Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wrestling: Kittatinny preps for P'burg with title win

Kittatinny's wrestling team is making a habit out of hanging banners on its gymnasium walls.

This one held zero suspense, as the Cougars won 13 of 14 bouts en route to a 69-6 thumping of crosstown rival Newton in a Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference clash on Tuesday evening in Hampton. It was the most lopsided margin in the series dating to 1976, which Kittatinny leads, 28-15, since the Cougars won by the same score in 2005.

Kittatinny (17-1, 7-0 division), ranked No. 10 in the state by the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association, secured its third straight Freedom Division title just two days before a big showdown with No. 7 Phillipsburg on Thursday at The Pit. This one held zero drama as Newton (7-12, 2-4) came in minus two of its best wrestlers with sophomore Trevor Morales (106) and senior Josh Sibblies (182) battling the flu bug.

Nonetheless, coach John Gill's Cougars put their stamp on the title with seven pins in addition to three forfeit victories.

Photo courtesy of Kittatinny wrestling's Facebook page
"The kids always talk about [championship] banners on the wall," said Gill, now 482-147-5 in 32 seasons at the helm. "Our division got tougher this year with the addition of Jefferson [which moved from the American Division]. It was a nice finish to the league [schedule]. We definitely wanted this. Newton won the first one [2009-10] and we've got the last three. Now we get onto other things."

Kittatinny senior Connor Zandarski started things on Senior Night with a pin at 152 pounds. Up 5-2 after two periods, Zandarski sunk a half to turn and deck sophomore Benjamin Sibblies in 5:24. Senior Dave Popek followed with a 7-3 win over Garrett Richards at 160, while junior Kieran Gerrity stretched the lead to 15-0 bu decking Jared Jensen at 170.

After Dylan Wunder's forfeit win at 182, Kittatinny senior Jake Brook (23-3), third in Region 1 last year, scored a late three-point nearfall for a 7-1 win over up-and-coming sophomore Gus Protogeropoulos (22-4) in the marquee bout of the night -- and the rout was on.

Newton, which has dropped three straight in the series since a 36-28 win in the 2010 North 1, Group 1 sectional final, avoided a shutout thanks to junior Michael Larsen's pin of former District 3 finalist Nick West at 132. Larsen got the opening takedown and slapped on a tight cradle to secure the fall in 1:51.

Sophomore Tom Murphy (138) and junior Nick Romyns (145) closed out the proceedings with back-to-back pins.

Gill is now 28-10 all-time against Newton, coached by former Kittatinny star wrestler Eric Bollette. The Braves are 4-12 against the Cougars in his 12 seasons in charge.

"I respect him and he's one of my favorite kids I ever coached," Gill said. "He's a quality coach."

With the division title in hand, Kittatinny turns its attention to the annual showdown with P'burg. The Stateliners lead the series that began in 1994, 11-6, including last year's 36-18 road win. The Cougars, who have lost the last two meetings, are 2-7 all-time at The Pit -- winning in 2004 and '06.

Trying to prepare his wrestlers for an environment they haven't seen, is the biggest challenge on Thursday, according to Gill. Only West, Popek, Gerrity and Romyns have wrestled at The Pit in previous years.

"It's loud and fans are right on top of the mat," said the coach, who recalled one of the early visits to P'burg when a Stateliners fan asked him 'If Kittatinny wrestles girls teams,' following a loss.

"How do you prepare 14 1/2-15 year old kids for what they're going to see on Thursday night? The fear factor and noise factor is hard to describe. It's very difficult to wrestle there."

Home mat advantage aside, the match figures to be a good one. Kittatinny has the advantage up top, while P'burg has the edge in the lower weights. Several key bouts in the middle may very well decide this year's winner.

"I like my team," Gill said. "If the Cougars show up, it could be a nice, interesting night."

Across the county, High Point wrapped up its fourth straight NJAC division title with a 67-6 pounding of Mount Olive in an American Division clash in Wantage. The Wildcats (13-4, 7-0) have won three straight American titles following its inaugural championship in the National Division. Coach John Gardner's program is 27-0 in divisional matches since joining the NJAC for the 2009-10 season.


152 -- Sr. Connor Zandarski (10-12), K, p. So. Benjamin Sibblies (10-15), 5:24.
160 -- Sr. Dave Popek (10-8), K, d. Jr. Garrett Richards (2-12), 7-3.
170 -- Jr. Kieran Gerrity (23-3), K, p. Sr. Jared Jensen (5-17), 1:30.
182 -- Jr. Dylan Wunder (20-6), K, forfeit.
195 -- Sr. Jake Brook (23-3), K, d. So. Gus Protogeropoulos (22-4), 7-1.
220 -- Jr. Garrett Armstrong (23-3), K, p. Fr. Ethan Reczka (8-8), 1:38.
285 -- Jr. Tom Smith (14-10), K, d. Sr. Brandon Alemany (6-14), 1-0.
106 -- Fr. Jake Van Wingerden (17-9), K, forfeit.
113 -- Jr. Christian Silva (20-6), K, forfeit.
120 -- Fr. Nick Klinger (11-14), K, p. So. Eddie Medina (10-16), 3:09.
126 -- Fr. Austin Scrivani (19-7), K, p. Jr. Vincenzo Sebastiano (1-1), :24.
132 -- Jr. Michael Larsen (15-12), N, p. Jr. Nick West (9-16), 1:51.
138 -- So. Tom Murphy (23-3), K, p. Sr. Nick Aquino (0-5), 2:38.
145 -- Jr. Nick Romyns (19-4), K, p. Jr. Robert Coward (1-6), 1:49.
Records -- Newton 7-12, 2-4; Kittatinny 17-1, 7-0.
Official -- Gary Szucs.
JV score -- Newton, 39-23.

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