All of the talk about 1996 is officially over.
Senior Brandon Hull ended the discussion for good with his victory in the 220-pound state final on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall. Hull dominated his way to the title in a 7-2 victory over previously-unbeaten Lex Knapp of Lacey in the 79th New Jersey Wrestling Championships in Atlantic City.
Hull is Phillipsburg's 33rd champion and the school' s first since Tim Moore and Marc DeFrancesco won titles in '96. The 'Liner ended two droughts, as he also became the first Warren County winner since Warren Hills' Justin Colaluce won his second championship in 1998.
"It's about time," Hull said shortly after his victory. "It's an amazing end to a perfect season. The team won a [Group 4] and an individual state title. There's nothing better. It's every wrestler's dream [to win a state title]."
Hunterdon Central's Gary Dinmore was the only other finalist from the Open Mike area. Dinmore had the monumental task of facing South Plainfield's Anthony Ashnault, who prevailed 5-2 in their 126-pound final to win his third championship. Ashnault is now 130-0 for his career.
Hull had an entire town in his corner, which made the pressure of winning that much greater. However, that support from the numerous fans in attendance -- some of whom held up a banner that read "Congratulations Brandon Hull a New Jersey state champion" -- and back home also drove him to the title.
"I felt like the whole town of P'burg was on my back," Hull said of trying to win the title. "I'm glad I made them proud."
He sure did. None were prouder than head coach Dave Post, a state semifinalist and third-place finisher for the 'Liners in 2003. It was a quite a year for him as well, winning a Group 4 title and both District 1 and Region 1 Coach of the Year honors. But Hull's win was the cake, not the icing.
"The stuff that kids accomplish is way better than anything I could have accomplished in my career," Post said. "For this to finally happen is outstanding."
Hull was the first P'burg finalist since Steve Kempinski was pinned by Cherokee's Doug Easlick at 215 pounds in 1999. Now, Hull's name resides among the P'burg greats like John Barna, Rick Thompson, Jack Thompson and Bob Zaro as P'burg state champs.
"It's tremendous," Hull said of being in such an exclusive group.
Post echoed of how much the P'burg wrestling tradition means to its wrestlers.
"Being from the town, the history means a lot to you," Post said. "It's been basically [Hull's] whole lifetime [since P'burg had a state champ or finalist]. I watched guys like Pete Poretta and Mike Coyle [win titles] and Tim Moore and DeFran. I was a huge John Garriques fan and watched him in the state finals [a loss to Montclair's Israel Cronk in 1997]."
Hull was especially dominant on his feet against Knapp, converting three takedowns, including a nice single-to-a-double with 56 seconds left in the second period that pretty much sealed things. It was really the first time all tournament that Hull let it fly and he wasn't going to get cheated in the finale.
"Last match of my high school career -- I had to [open up]," said Hull, who finished eighth at 215 last year. "It was the biggest one too. My most confident position is neutral, but at the same time I'm offensive with my defense."
Hull also credited assistant coach Josh Haines and teammate Anthony Pare with helping him prepare for this run all season. Haines was a pretty fair wrestler -- tongue-in-cheek -- himself, winning a two Pennsylvania Class AAA state titles for Northampton Area High School.
"I have the best workout partners," Hull said.
Phillipsburg also has its long-awaited state champion.