Monday, February 16, 2015

Wrestling: Notes, stats from Group championships

It was quite a Sunday at the Sun National Bank Center. Quite a cold day, to say the least.

I'm not going to go on and on about what a mistake Group 5 is for the sport, that was addressed here back in the summer when we found out this day was upon us. Besides, anyone who was at the arena and follows wrestling knows it was an ill-conceived idea from the start.

The NJSIAA and the wrestling committee need help to address these atrocious decisions that keep affecting and ruining the sport, rather than make knee-jerk reactions to some coaches' wants and desires. I will say that there seems to be a lot of miscommunication between Region representatives and the rest of the committee when it comes to addressing issues and implementing decisions.

I've polled quite a few coaches in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area who claim they never even heard Group 5 was in the works, nor was there changes on the table for sectional power points. Yet, in a Sunday conversation I had with executive director Steve Timko, he insists each school was made aware and had voted on these issues. Apparently, some did not get that memo. And it's disturbing to say the least.

As far as the venue goes, it's a nice arena. But Sun National Bank Center is cold -- especially down on the floor and out by the locker rooms -- and impersonal. It's why we left here after 2004, as the building looks and feels empty, a far cry from the up-close and personal atmosphere at Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North. I'm all for moving this tournament closer to our area -- why should the good people at the Shore get all the comforts of home -- but the event belongs in Toms River, unless we find a more suitable home.

In addition, the PA system was horrible unless you were down low, and the announcers were pretty much clueless as to what this tournament is all about -- in one instance saying 'On Mat 1 it's Phillipsburg 'verse' sted vs. Jackson Memorial in the state finals.' Never mind botching wrestlers' names.

I didn't see it firsthand, but when the Trenton arena was cleared between sessions on Sunday -- for reasons only the NJSIAA knows -- fans were forced outside the building for a substantial amount of time in the sub-zero temperatures. That's not acceptable on any level and the NJSIAA owes its fans an explanation and an immediate apology. That's disgraceful.

Now onto the action on the mats in Trenton:

Six-pack of talent

In all, six teams from the HWS area made the trip on Sunday with Phillipsburg wrecking havoc -- much like Sherman marched through Georgia for you historians -- on the Group 4 field for the storied program's 19th state championship. Lenape Valley reached the Group 2 final and gave a valiant effort against Hanover Park, while all four Hunterdon County schools made the trip together for the first time.

Hunterdon Central reached the Group 5 final with a gritty 30-27 win over rival North Hunterdon in the semifinals. North gave a better account this time around after giving up five pins in a 39-29 loss to Central on Jan. 14. But despite giving up only one fall in the rematch, the Lions were unable to turn the tables in spots. Senior Michael Sicola, who dropped a 3-2 decision to the Red Devils' Joe Scerbo in the first match, fell, 5-3, to Michael Iodice in a pivotal bout in the second meeting. In addition, senior Paul Robinson scored a 6-2 win over Bryce Hall at 120, where the Lions were looking for bonus points. Tyler Gapas, normally at 182, also came on the short end of a 4-3 decision to Victor Lacombe up at 220. Charlie Tordik continues to show his improvement by scoring an OT win over Leo Acquino, who decked Tordik in the regular season clash.

Credit North coach Tim Flynn and his staff for getting better matchups the second time, but also credit the Central side for doing what it had to do to win and advance.

Building blocks

Lenape Valley, Delaware Valley and Voorhees were all hoping to lay the foundation for next season with this experience.

In the case of Lenape, coach Doug Vetter's team returns 12 starters, but the losses of senior captains Joey LaBell (27-5 at 170) and D.J. Barrett (30-1 at 182) will hurt for sure. Yet, juniors Sam Palumbo (195) and Ralph Hall (220), both District 2 champs, and heavyweight Rich Fritzky will be back to anchor the upper weights.

Del Val coach Andy Fitz has been saying all season that his team is a year away. We shall see, it should be a tough Group field with Hanover Park returning enough to be a formidable club. The Terriers (15-5) do have four seniors in the lineup, including Ryan Erwin (26-3 at 132) and Cory Lightner (22-6 at 160) who have been consistent winners, along with Brock Houser (19-8 at 195). We'll see if Fitz beefs up the schedule a bit in anticipation of challenging for the Group 2 title -- the program's last was in 1999 -- next winter. The Terriers certainly maximized their talents during the dual meet schedule.

Voorhees (14-7), which claimed its second section title in three seasons, but hasn't won a Group title since 1995, capped a solid campaign with a 40-25 loss to Paramus in the Group 3 semifinals. Not bad for a squad that entered the season with only four who were full-time varsity wrestlers in the past. Coach Eric Hall's Vikings will take a hit with the loss of six seniors, including Devan Thomas (20-5 at 145) and Alex Fischetti (27-2 at 285). Hall got his 100th coaching win against Warren Hills in the North 2, Group 3 semifinals. He's 101-28 in five seasons.

Pride of the 'Liners 

Something about this time of year brings out the best in Phillipsburg's wrestling team. It was something to watch as coach Dave Post kept sending out wrestlers who one-by-one seemed more determined than the next to make a statement. Winning the takedown battle, 26-0, against Roxbury and, 23-5, vs. Jackson Memorial really told the story, in addition to going 16 straight bouts to start the day without giving up one. P'burg is a team that feeds off each other and it resulted in one of the program's most impressive performances, even without star 113-pounder Brandon Paetzell, who is out for the season with a broken left thumb.

By the way, great to see Paetzell, a personable kid and class act, in uniform on the bench and cheering on his teammates. He informed us that he "will be back" next season and that his hand is on the mend. Also keep an eye on freshman 126-pounder Brian Meyer. Despite a record of 16-12, I predict this kid will ruin someone's postseason.

Back points

It was special to see Hanover Park coach James LaValle celebrate the school's first state championship on the team end after winning three individual titles for the Hornets, who had been runners-up on four other occasions, including last year's heartbreaking 34-33 loss to High Point in the Group 2 final in which Hanover Park yielded pins in the final four bouts.

Since the Group championships began in 1980, Sussex County has had at least one representative in the Final Four, with the exception of that first season. Lenape Valley kept the streak going by winning the North 1, Group 2 sectional title. Though it seemed strange to not see High Point or Kittatinny in Trenton, something that's happened just five other times (2009, 1999, '85, '83, '82).

Region 1 continues to show why it's been one of it not the best in the state with Phillipsburg and DePaul (Parochial B) repeating as champions. Lenape Valley, Roxbury and Pompton Lakes also joined the fun in Trenton. That should be an interesting vote for Region 1's No. 1 team. P'burg has been higher in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Poll all season, but take a look at the potential matchups. Needless to say it will look a lot like a dual meet between these two in nine days when the tournament commences at Wallkill Valley.

We continue to be puzzled as to why New Jersey doesn't do everything it can to make the Group championships the best it can be. After all, this is the premier team event of the season. With that said, why can't we have the best referees working the best matches? Assignor Vinny Russo and rules interpreter Roy Dragon were matside taking in all of the action while seated in chairs, rather than donning pin-striped shirts and whistles. I'd personally like to see two of the best in the business working on the mats. Maybe it's just me.

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