as the only wrestlers at his school to win back-to-back championships next season. Jeff Segreaves (148 in 1975), John Pasterkiewicz (103 in '88), Ricky Krieger (189 in '93) and Dan Kelly (112 in 2007) are the other state champs for the Terriers.

Hunterdon County produced five medal winners for the third time in six years and the first since 2014, as Lightner, along with teammate Matt Kolonia (seventh at 138), North Hunterdon junior Andrew Gapas (eighth at 132), and Hunterdon Central seniors Michael Iodice (sixth at 182) and Victor Lacombe (third at 220), were all first-time placewinners.

"It's great," Del Val coach Andy Fitz said of the county's showing in AC. "Every kid who places, that's another article written, and maybe a family can connect with it."
Nick Palumbo (far bottom right) and Kyle Lightner with the rest of the champs.

Lightner and Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo, the 145-pound winner, were among the 11 public school champions, which means quite a bit nowadays. Both coaches agreed that it's a major deal for their programs.

"It was wonderful to show that our area can still get the job done," Fitz said. "There's nothing better than a kid like Kyle coming up through the program and winning. Everybody feels great about it."

For Lenape Valley, Palumbo being the school's first champ makes it sweeter. Heck, they even threw him a party back at the school on Sunday night, with a police escort into town.

"He stayed with us and believed in us," said Patriots coach Doug Vetter, who has coached three of the school's four finalists after becoming its first with a runner-up finish at 189 pounds in 1990.  "He didn't get sucked into a parochial school. He had faith in the program and it worked out. Switching schools so you can be on the more popular team is not how I am. For him to be 46-0 and show that kind of composure ... to be a state champ ... that's a dream come true."

Palumbo was happy to stay home and make history, especially since Vetter is stepping down after 16 seasons. The coach and wrestler shared a unique bond.

"I wouldn't have been able to do it without him," Palumbo said.

"It's something that doesn't need words," Vetter said. "You just feel a connection with a person."

The public vs. non-public debate rages on, and one of the issues for realignment was a projected 30 percent of this year's medals going to wrestlers from private schools. The final numbers show that private schools accounted for 33 of the 112 placewinners, or roughly 29 percent, so the projections were pretty accurate. Only five of the 14 finals did not involve a private school wrestler, while 106, which had five private school wrestlers in the Top 8, and 120, were matchups between non-public wrestlers.

Next in 'Liner

Seems like after every season, the torch gets passed on to the next star.

For Phillipsburg, junior Brian Meyer will assume that role for 2017-18 after his third-place finish at 145 pounds in the 84th State Wrestling Championships on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.

"Nobody has worked harder. We have to drag him out of the practice room," said Stateliners coach Dave Post, whose program had three medal winners -- including sophomore Cody Harrison (eighth at 126) and senior Robert Melise (fifth at 220) -- for the first time since 1998.

Brian Meyer on the podium to the right of champ Nick Palumbo.
"He was a Fargo All-American [in freestyle], and after he lost last year and finished a round short [of a medal in Atlantic City], he's been relentless. We told him [in the offseason] that we were going to put him anywhere [in the lineup] that we needed to win, and against the best guys, because we believe you can beat anybody. He responded by saying, 'I'm looking forward to it.'"

Meyer (39-8), one of 12 state placewinners from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area, believes P'burg would have had a another medal winner if not for an unfortunate injury.

"[Drew Horun] would have been the fourth," Meyer said of his friend and teammate, whose senior season ended a week before the postseason due to a knee injury. "He just had surgery a couple of weeks ago. First time in 20 years that we had three or more, that's a tribute to the kind of team we had."

How serious is Meyer about his wrestling? Consider this. When he lost a tough 3-2 decision to Nicholas Santos of St. Peter's Prep in Saturday afternoon's quarterfinals, Meyer, who avenged that loss by pinning Santos in the third-place bout, didn't look at his phone until later that evening -- roughly a span of nine hours.

"I needed to refocus. You have to find what works for you," said Meyer, who will enter his senior season with a career mark of 92-32.

Post said he would like to see Meyer bulk up and come back around 170 pounds for the 2017-18 season. The 'Liners will graduate four of their five upper weights, including Melise, but they return every starter from 106 through 160. Post would have some flexibility up top with junior Shamyr Brodders (160 this season) and sophomore Austin Roth (170-182) likely to be coming back in the 182 or 195 range.

Honorary Brave

Andy Iliff with his award. (Theresa Iliff)
Newton wrestling legend Andy Iliff was honored prior to Sunday's championship round when he was presented with the NJSIAA State Assistant Coach of the Year Award.

Iliff is part of an excellent staff at his alma mater that includes assistant coaches Ted Sibblies, a state runner-up for the Braves in 1989, and Dave Young, a state runner-up for Morris Hills in '90, under head coach Eric Bollette, a former Kittatinny placewinner.

