TOMS RIVER -- Phillipsburg's wrestling team got moving in the right direction early on in the Group 4 final.
And the Stateliners rode the early momentum to a 20th state championship -- 12th in Group 4-- with an impressive 40-21 victory over Clearview on Sunday before a raucous crowd at Pine Belt Arena. It was the first 3-peat for the Warren County school since winning five in a row from 1996-00. The title in '96 was in Group 3.
"Tomorrow when I send out my weekly update [to wrestlers], it will say '21' at the bottom," said 'Liner coach Dave Post, who always puts the next state championship number as a reminder to shoot for that goal next season. "We'll enjoy this for the next 48 hours and then they have individual accomplishments they want to achieve. It's all about them now [starting with the District 1 Tournament on Saturday]."
Phillipsburg (17-3), which easily dispatched Jackson Memorial, 46-19, in the semifinals, got off to a great start against Clearview (18-3), thanks to sophomore Lance Wissing's thrilling 5-3 win over Shea Wolfle at 132 pounds in what was rated a tossup. Clearview opted to bump state title contenders Zack Firestone and Michael Van Brill up from 132 and 138, but the plan hinged on 132 working in its favor.
That's when Post and his excellent coaching staff got creative and deviated from the norm. Post forfeited to Van Brill at 145 and bumped sophomore Brian Meyer to 152, where he came through with a 5-3 win over Austin Lee. It was a pair of firsts as Meyer went up a weight for the first time in his career, while P'burg chose to forfeit in the middle of a match for the first time in Post's six seasons.
And it was clear that Clearview, which cruised to a 49-14 semifinal win over Roxbury, was not prepared for the move. After the forfeit, Pioneer coaches took several minutes deciding on who to send out against Meyer. Post couldn't help but smile when it was Lee who finally stepped on the mat.
"They gave us the matchups we wanted," said Post, who has led the 'Liners to four Group 4 titles and five finals appearances while going 96-17 overall. "We knew [the bump] was coming, we just didn't know where and what point. Lance wanted to prove to everyone that he could do it. What a giant match. We wanted to force their hand in the first bout."
At one point, it looked like state qualifier Stanley Atkinson would come out at 152, but he was held back as the Pioneers needed to bump the rest of their lineup to cover weights up top. Atkinson tried unsuccessfully to scramble with senior DJ Wissing and paid a heavy price as Wissing locked up a cradle for the stunning pin in 3:44. That gave P'burg a 12-10 lead through five bouts.
"He's been one of our guys who's a home-run hitter," Post said. "We've stayed away from a lot of things that make him so dangerous. He's technically very sound, but he can do that when he needs it. He does stuff with his hips that you can't ever teach."
Clearview regained the lead with expected wins at 170 and 182, but junior Drew Horun started the juggernaut set of upper weights off with a big 4-3 win over John Bonner, a Region 8 fourth-place finisher, at 195. Robert Melise, a state placewinner who has made Mat No. 1 his home away from home in Toms River, followed with a 13-5 major at 220. It was Melise's stunning pin two years ago here that vaulted P'burg to a Group 4 title win over Southern.
Senior Kyle Nothnagel took a forfeit at 285 to give Phillipsburg a 25-17 lead with four bouts to go. Cullen Day (106), Kyle Markus (113) and Tom Kosar (120) kept the train rolling with victories as the six-match win streak iced another championship. Markus' 10-5 win over freshman David McCullough sealed it.
For a Phillipsburg team that has seldom had its A-lineup this season, a 20th state championship is certainly sweet. Senior Brandon Paetzell (broken hand), a two-time state placewinner who was dressed but did not weigh in, has been out since late December and is expected back to wrestle for a third District 1 title.
"We've had injuries and guys sick," Post said. "We've had to deal with outside distractions. They just had this belief."
GROUP 4 FINAL
PHILLIPSBURG 40, CLEARVIEW 21
132 -- So. Lance Wissing (5-15), P, d. Jr. Shea Wolfle (2-4), 5-3.
138 -- Sr. Zack Firestone (27-0), C, md. Sr. Tyler Agans (15-16), 17-6.
145 -- Sr. Michael Van Brill (27-0), C, forfeit.
152 -- So. Brian Meyer (26-8), P, d. Sr. Austin Lee (18-9), 5-3.
160 -- Sr. DJ Wissing (20-4), P, p. Sr. Stanley Atkinson (24-2), 3:44.
170 -- Sr. Clint Matthew (18-9), C, d. Jr. Jason Barna (8-12), 5-4.
182 -- Sr. Henry Eisenhart (24-2), C, md. Jr. Dan Fisher (18-15), 19-7.
195 -- Jr. Drew Horun (24-5), P, d. Sr. John Bonner (18-9), 4-3.
220 -- Jr. Robert Melise (31-2), P, md. Sr. Vito Nucci (22-3), 12-3.
285 -- Sr. Kyle Nothnagel (30-4), P, forfeit.
106 -- So. Cullen Day (16-7), P, p. Fr. Carmen Giumarello (11-15), 1:30.
113 -- Sr. Kyle Markus (27-6), P, d. Fr. David McCullough (19-8), 10-5.
120 -- Sr. Tom Kosar (13-9), P, p, So. Ayush Patel (23-5), 5:22.
126 -- Fr. Brandon Dick (18-9), C, md. Fr. Kyle Tino (12-19), 17-8.
Records -- Phillipsburg 17-3; Clearview 18-3.
PHILLIPSBURG 46, JACKSON MEMORIAL 19
126 -- Jr. Matt McGowen (22-2), J, md. Fr. Kyle Tino (12-18), 17-6.
132 -- Sr. Tyler Agans (15-15), P, d. So. Ryan Bohringer (3-11), 6-5.
138 -- Sr. Michael Christie (13-7), J, p. So. Lance Wissing (4-15), 3:21.
145 -- So. Brian Meyer (25-8), P, md. Sr. Jay Epperly (10-12), 9-1.
152 -- Sr. Chris Ruiz (13-13), P, p. Fr. Leo Shimonovich (0-1), 3:32.
160 -- Sr. DJ Wissing (19-4), P, p. Jr. Dan Bergeron (6-10), :48.
170 -- Jr. Jason Barna (8-11), P, d. So. Justin Martin-Culet (4-7), 7-6.
182 -- Sr. Tanner Kelly (14-2), J, d. Jr. Dan Fisher (18-14), 5-3.
195 -- Jr. Drew Horun (23-5), P, d. Sr. Adante Davis (19-6), 2-0.
220 -- Jr. Robert Melise (30-2), P, p. Sr. Christopher Mondello (15-8), 4:24.
285 -- Sr. Kyle Nothnagel (29-4), P, p. So. Devin Martinez (0-2), :34.
106 -- So. Cullen Day (15-7), P, d. Fr. Carsten DiGiantomasso (11-12), 7-1.
113 -- Sr. Kyle Markus (26-6), P, p. Fr. Brandon Burkert (2-7), 1:18,
120 -- Sr. Michael Spino (19-1), J, forfeit.
Records -- Phillipsburg 16-3; Jackson Memorial 15-6.