Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Wrestling: Belvidere vaults into HWS rankings

Turns out the third time really was a charm for Belvidere's wrestling team, which made a little school history to boot with its 39-31 victory over Kittatinny on Saturday.

The County Seaters (9-2) scored their first-ever win over the Cougars in the third-ever meeting between the Region 1 rivals. Amazingly, coach Dan McIntyre's squad erased a 31-3 deficit behind its solid group of upper weights, led by Kevin Merle (19-2 at 170) and Stephen Merle (19-3 at 182).

"Our lower weights are improving, but our upper weights are our strongest point," said McIntyre, whose teams are 48-26 in his four seasons at the helm. "We were trying to hold off [giving up] points in order to get enough points with the upper weights. We feel the strongest point of our lineup is from 145 on up."

Indeed it was on this day. Belvidere won the final seven bouts -- including racking up five falls -- to pull off a wild comeback. Rene Sousa (152), Josh Pershpalaj (170) and Ashton Robinson (220), along with Kevin Merle (182) and Stephen Merle (195) got the falls, while Kenny Kane (145) and David Harris (160) added key decisions.

"When we looked at it one paper, we had it, 34-34, with some tossups," McIntyre said. "We were able to get the pins that we needed."

Robinson, a senior, (10-2) is one of the feel-good stories of the season. His progression has strengthened the lineup up top. Not bad for a guy who has just two years of wrestling under his belt. Robinson also sacrifices for the sake of the team and his unexpected pin of Kittatinny's Tyler Wehrenberg (12-13) capped the match.

"[Robinson] weighs about 183-184 and we have him drink water [before matches] just so we can weigh him in at 195 and bump him to 220," McIntyre said. "He hit some double-leg takedowns [vs. Wehrenberg] that were [Olympic freestyle and New Jersey state champion] Jordan Burroughs-esque. He was blowing right through the kid -- three or four times."

With 11 seniors -- most have only a few years of experience -- in the lineup at a given time, the Warren County school is looking to do some damage in the North 2, Group 1 sectional tournament that begins next Monday. That won't be an easy task with three-time defending Group 1 champ Bound Brook now in North 2 after previously residing in Central Jersey, Group 1.

After a turbulent week that shook things up, here are this week's rankings:

1. Phillipsburg (13-1) -- Stateliners capped a 4-0 week with a gritty 27-23 road win over longtime nemesis Southern in a rematch of last year's Group 4 final, a 32-21 win for the 'Liners that snapped a five-match skid in a series that Southern leads 5-3 dating to 1997. Coach Dave Post's squad also secured the Skyland Conference Raritan Division title with wins over No. 3 Hunterdon Central (42-12 on Wednesday) and No. 7 Warren Hills (58-6 on Thursday), while blowing out No. 8 High Point, 62-6, in an independent clash for the program's 900th win. P'burg will assuredly be the top seed in North 2, Group 4.

Up next: Hanover Park at home on Wednesday; at Raritan on Saturday.

2. North Hunterdon (11-2) -- Lions went 2-0 last week with a 45-22 waxing of No. 7 Warren Hills and a big 32-22 victory at No. 4 Delaware Valley in Skyland Conference Raritan Division matchups. Senior Ryan Pomrinca (23-0) moved closer to becoming the Hunterdon-Warren all-time wins leader, while junior Tyler Gapas (14-6) helped secure the win over Del Val with a 3-1 decision over Zach LaDuca at 220. Credit coach Tim Flynn and his staff for bumping Gapas up from 182 to create better matchups up top. North is looking like the No. 1 seed in the brand new North 2, Group 5 section.

Up next: Hasbrouck Heights at home on Wednesday; Region 5 Duals at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.

3. Hunterdon Central (11-6) -- Red Devils are coming off a 3-1 week in which they handed Hunterdon County rival Voorhees a 43-24 loss on Friday. Seniors Nestor Crespo (23-2 at 195) and Joe Scerbo (22-4 at 160) are creeping toward the 80-win mark for their career with 79 and 77, respectively. Coach Jon Cantagallo-Rohm's squad opened last week with a 42-12 loss against P'burg at The Pit, dropping Central to 7-36-1 in the all-time series. According to Central's web site, the program also is closing in on 900 wins, but that's believed to be counting 'B' or junior varsity wins under former coach Russ Riegel. Open Mike has the Red Devils at 828 victories entering the week.

Up next: Howell at home on Wednesday; Region 5 Duals at home on Saturday.

4. Delaware Valley (10-3) -- Terriers fall a few spots following a tough 32-22 loss at home against No. 2 North Hunterdon. It's a round-robin Hunterdon County style as coach Andy Fitz's team has a win over Hunterdon Central, which owns a 39-29 win over North Hunterdon. Del Val won seven bouts against North, including a major by Ryan Erwin (20-2) and a pin by Cory Lightner (16-5 at 160). Lightner bumped to 170 for that one. Monday's match against Voorhees was wiped out by snow, the second time this one has been postponed.

