Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wrestling: Sectional and Group championship picks

The NJSIAA sectional wrestling tournaments begin on Monday with first-round matchups at 7 p.m. Winners advance to Wednesday's semifinals and the sectional championships will be contested on Friday.

All sectional winners advance to the Group championships on Sunday at Toms River North High School.

In the Open Mike area, Phillipsburg (North 2, Group 4), High Point (North 1, Group 2) and Kittatinny (North 1, Group 1) are all No. 1 seeds and favorites to win sectional championships.

"The main reason [I came out to wrestle as a freshman] was to win a state team championship," said senior 195-pounder Garrett Armstrong, who has helped Kittatinny win three straight sectional titles. "I could care less about the individual stuff. This is the one sport [at Kittatinny] where we could get that close as a team. Hopefully, we can get back down [to Toms River] again."

Phillipsburg (14-0) is itching to avenge last year's loss in the sectional final -- just the program's second in a title match in a possible 34 finals appearances -- while attempting to claim its second Group 4 title in three years. The Stateliners are also trying to become only the fourth team in school history to finish unbeaten and first to do so since the 1969-70 squad went 13-0 in coach Thad Turner's final season. P'burg went a combined 39-0-1 in the final three of Turner's nine seasons in charge, and he left to take the Lehigh University job with the program riding a 51-match unbeaten streak.

"To finish out undefeated is huge, but the kids could care less -- their only goal is to have that [championship] parade down South Main Street [in P'burg]," said fourth-year 'Liners coach Dave Post.

Here's an analysis and predictions for all sections and Groups:

Group 4

North 1 -- North Bergen.

North 2 -- Phillipsburg.

Central -- Brick Memorial.

South -- Southern.

Notes -- Group 4 has produced some of the best matches in tournament history in recent years. Should be one great semifinal showdown with Shore Conference rivals Brick and Southern battling it out on one mat, while Phillipsburg should cruise against the North 1 champion on the adjacent mat. Advantage Stateliners as their opponents will be involved in a grinder. Don't count out Howell, which beat Brick Memorial, 28-27, to win the Shore Conference Tournament, in that loaded Central Jersey section, which also contains Jackson Memorial. A lot went right for the Rebels last time -- winning seven bouts decided by two points or fewer -- so look for the Mustangs to make a return trip here. Coach Dave Post's P'burg team rolled to a 33-15 win over Howell at The Pit on Jan. 25. 'Liners are 32-2 overall in the sectionals, losing in the 1990 North 2, Group 3 final (34-31 to Warren Hills) and the 2013 North 2, Group 4 final (30-29 to Hunterdon Central). P'burg claimed the Group 4 title -- its 17th overall including nine in Group 3 -- in 2012. Brick, which has won three of the last six G4 championships, defeated Southern, 34-27, in last year's G4 final and 34-22 in the 2012 semifinals.

Group 3

North 1 -- Paramus.

North 2 -- Warren Hills.

Central -- Brick Township.

South -- Clearview.

Notes -- Clearview is the easiest sectional pick. Paramus appears to be coming on of late as evidenced by a recent 34-31 win over Delaware Valley. Coach Steve Klass' Spartans also gave Hanover Park all it wanted in a 30-29 loss on Friday. Roxbury is looking to avenge a 31-30 loss at Warren Hills in last year's North 2 semifinals, a match the Gaels lost with the deduction of a team point. Blue Streaks, who dropped a 42-30 decision to Clearview at home on Dec. 21, are seeking their sixth sectional title and first since 2007. This season's clash between the Streaks and Gaels will likely come down to bonus points. Paramus also beat Warren Hills, 40-25, on Jan. 25. Central Jersey is a tossup between Brick Township and Hopewell Valley, which should meet in the semifinals. Either team will be favored against top-seeded Ocean Township, which is missing several starters, including state placewinner Zack Hertling (knee injury). A Paramus-Clearview final would be a dogfight, Spartans favored down low and up top, but the Pioneers could pile up the bonus points through the middle.

Group 2

North 1 -- High Point.

North 2 -- Hanover Park.

Central -- Long Branch.

South -- Delsea.

Notes -- Of the four public Groups, this one is probably the most wide open. High Point, the 2013 Group 2 champion, and Delsea are the class of those respective sections. Wildcats have won a Sussex County record 23 sectional titles (three in this section in 1984, 2012 and '13). Hanover Park-South Plainfield should be a classic matchup in the North 2 title match, while Raritan, Delaware Valley and Long Branch are all capable of winning the Central Jersey title. High Point beat Long Branch twice last season, 36-25, on Jan. 5, 2013, and 33-30 in the G2 final, while knocking off Delsea, 37-28, in a very entertaining G2 semifinal. The Green Wave, which lost eight starters from the 2012-13 squad, was bolstered this season by the addition of freshman 138-pounder Austin Cannon, who transferred in from Christian Brothers Academy in mid-January. Amazing how the Shore teams seem to catch transfers. Last season, it was the Pappayliou brothers, Nick and Chris, who arrived at Long Branch via Ocean Township. Wildcats need to be at full strength, but the good news is that sophomore 126-pounder Jared Kobis (hand injury) has been cleared to wrestle. You may also see some movement in the 'Cats' lineup.

Group 1

North 1 -- Kittatinny.

North 2 -- Roselle Park.

Central -- Bound Brook.

South -- Paulsboro.

Notes -- There's really no suspense here as Bound Brook is the prohibitive favorite to three-peat as Group 1 champion. Kittatinny, which has won eight group championships, will roll to its 19th sectional title and earn a semifinal matchup with the Crusaders, who beat the Cougars, 49-9, in a dual last season. Coach John Gill's teams have been ousted in the G1 semifinals the last two years -- 34-32 to Bound Brook in 2012 and 31-30 to Hanover Park in '13 -- and have not won a Group championship since 2008. "If I am going to lose, I'd like it to be in the finals," Gill said late last month after recording his 500th win. Paulsboro-Roselle Park will be a very interesting matchup on the other mat, but it's a battle to see which team finishes second. Red Raiders have won 29 Group 1 titles, the last in 2011.

Non-Public A

North -- Bergen Catholic.

South -- St. Augustine.

Overall winner -- Bergen Catholic, which is going for three in a row and 10 of 13 in the North A section, cements its No. 1 ranking by the New Jersey Wrestling Writers by besting a loaded field that includes state powers Delbarton, Don Bosco Prep and St. Peter's Prep, en route to a third straight Group championship. St. Augustine claims its first sectional title since 2004.

Non-Public B

North -- DePaul.

South -- Camden Catholic.

Overall winner -- DePaul makes it five straight sectional titles -- six overall -- and snaps a four-match skid against the Irish in the title match to end one of the greatest runs in Group finals history. Bouncing between A and B, Camden Catholic has won 20 straight sectional titles dating to 1994, along with 10 straight Group championships.

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