Monday, December 10, 2012

Wrestling: HWS matches to mark on the calendar

It won't be long now. Wrestling season in New Jersey is just days away.

With that in mind, let's take a quick look at what should be the biggest regular-season matches to watch in all all three counties. Listed by dates (earliest to latest).

Phillipsburg at North Hunterdon on Dec. 19 -- Good one early as the Stateliners look to establish themselves as the team to beat in the area, as well as the North 2, Group 4 section. North coaches Tim Flynn and Jason Hawk are former Stateliner standouts, so that always adds a little twist. Both teams will find out a lot about themselves early on. P'burg has questions up top where North is strong, but can the Lions hold their own down low and in the middle? 'Liners won both meetings last season (33-25 regular season and 34-21 in the sectional semifinals).

Kittatinny at Lenape Valley, Dec. 19 -- This very well could decide the winner of the NJAC Freedom Division title early on. Cougars are pretty solid up and down the lineup with state qualifiers Kieran Gerrity (170) and Jake Brook (182), along with region qualifiers Tom Murphy (138), Nick Romyns (145), David Popek (152-160), Garrett Armstrong (195) and Dylan Wunder (220). Patriots return super sophomores Peter Lipari (126) and Glenn Haines (132), along with tough senior Matt Benvenuto (138).

High Point, Timber Creek, Howell at Warren Hills, Dec. 22 -- Should be a fun day with some great action in Washington with this powerhouse quad. High Point is a favorite to win Group 2 honors this season, while Timber Creek and Warren Hills are two of the best teams in Group 3. Wildcats, according to sources, got everyone certified at their desired weights, while the Blue Streaks may not be settled in due to several wrestlers playing football until this past weekend. Some of the top wrestlers from Region 1 on display with HP sophomores Mike Derin (126-132) and Jason Gaccione (145), along with junior Kyle Stoll (195). WH features region finalists Max Nauta (113-120) and Joe Kratochvil (132). WH coach Jarrett Hosbach enters the season nine victories shy of 100 for his coaching career.

Hunterdon Central at Voorhees, Dec. 22 -- Good Hunterdon County showdown featuring two schools and programs that have had some great battles over the years. Vikings coach Eric Hall is making no bones about the fact that his team wants to do something it hasn't done since 1996, when his dad, Bob, was the coach -- sweep all three in-county meetings with Central, Delaware Valley and North Hunterdon. Voorhees enior Jadaen Bernstein (170) is one of the top wrestlers in the state, while Central features state runner-up Gary Dinmore (138). Vikes are also four wins shy of 500 as a program.

High Point at Kittatinny, Jan. 4 -- What a way to ring in the New Year, as these longtime county rivals renew their bitter feud. It's our version of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys. Cougars are still stinging from last year's 32-12 loss in Wantage. HP leads the series, 25-11-1, and enters the season riding a 51-match win streak against county opponents since a 39-18 loss to Kittatinny on Jan. 22, 2005. 'Cats coach John Gardner is 7-7 against the Cougars -- winning the last seven meetings. Legendary Cougars coach John Gill is 10-21-1 in the series. Neither school has won more than seven in a row since the series began in 1976.

Delaware Valley at Voorhees, Jan. 4 -- This has all the makings of another Hunterdon dandy. Terriers and coach Andy Fitz always have this one circled on the calendar and a win would do a lot for a team that has its share of questions and inexperience. Senior Mike Pongracz (126) is not among the questions as he's primed for a state title run this season. Potentially, this one could feature two state finalists as the Vikes' Jadaen Bernstein (170) looks to get back there after finishing second in his sophomore campaign.

Hunterdon Central at North Hunterdon, Jan. 4 -- Man, three big ones on the same night (see above). Couldn't we have spread these out? Nonetheless, this could be the match of the year in Hunterdon County, as the Red Devils look to avenge a pair of losses to the Lions last season -- 28-24 and 33-26. If Dinmore drops to 132, Central's lineup becomes a lot more formidable. North features some good young talent, most notably sophomore Ryan Pomrinca (seventh in the state at 113 last season).

Voorhees at North Hunterdon, Jan. 9 -- Always a fun time when these two sister schools tangle on the mat. Vikings prevailed, 38-26, last season so you know the Lions will be out for revenge. Just to clue you all in, there's a pretty intense rivalry between the coaches in this one as well. North is pretty tough up top and so is Voorhees, which presents some matchup problems.  

Warren Hills at Phillipsburg, Jan. 17 -- I hesitate calling this a rivalry since the Blue Streaks haven't beaten the 'Liners since 1990. And Warren Hills, which assumes the role of P'burg in its series with Easton, won't be favored this year. Regardless, this one always gets the passionate fans on both sides buzzing, despite the records. Warren Hills coach Jarrett Hosbach is a former P'burg wrestler, so you know he'd love to get a win in this series. It would also make him pretty popular in Washington.

North Hunterdon at Warren Hills, Jan. 23 -- We have three former P'burg wrestlers coaching in this one with North's Tim Flynn and Jason Hawk going against Warren Hills' Jarrett Hosbach. This longtime rivalry never materialized last season due to weather and skin disease. This one is in the middle of a tough stretch for the Blue Streaks with Del Val (Jan. 16) and P'burg (Jan. 17) preceding it.

Kittatinny at Phillipsburg, Jan. 31 -- Credit the Cougars for making sure this one's been on their schedule annually since 1994, the only Sussex school to do so. P'burg leads, 11-6, and has won the last two meetings and five of six. Kittatinny's last win was 41-34 at home in 2010, and the series is even, 5-5, since '03. This one is at The Pit, which has been a tough venue for coach John Gill's teams over the years -- even when they've been favored.

South Plainfield at Phillipsburg, Feb. 6 -- The regular season in these parts ends with a bang as these state powerhouses collide in the week before the sectionals -- thank you Lady GaGa, who has since cancelled her date in AC that first weekend in March. The Tigers, who will be ranked No. 1 in the state to start the season, are 0-2 against the Stateliners -- losing sectional finals matches at The Pit in 2004 (43-18) and 2009 (34-21). Get your tickets early for part III.

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