"It feels good," said the humble and classy Iliff, who is the school's last state champion, winning back-to-back titles -- Nos. 81 and 82, the most in state history, in 1986-87. "But I wish this could be a group award. I feel it should be. I'm just a sliver of the whole thing."

This staff really enjoys working together and it shows on and off the mat. But you always have to keep your head on a swivel as Bollette and Sibblies are the pranksters and instigators of the group -- all in good fun of course -- with Iliff as their primary target.

"When they're not making fun of me it's great," Iliff, a West Point product whose son Thatcher and daughter Ashley wrestled for Braves, said with a big smile.

As for being Newton's last champion, there is nothing Iliff -- pronounced Eye-liff, not E-liff, as it was by the clueless tournament announcer who kept saying Pope John the 22nd instead of the 23rd all weekend, would love more than to be rid of that distinction.

"I would like to be a distant memory," he said. "They can't pronounce my name now."

Could sophomore Wyatt McCarthy be No. 83? Time will tell, but McCarthy gave runner-up Ricky Cabanillas of DePaul all he could he handle in the second round before getting pinned in the first overtime tiebreaker. McCarthy won his first wrestleback bout before dropping a 7-2 decision to red-hot Nicholas Lombard of Monroe -- who won five in a row after a first-round loss in finishing fifth.

Back points

Region 2 led the way with 20 state medals, followed by Region 8 with 18 and Region 5 with 17. Region 4 was next with 15 and Region 3 had 14, including three from Phillipsburg. Regions 1, including three from Pope John in runner-up JoJo Aragona (120), Robert Garcia (fourth at 132) and Eddie Ventresca (sixth at 113), and 7 each had 10, while Region 6 was last with eight.

Region 5 had the most champs going 4-for-4 in the finals, including Bound Brook's trio, while Regions 3 and 8 had three apiece. Regions 4 and 7 had no gold medals.

Just looking over some of the numbers, the Shore Conference, which has 44 schools, produced 13 medals, up one from last year, while the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area, which has just 18 schools, took home 11. So, the Shore area, which pushed for this insane realignment of districts and regions, had a grand total of 32 more wrestlers in Atlantic City only to collect one more medal. It just shows you that you can shuffle the deck anyway you want it, but the cream always rises.

Not to be lost in the shuffle from a long three days of wrestling was the fact that Iodice earned his 100th career win in the wrestlebacks -- pinning Chris Nielsen of Pinelands to reach the consolation semifinals. Iodice, who lost his next two bouts, finishes 100-25, and is the 20th Red Devils wrestler to reach the century mark.

The 220-pound medal winners, including Melise and Lacombe.
Speaking of Central, what a finish for Lacombe, a Lehigh recruit, who defeated two state champions this season -- Lightner (8-7 on Feb. 1) and Howell senior Eric Keosseian (5-1 on Jan. 7), who won the 220-pound title on Sunday. The Rebels had three medal winners in all, including runner-up Kyle Slendorn (126) and seventh-place finisher Darby Diedrich, who knocked out Central junior Hunter Graf in the wrestlebacks. Howell, which returns the bulk of its team next season including two state medalists, has been on a major roll since a 28-27 win over the Red Devils in the Group 5 final on Feb. 12 -- thanks in large part to Keosseian's huge 4-3 win over Lacombe -- on a last-second takedown -- in that one.

The sport and our area will really miss Melise and Vetter. The Phillipsburg star, an extremely humble and nice young man, didn't have the finish he wanted or expected to have in Atlantic City, but he showed tremendous heart in rallying back to take fifth. P'burg fans love their wrestlers and their wrestling, but other than Brandon Paetzell, few come to mind who were as popular with the faithful than Melise, who is still considering his college choices for wrestling, not football. And he appreciated them just as much.

"I love every single one of these people," he said after the consolation finals. "I will always have love for that gym and that environment. It's one of the best places to wrestle in the country, if not the best."

Morris Hills snapped a long drought as senior Joey Schiele finished seventh at 170 pounds. Schiele is the school's first placewinner since Dave Young reached the finals in '90. Morris Hills is coached by former Kittatinny standout Brian Bollette, a brother of Newton coach Eric Bollette.

There are mixed reviews coming in from the new tournament, which included fourth-place finishers in each region this year, expanded the brackets to 32. Gapas was among four wrestlers to earn a trip after placing fourth in the region. But it added extra rounds and made for a very long Saturday with two wrestleback sessions to start before the quarterfinals, which got underway about an hour after the scheduled time of noon.

This will need to be addressed in the offseason, and according to one NJSIAA official, one possibility is starting earlier on Friday, possibly at noon instead of 2:30 p.m. We also don't need an endless parade of awards -- essentially a back-patting session for the state -- that pushes the championship round from 3 to 4 p.m. on a Sunday. And speaking of that, this tournament needs to start on Thursday and end on Saturday night, when the stands would have been a lot fuller for the finals. Anyone who thinks attendance was not down for the finals this year could not have been in the arena to see it for themselves. Longer days do not hold the fans' interest. Haven't we seen that enough with quads and tri-meets?