Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wrestling: Cougars' calling is to win for Crawn

Even in death, Linn Crawn is still a big part of the Kittatinny wrestling program. Perhaps it's only fitting since the former assistant coach's passing has left a huge void on the mats in these parts.

For the first time in 32 years, Kittatinny lined up for a dual meet without Crawn sitting on the bench and cheering on his boys, as it thumped Lenape Valley, 54-16, on Wednesday in the NJAC Freedom Division opener for both Sussex County rivals.

Crawn, a larger-than-life figure who could tell a story with the best of them, died unexpectedly in August. The former Newton wrestler battled several health issues over the years that had limited him to attending only home matches in recent seasons.

Anyone who had befriended Crawn -- and I count myself as one of those lucky ones -- or wrestled for him will tell you that this season, or future ones, just won't be the same without him. It's a harsh reality for longtime Kittatinny head coach John Gill, who referred to Crawn as his "right arm" when contacted this summer about his good friend's passing.

Even after a nice win, Gill couldn't help but feel a little sad that Crawn wasn't there to share in it.

"It was so weird when we came here [on the bus from Hampton Township] -- even though he hadn't been riding the bust the last couple of years," said Gill, who notched career win No. 466. "This was the first one without him [Gill and Crawn had been together for 32 of 33 seasons]. We miss him tremendously."

Gill and assistant coach Steve Butler are now trying to assimilate themselves to playing Crawn's role of master strategist and lineup juggler. It won't be easy. It came naturally to Crawn, who was called on by rival coaches to do the same for their programs. Newton coach Eric Bollette and even High Point coach John Gardner -- the Cougars' fiercest team rival -- picked Crawn's brain and benefited from his vast knowledge of wrestlers both locally and statewide.

"We are agonizing over decisions that Linn used to make so calmly and collectively," Gill said.

They aren't alone, however. In sifting through Crawn's personal belongings, a book that contained scouting reports on every team in New Jersey for the 2012-13 season -- amazingly all hand-written since he did not use computers -- was discovered by one of Crawn's sisters.

So, at least for this season, Crawn is still working his magic for the program.

Bollette, a former Kittatinny star wrestler, was especially close to Crawn. During his ride home on Wednesday after Newton's 39-27 win over Wallkill Valley, Bollette said something was different during a phone conversation with Open Mike.

"No offense, but I'd be talking to him right now instead of you," Bollette said. "It's tough."

Kittatinny plans to honor Crawn prior to Thursday's night home match against Wallkill Valley. Gill said there will be a moment of silence and a few words spoken in his memory. In addition, a motion to rename Kittatinny's Cougar Classic -- held between Christmas and New Year's -- in Crawn's honor is pending school board approval in the coming days.

It will then be forever known as the "Linn Crawn Memorial Tournament."

This season, wrestlers are wearing blue buttons with "LC" in white on their warmup tops in tribute to their beloved coach, for whom they dedicated the season to.

"We hope to do our best to honor him," Gill said.

Crawn would have been proud of their efforts in the opener, as the Cougars won 10 bouts, including six pins. The biggest came from sophomore 138-pounder Tom Murphy, who decked Region 1 finalist Glenn Haines in 2:50.

Murphy, a District 3 runner-up last season, tilted Haines three times in the second period before stacking his opponent for the surprising fall.

"I thought it would be a close match. I was very surprised at the result," said Murphy, who lost 17 bouts as a freshman, mostly by one or two points.

"What a great second period," Gill said. "He found a weakness, at least a weakness tonight, and he capitalized on it."

Nick West (126), Trevor Schutte (132), Dylan Wunder (182), Tom Smith (220) and Christian Silva (113) also had pins in the victory. The lopsided affair also gave Gill the chance to rest several regulars, including district champion Nick Romyns (145).

In another good matchup, state qualifier Jake Brook gutted out a 9-8 win over Lenape Valley senior Kristian Barrett at 195. Brook, third in Region 1 last season, trailed, 7-4, after two periods after getting dumped to his back for four points in the opening period. In the third, Brook converted two takedowns, including the winner with 0.7 seconds left on the clock.

Lenape Valley was without the services of sophomore Peter Lipari (concussion), a Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex champion as a freshman, as well as two-time District 2 champ Matt Benvenuto (illness) and heavyweight Bobby Sperling (knee).

In the preseason, this looked like a match that could decided this year's division champion.

"In our Freedom Division, we certainly respect Jefferson and Lenape Valley -- and I never count Newton out," Gill said. "Certainly, Lenape is among the top three teams. We came out storming tonight. This is a great start to our division [schedule]."


126 -- Jr. Nick West (1-2), K, p. Jr. Adam Chavarria (0-1), :39.

132 -- So. Trevor Schutte (1-0), K, p. So. Anthony Mulford (0-1), :16.

138 -- So. Tom Murphy (4-1), K, p. So. Glenn Haines (2-2), 2:50.

145 -- Jr. Kevin Jelinek (1-0), K, forfeit.

152 -- Jr. Dominic LaBell (4-0), LV, d. Sr. Connor Zandarski (1-4), 6-2.

160 -- So. Joe LaBell (3-1), LV, d. Sr. Dave Popek (2-2), 6-3.

170 -- Jr. Kieran Gerrity (3-1), K, d. So. D.J. Barrett (2-2), 3-0.

182 -- Jr. Dylan Wunder (3-1), K, p. Sr. Billy Underwood (0-1), 1:44.

195 -- Sr. Jake Brook (3-1), K, d. Sr. Kristian Barrett (3-1), 9-8.

220 -- Jr. Tom Smith (1-0), K, p. Sr. Dante James (2-2), 3:17.

285 -- Jr. Liam Hinks (1-2), K, forfeit.

106 -- Fr. Zach Merkey (2-1), p. Fr. Adam Reffi (0-1), 1:35.

113 -- Jr. Christian Silva (3-1), K, p. Fr. Aaron Merkey (2-2), 4:34.

120 -- Fr. Aaron Arzon (4-1), LV, md. So. Thomas Chernati (0-1), 16-2.

Records -- Kittatinny 1-0, 1-0; Lenape Valley 0-1, 0-1.

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