It was quite a three-day affair at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, with perhaps the most exciting, not to mention entertaining, set of finals I've witnessed in person since my first tournament in 1984.
Be-Deviled in the finals
Hunterdon Central junior Gary Dinmore came up short in the finals for the second straight year against South Plainfield's Anthony Ashnault. Dinmore, who dropped a 4-2 decision at 138 pounds, was looking to make history by ending Ashnault's run at four titles and an unbeaten career mark.
Dinmore (36-1), who is Central's 39th state finalist and 27th runner-up, took an interesting approach to the tournament and didn't seem a bit fazed by the magnitude of the finals matchup.
"I don't really like or listen to all of the hype," said Dinmore, who is 95-12 in three seasons. "I didn't even look at my bracket."
Dinmore will have one more shot at claiming state gold and becoming the Red Devils' 13th state champion and first since Alex Shaffer in 2010.
Proving their mettle
Six wrestlers, including Lenape Valley sophomore Peter Lipari, dropped their opening bouts in the preliminary round and bounced back by navigating their way through the wrestlebacks to earn state medals in the inaugural year of double-elimination for first-round losers.
Lipari finished seventh at 126 pounds, the first Lenape Valley medal winner since Billy Hagany took seventh at 103 in 2009.
"I pushed myself this year more than last year," said Lipari, who is aiming to become the Patriots' first state champion.
The others to place were Hanover Park's Genaro Cuccolo (fourth at 126), St. Peter's Prep's Jordan Fox (sixth at 182), Wayne Valley's Anthony Landberg (seventh at 195) and Brick Memorial's Tyler Richardson (sixth at 170) and Matt Moore (fourth at 195).
Here's hoping the state will reconsider the tournament schedule by moving it to a Thursday-Friday-Saturday schedule and start earlier than 5 p.m., on Thursday. That way, one round of wrestlebacks can be completed that first night. It's too much to ask of wrestlers to wrestle and win four meat-grinder matches on the second day.
Doing the impossible
Ashnault won his fourth state title and finished a marvelous career at an astounding 170-0. The Rutgers-bound Ashnault was full of emotions on Sunday, and rightfully so, after achieving what no one thought they'd see in their lifetime, and very well might not again.
It was pretty stunning to see Ashnault get ridden out the entire second period, though the South Plainfield star said it was a more common occurrence than one might think.
"My brother [former Tiger Billy Ashnault] for two hours last week [in practice]," said Anthony, on when was the last time he got ridden out for an entire period.
Ashnault had plenty of supporters in the stands clad in green South Plainfield No. 1 T-shirts.
"I'm really grateful to my parents [Bill and Sue] and everyone that helped me through this journey," Ashnault said. "It was a great run and I'm looking to take it right into college."
Ashnault has a score to settle before then as he will participate in the prestigious Dapper Dan All-Star Classic on Sunday at Fitzgerald Field House in Pittsburgh, Pa. He'll face two-time Pennsylvania state champ and Penn State recruit Zain Retherford, who is 130-3.
"I'm pretty pumped," Ashnault said. "He got the best of me last time [we met]. I'm ready and prepared to take it to him."
H-W area sets places in AC
The Hunterdon-Warren area left Boardwalk Hall with four medals -- down from seven a year ago -- three of those to Hunterdon County wrestlers. Since 2000, the nine schools encompassing the two counties have combined to win 79 medals places one through eight.
Hunterdon Central leads the pack with 20, followed by Delaware Valley and Phillipsburg with 14 apiece. All three had medal winners this year: Dinmore for Central, Mike Pongracz (fifth at 126) for the Terriers and freshman Brandon Paetzell for the Stateliners.
Belvidere and Warren Hills are next with five each, while Hackettstown and North Warren have four apiece.
Over the last four state tournaments since 2010, Delaware Valley leads the way with six medals, followed by Hunterdon Central's total of five. North Hunterdon and Voorhees have four over that period, Phillipsburg has three and both North Warren and Warren Hills have one each.
County gold breakdown
New Jersey has crowned a total of 960 state champions since 1934. Here's a breakdown of winners produced in each county since that first tournament. The 2013 champs for their respective counties in parentheses:
Bergen 105 (Nick Suriano and Johnny Sebastian, Bergen Catholic; Luis Gonzalez and Razohnn Gross, Don Bosco)
Ocean 61 (Bryant Clagon, Toms River South)
Somerset 59 (Craig De La Cruz, Bound Brook)
Morris 56 (Dillon Artigliere, Roxbury)
Camden 56 (Alex Thompson, Haddon Heights)
Gloucester 56 (Bryan Dobzanski, Delsea)
Middlesex 40 (Anthony Ashnault and Scott DelVecchio, South Plainfield)
Burlington 24 (Wayne Stinson, Northern Burlington)
Passaic 20 (Ethan Ramos, Hawthorne)
Hudson 5 (Anthony Giraldo, North Bergen)
Cape May 4