Up next: at Bound Brook on Wednesday; Notre Dame at home on Friday; Region 5 Duals at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.

5. Lenape Valley (13-1) -- Patriots continue to slide down the rankings, but coach Doug Vetter's team rebounded from a loss to Delaware Valley with three wins on Saturday, including an impressive  49-24 pasting of Sussex County rival Sparta in a quad that included Caldwell and St. Benedict's Prep. As expected, the battle with the Spartans was decided up top as the Pats swept four of the five from 170-285. Senior Joey LaBell started the run with a 7-3 decision over Al Falco in a battle of Region 1 qualifiers, while Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex champ D.J. Barrett posted an 11-2 major of Connor Lore at 182.

Up next: Belvidere at home on Thursday; Pope John, Howell and Ridge at home on Saturday.

6. Voorhees (10-5) -- Vikings bounced back from losses to Bound Brook (58-18 on Wednesday) and Hunterdon Central (43-24 on Friday) with three blowout wins on Saturday over Franklin (73-6), Ridge (43-18) and Millburn (57-15). Big showdown this week against No. 7 Warren Hills in battle of contenders in the North 2, Group 3 section. Don't expect either coach to tip their hand in this one, which has no bearing on the Skyland Conference Raritan Division standings. Keep an eye on some of the upper-weight matchups. Junior Kyle DiNapoli (20-3 at 126) hit the 80-win mark on Saturday.

Up next: Warren Hills at home on Wednesday; Region 5 Duals at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.

7. Warren Hills (7-8) -- Blue Streaks without a doubt have been the busiest team in the tri-county area with six matches this past week, including Skyland Conference Raritan Division losses to North Hunterdon (45-22 on Wednesday) and Phillipsburg (58-6 on Thursday). Coach Jarrett Hosbach's team rebounded with a 28-24 win over rival Hackettstown on Friday before going 1-2 in its own quad on Saturday. Losses to Paramus and Cranford sandwiched a rare victory over No. 8 High Point -- 47-21 -- the Streaks' first in the series since 1997. The taxing schedule has taken its toll with injuries to several key wrestlers. Sophomore Matt Valli (11-3 at 120) was lost for the season with a knee injury, while senior Max Nauta (19-5 at 138 and 111-26 overall) sat out the final match on Saturday with a leg issue after passing Ryan Kanewski (110-31 from 1993-97) for second place on the school's all-time wins list.

Up next: at Voorhees on Wednesday; DePaul and New Providence at Newark Academy on Saturday.

8. High Point (4-7) -- The Wildcats are hurting right now as injuries to three of their four best wrestlers have hampered a lineup that was pretty inexperienced up top and down below coming into the season. Coach John Gardner's team has lost seniors Dom Gallo (126) and Mike Derin (132) for the remainder, while junior Jared Kobis (19-0) sat out Saturday's quad at Warren Hills with a shoulder issue. The 'Cats opened last week with a 62-6 loss at Phillipsburg on Friday in their first action in over a week due to the snowy weather. Winners of five straight sectional titles, the Sussex County program is on the bubble to qualify in a wide-open North 1, Group 2.

Up next: Newton at home on Tuesday; West Morris at home on Wednesday; at Kittatinny on Friday.

9. Sparta (16-4) -- Spartans are coming off an interesting week in which they opened with an 81-0 win over Vernon last Wednesday, followed by a 37-36 thriller over Kittatinny in a match decided on most first points scored -- the program's first win over the Cougars (who hold a 22-11 edge in the series) since 1987. Early pins by Zach Herbert (195) and Gavin Lally (220), along with falls from Walker Schmitzer (160) and Connor Lore (182), keyed the victory. Coach Frank Battaglia's team was without Lally (24-1), an HWS champ, in a 49-24 loss to No. 5 Lenape Valley on Saturday.

Up next: Morris Hills at home on Wednesday; Whippany Park at Randolph on Saturday.

10. Belvidere (9-2) -- County Seaters arrive here for the first time this season following a 39-31 win over Kittatinny on Saturday to bounce the Cougars from the rankings. Rene Sousa (14-7) and David Harris (11-3) came up with key victories in a match that featured a total of nine pins. Earlier in the week, the Warren County school dropped a 36-30 decision to Manville in a clash for the Skyland Conference Valley Division title before rebounding with wins over Hackettstown (38-30 on Thursday) and archrival North Warren (57-12 on Friday).

Up next: Pingry at home on Wednesday; at Lenape Valley on Thursday; Hopatcong and Mount Olive at West Morris on Saturday.

On the bubble: Kittatinny (8-8).

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