Exciting week on tap with the seventh annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament slated for Saturday at Hunterdon Central's Field House. A one-day affair -- I like the two-day at Hopatcong much better -- that starts at 10 a.m. Check back here all week long for everything you need to know about the tournament including pairings, schedules, predictions and a little history.
But first we deal with the always-tough-to-do initial set of team rankings. Seems as if it's been more about who isn't on the mat of late than anything else as the dual season gets underway in earnest this week.
Phillipsburg keeps rolling along despite missing three starters -- Cullen Day (106), Brandon Paetzell (132) and DJ Wissing (160) -- in a thrilling 40-25 come-from-behind victory over Northampton (Pa.) on Saturday night.
Down 25-8, junior Dan Fisher started the 'Liners on the comeback trail with a major at 182 before Drew Horun started a string of three straight pins with six at 195. But it was freshman Travis Jones, fresh off the JV squad, who really got The Pit jumping with a major at 106 to ice the win.
Speaking of Fisher (7-5), he's really coming on following a strong showing in the Bethlehem Holiday Classic in which he finished seventh. Keep an eye on Fisher this weekend at HWS. I'm calling it now, Fisher wins that weight class.
North Hunterdon is another team dealing with missing starters. Brian Smolinsky (152) and Derek Ciavarro (160) have been out of the lineup since a 49-19 win over Bound Brook on Dec. 22, while Tyler Gapas (182) broke a wrist at the Neptune Classic on Dec. 19.
After that eye-opening victory, the Lions have gone 0-5 -- losing to Bridgewater, Seton Hall Prep, Raritan, Wayne Valley and Old Bridge.
Now onto this week's rankings:
1. Phillipsburg (3-0) -- Stateliners are a rock-solid No. 1 in the area despite injuries as coach Dave Post's team rolled past West Morris (60-8 on Dec. 22) and Voorhees (49-21 on Dec. 23) before the win over Northampton -- No. 910 overall. The victory over Voorhees improved P'burg to 23-0 in that all-time series. Seniors Kyle Markus (9-4 at 113) and Kyle Nothnagel (10-4 at 285) and sophomore Brian Meyer (9-4 at 145) are others to watch at HWS. Horun (9-4 at 195) and Robert Melise (11-2 at 220) will also be in the hunt for their first county titles.
Up next: at Parkland (Pa.) on Wednesday; Raritan at home on Thursday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
2. Hunterdon Central (4-1) -- Red Devils appear to be a tad better than most expected, at least early on. Coach Jon Cantagallo-Rohm's team went 2-1 on Saturday, dropping their first dual of the season -- 36-22 to a good Howell squad -- to go with wins over West Deptford (36-27) and Toms River East (54-12). Juniors Michael Iodice (10-1 at 170) and Victor Lacombe (10-1 at 220) are anchoring the upper weights, while freshman Jack Bauer (9-2 at 106) is off to a strong start. Iodice, fourth in Region 5 last season, lost a 3-2 decision to Buena state placewinner Jake Maxwell in the finals of Central's holiday tournament.
Up next: at Bound Brook on Wednesday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at home on Saturday.
3. Lenape Valley (1-0) -- Patriots have been light on duals so far, notching a 56-12 win over Newton on Dec. 22 before finishing second behind Montville in their holiday tournament on Dec. 29. A solid set of upper weights -- seniors Sam Palumbo (195), Ralph Hall (220) and Rich Fritzky (285) -- will give most opponents matchup fits. Aaron Merkey (138) and Nick Palumbo (145) are tough in the middle. Tough call here for the No. 3 spot because I think a matchup with No. 4 Pope John will be a barnburner. We'll have to wait until Feb. 6 for that one. Sophomore Jacob Falleni (113) is among five returning champs to watch at HWS.
Up next: Waldwick/Midland Park at home on Monday; at High Point on Wednesday; Jefferson at home on Thursday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
4. Pope John (1-0) -- Lions sure have a lot of people talking after dusting the field at the 58th annual John Goles Invitational. Sophomore Jake Rotunda (5-1 at 120), a Region 1 finalist, was among five champions for the Sussex County school, along with Christian Deehan (106), Joe Aragona (113), Joe Frumolt (182) and Jake Brown (195). Coach Mark Piotrowsky's team rolled to a 49-12 win over Somerville on Dec. 22 in its lone dual action to date. Interesting showdown with No. 8 High Point on Tuesday in Wantage. Brown vs. Kevin Lewis in a matchup of Region 1 qualifiers at 195 would be a marquee bout. PJ will surely challenge P'burg for the HWS team title.
