Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wrestling: P'burg adds Beast, loses Paulsboro

Even during the spring, there's always a buzz surrounding Phillipsburg's wrestling program.

On Tuesday, Joe Kopesky's popular wrestling web site revealed the Stateliners' tentative schedule for the 2014-15 season. It seems that was indeed a very tentative schedule.

Open Mike learned on Wednesday after speaking with P'burg coach Dave Post that several matches were missing from that list and one annual match won't happen at all.

Apparently, Phillipsburg's longstanding rivalry with South Jersey power Paulsboro is over -- at least for next season.

In the wake of the picture controversy that depicted P'burg wrestlers surrounding a wrestling dummy hanging by a rope and clad in a Paulsboro T-shirt, Post said he was informed last week by Raiders coach Paul Morina that his school district will not let the team compete against the Stateliners.

Since 1999, P'burg and Paulsboro have met all but one season (2010) with the 'Liners, trailing, 8-7, in the all-time series. P'burg has won the last three meetings, including a 38-21 victory at The Pit this past season.

Post also said matches with Raritan and Roxbury are likely to be added pending agreeable dates with those schools. Also, standing engagements with Northampton (Pa.) and Howell will return on this year's schedule.

"Northampton will be the first Saturday in January [the 3rd] and Howell will be our [dual] opener away on Dec. 23," Post said. "We just need confirmation on the dates."

By far the biggest addition to the schedule was the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament, slated to be held opening weekend in New Jersey on Saturday, Dec. 20 and Sunday, Dec. 21 at the Bob Carpenter Center on the campus of the University of Delaware.

As it also did in 2008, P'burg competed in the Reno Tournament of Champions to open this past season. But a return trip to that event was nixed, mainly due to financial reasons.

"Going out to Reno was a lot -- the fundraising is difficult," Post said. "The traveling was crazy. And our kids had a hard time adjusting to the altitude. In P'burg it's about 190-200 feet [above sea level]. In Reno, it's 4,500 feet elevation. The Beast is close and we should have a decent team coming back."

P'burg was hoping to return to the King of the Mountain Tournament in Pennsylvania, but regrettably the dates for that event -- for the second straight year -- are scheduled before New Jersey opens its season.

"I love that tournament," Post said. "That tournament has everything we want. Next year [2015-16], Thanksgiving is as late as it can be and we can get back there."

In all, Phillipsburg will have approximately 14 dual meets (at least eight at home) to go with three tournaments -- Beast of the East, Bethlehem Holiday Classic and Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex. As is the norm, the dual meet portion features some of the top programs in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"We try to keep it balanced [the number of home and away matches], but everyone wants to wrestle us in The Pit," Post said. "[West Morris coach Ken] Rossi said he will come here every year."

Coming to The Pit for independent matches are -- High Point, Kittatinny and West Morris along with Pennsylvania powers Easton and Parkland.

Last season, Phillipsburg (18-0) completed it first campaign with zero losses since the 1969-70 squad capped a run of three straight unbeaten seasons under legendary coach Thad Turner. The 'Liners capped their perfect season with a 32-21 victory over Southern to capture the program's 18 state title.

"We won't have too many opportunities to sit kids," Post said. "Not that you want easier matches, but we have two big tournaments and match counts become an issue. We don't want to sit kids in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex if we don't have to. I like our schedule. It's going to be a heckuva challenge for the kids. But that second weekend of February after you win a Group 4 title, it will all be worth it."

Due to Skyland Conference matches now being held mainly on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, Post said the traditional Thursday date with Easton was made impossible. The Red Rovers will come to town on Saturday, Jan. 17.

The Stateliners scored a 36-20 win over the Rovers this past season -- just the 15th in 77 meetings and P'burg's first in an Easton gym since 1988. The series, which began in 1947, switched from home-and-home to a neutral site at Lafayette College from 1989 to 2003.

Many P'burg fans have longed for the renewal of a series with Nazareth (Pa.). Post said getting a mutual date is complicated by the Blue Eagles' involvement in the annual District 11 Duals across the Delaware River. 

"They can't wrestle us after the [New Jersey state cutoff] and we didn't want to do it before because we have to be careful about getting our 70 percent [of in-state matches]," Post said. "That would give us four Pennsylvania teams. With the 10-match rule [schools must have 10 by the cutoff], if you get snowed out, you're scrambling and you have Howell [last year] driving up here in six inches of snow so we could get it in." 

With the realignment of the Skyland Conference for 2014-16, the seven-team Raritan Division will have a new look with the addition of Bound Brook, which moves over from the Valley Division. The Crusaders, winners of the last three Group 1 titles, will come to The Pit on Jan. 21.

Delaware Valley, Hunterdon Central, North Hunterdon, Voorhees and Warren Hills are the other schools in the Raritan Division for wrestling.

With an overall record of 888-259-7, Phillipsburg will enter its 67th season just 12 wins shy of 900. Only Paulsboro, which is 1,067-86-12 in 71 seasons, has more dual victories as a program.

Phillipsburg's schedule for 2014-15 (tentative)

Note: Does not include dates with Raritan and Roxbury the week of Feb. 2

Dec. 20-21 -- at Beast of the East Tournament in Newark, Del.
Dec. 23 -- at Howell
Dec. 28-29 -- at Bethlehem (Pa.) Holiday Classic (Liberty High School)
Jan. 2 -- West Morris
Jan. 3 -- Northampton (Pa.)
Jan. 5 -- at North Hunterdon
Jan. 7 -- Kittatinny
Jan. 9-10 -- Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament (at Hopatcong)
Jan. 14 -- at Delaware Valley
Jan. 16 -- at Voorhees
Jan. 17 -- Easton (Pa.)
Jan. 21 -- Bound Brook
Jan. 23 -- Parkland (Pa.)
Jan. 24 -- High Point
Jan. 28 -- Hunterdon Central
Jan. 29 -- Warren Hills
Feb. 11 -- Sectional semifinals
Feb. 13 -- Sectional finals
Feb. 15 -- Group championships at Toms River North
Feb. 20-21 -- District 1 Tournament at Mount Olive
Feb. 25, 27-28 -- Region 1 Tournament at Wallkill Valley
March 6-8 -- State Tournament at Atlantic City

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