Up next: at High Point on Tuesday; Mount Olive at home on Wednesday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
5. Kittatinny (3-0) -- Cougars won all three matchups at the West Milford Duals on Dec. 23 -- 58-15 over Morris Knolls, 34-33 over Wayne Valley and 67-9 over the host squad. Senior Austin Scrivani (9-1 at 138) became the 15th at the Sussex County school to win 100 matches in claiming a title at the Linn Crawn Memorial Tournament, where the Cougars finished third. Scrivani and classmate Nick Klinger (8-1 at 132) are looking to repeat as HWS champions this weekend. Klinger is the school's only two-time tri-county champ.
Up next: North Warren at home on Wednesday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
6. Warren Hills (2-0) -- After winning the team title at the Nottingham Tournament, Blue Streaks collected dual-meet wins over Montville (34-25) and Mount Olive (46-18) at home on Dec. 23. Freshman Cody Harrison (7-2 at 106) scored an impressive 14-5 major over Montville's Ronald Rumsby, a Region 1 qualifier. Junior Matt Valli (8-0 at 126) is off to a strong start after missing most of last season with an injury -- winning his second John Goles Invitational title on Dec. 28. Coach Jarrett Hosbach's team, which needs four wins for the program to hit 700, finished second behind No. 4 Pope John.
Up next: Delaware Valley at home on Wednesday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
7. Delaware Valley (3-1) -- After wins over Pingry and Hopewell Valley to open the dual-meet season, coach Andy Fitz's Terriers finished in fourth at the John Goles Invitational. Freshman AJ DeRosa (6-3 at 113) and Matt Kolonia (9-1 at 132) earned second-place medals. The Hunterdon County school split a pair of dual meets on New Year's Eve -- beating Scotch Plains (64-12) and falling to South Plainfield (47-18). Very intriguing dual on tap against Warren Hills on Wednesday, one that will likely be decided in the upper weights. Del Val went 2-4 in head-to-head matchups vs. Hills at the Goles, but the Terriers won the dual meets in 2013 and '14 after finishing behind the Streaks in the holiday tournaments.
Up next: at Warren Hills on Wednesday; Hackettstown at home on Thursday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
8. High Point (1-2) -- Wildcats opened their dual season with a 57-18 waxing of Vernon before taking a long bus ride to South Jersey, where they dropped matches against against state-ranked heavy hitters Delsea (45-15) and Southern (48-9). Give coach John Gardner credit for wrestling a tough early-season schedule that he hopes will pay dividends down the road. The 'Cats also went to the rugged Mustang Classic over the holidays where seven of the state's best teams convened. Senior Jared Kobis (8-0 at 145) won a title, racking up a technical fall, a major and a pin to reach the finals. Big week on tap with duals against Pope John and Lenape Valley.
Up next: Pope John at home on Tuesday; Lenape Valley at home on Wednesday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
9. North Hunterdon (1-5) -- As previously mentioned, Lions are dealing with the absence of three starters and its taken a toll after a stunning 30-point win over Bound Brook on Dec. 22. Coach Tim Flynn's squad finished fifth at the John Goles Invitational and did not have a champion for the first time since 2008. Lone finalists Andrew Gapas (10-3 at 126) and Wyatt Vrancken (8-1 at 170) finished second. Senior Carmine Ricciardi (9-3 at 195) has been a bright spot, while heavyweight Charlie Tordik (10-3) took third at the Goles. Grudge match vs. Voorhees on tap this week.
Up next: at Voorhees on Thursday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
10. Sparta (3-1) -- Spartans rolled to wins over Ramsey (51-18 on Dec. 23), Pompton Lakes (42-30 on Dec. 30), Pequannock (40-18 on Dec. 30), but lost a tough 36-33 decision to Jefferson. Senior Garrett Gerndt (6-2 at 120), a two-time Region 1 qualifier, did not wrestle in that one, as Sparta forfeited his weight class. Coach Frank Battaglia's team will face stiffer competition this week, starting Wednesday against a solid Roxbury team. Senior Al Falco (8-2 at 170) is closing in on 70 career wins.
Up next: at Roxbury on Wednesday; at Newton on Thursday; Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament at Hunterdon Central on Saturday.
On the bubble: Hackettstown, Voorhees