Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wrestling: Flynn resigns as North Hunterdon coach

For 35 years, wrestling and Tim Flynn have gone hand-in-hand. But as the saying goes, all good things must end.

Flynn, 40, is stepping down following eight seasons in charge of the North Hunterdon program after being appointed as the school's vice principal during Tuesday night's board of education meeting. Flynn previously had been approved as the head wrestling coach for the 2017-18 season in a previous meeting.

Tim Flynn
"It's what I have wanted to do eventually, the last year or two for sure," Flynn said of taking an administration role. "Things seemed to work out at the [school] district level. I met with the team [on Wednesday] to let them know."

North Hunterdon is coming off a surprising 17-6 campaign after going a disappointing 9-10 in 2015-16, a rare losing season and the program's first since 2003-04. Under Flynn, the Lions went 118-48 overall, capturing the North 2, Group 5 title in 2015, their 14th sectional championship overall.

Before taking over in 2009-10, Flynn served as former head coach Jason Hawk's top assistant for four seasons. Under their guidance, along with several other highly regarded assistants, North Hunterdon earned statewide respect from opponents and coaches.

"I've been in wrestling forever, since age 5," said Flynn, a social studies teacher at North who was a former state placewinner for Phillipsburg High School and a four-year varsity letterwinner at James Madison. "I've been at North for 18 years, and a head coach for eight."

Flynn's departure is a bit surprising considering the talent level rising through a solid feeder system. He insists it was a career move that was too good to pass up.

"I've been very fortunate. I've had a lot of good kids and from parents [buying into the program]. I've been very spoiled," said Flynn, who praised Mike Cole for working at the youth level and during the busy offseason. "I never thought about walking away, even [during a frustrating 2015-16 season]. Last year, we overachieved, and it kind of got the juices flowing again. This was just the right time and place."

There have been many memorable moments during Flynn's time with North Hunterdon, including winning the Group 3 title in 2002, the school's fourth and last championship. Individually, Flynn points to coaching two-time state champion Ricky Frondorf and three-time placewinner Ryan Pomrinca, the Lions' all-time wins leader (155-13 from 2011-15) and current Lehigh University wrestler as career highlights.

"We had some stud teams my first couple of years as an assistant," Flynn said. "The 2003 team was probably better than '02, but we got beat in the [Group 3 final]. All four Hunterdon County schools winning [sectional titles] in 2015, that was fun."

The search for Flynn's successor is already underway. Current assistant coach Chris Hrunka, who has served on the staff for the last six years and is a Health and Physical Education teacher at North Hunterdon, is certainly a leading candidate.

"He'd be a good choice," Flynn said.

For now, Flynn will get to spend more time with his wife Brooke and their two children, Jack (7) and Lindsey (4). But he admits, things will be strange when practices start around Thanksgiving.

"It will definitely be weird. My wife will hate me being around," he joked. "But my son will be getting involved in wrestling. I will still be around."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Source: Potter new Blue Streaks field hockey coach

For the second time in three years, one of New Jersey's premier high school field hockey programs has a new leader.


Josie Potter
According to multiple sources, Josie Potter, a former star player and assistant coach for Warren Hills, is expected to be named the next Blue Streaks head coach -- the eighth in the program's 53-year history -- during a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday.

Potter succeeds Kate Rothman, whose two-year tenure ended abruptly in December, when athletic director Geri McKelvey informed Rothman that she would not be recommended for the job in 2017.
Rothman guided Warren Hills to an overall mark of 43-8, back-to-back North 1, Group 3 sectional titles and its second straight Group 3 title in 2015. Last season, the Streaks went 20-5 and earned a return trip to the championship game -- a 5-0 loss to nemesis Ocean City.


All fall coaching positions at the Warren County school, per its policy, were opened up at season's end and the appointments for 2017 will be made official on Tuesday.


Potter, 34, a Health and Physical Education teacher at Warren Hills, previously served as an assistant under former coach Laurie Kerr for 11 seasons from 2004-14. Potter resigned, along with Kerr, after the Streaks won their first Group 3 title in '14, the school's first state championship in any female sport.

Kerr, also a star player at Warren Hills and 1987 graduate, turned the program into a powerhouse during her 15 seasons at the helm. Her teams went 264-71-12 overall and won or shared six Skyland Conference Delaware or Raritan Division titles, while capturing four of their five county championships in 2009, '11, '13 and '14.

In addition, the Streaks claimed eight of their 14 sectional titles and appeared in the Group 3 finals seven times under Kerr, who surpassed her predecessor and coach Luanne Ferenci (226-101-41 from 1981-99) as the winningest coach in program history.

Potter, then known as Josie Schantzenbach, is a 2000 graduate and she played on Ferenci's teams from 1996-99, scoring 10 goals and earning MVP honors during her senior season in '99. The Blue Streaks lost a heartbreaker in the Group 3 final that year -- 2-1 in overtime to Ocean City on a controversial goal. The '96 team was the first to reach the state finals. She went on to play and graduate from East Stroudsburg University.

Going into its 53rd season, Washington/Warren Hills is 644-256-92 overall. The program has won at least 20 games in six straight season, including a school-best 23 wins in 2014 and '15.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wrestling: Paulsboro joins rugged Boresch Duals

State wrestling powers just seem to keep finding their way to Newton High School.

Paulsboro, the reigning Group 1 champion and longtime South Jersey powerhouse, will join a stellar field for the 13th annual Henry Boresch Duals to be held on Jan. 6, 2018.

"We are very excited about the 2018 field," said Newton coach Eric Bollette, who has guided the Sussex County program for the past 16 seasons and a runner-up finish in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division in 2016-17.

"Since we started this tournament, we have set out to bring in a field that covers all areas of New Jersey. With the addition of Paulsboro and Northern Highlands, we now have teams from Bergen County to Salem and Burlington counties. We look forward to an exciting day of wrestling."

South Plainfield, last season's Group 3 champion, has been a regular in this event -- winning four of the last six championships, including back-to-back titles in 2016 and '17, and finishing second in '15.

Also returning is Hanover Park, the Group 2 runner-up, which dropped a 43-23 decision to South Plainfield in last season's Boresch Duals title match. Coach James LaValle's Hornets won their only championship in this event in 2014.

Caldwell, Morris Hills, Northern Burlington, Northern Highlands return to round out the eight-team field.

South Plainfield (30-1), which returns state placewinners Joe Heilmann (third at 120 pounds) and Zach DelVecchio (fourth at 220), finished as the highest-ranked public school at No. 3 in the final New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 25 poll. Paulsboro (23-0) was No. 9, followed by No. 10 Hanover Park (17-5), which features 126-pound state champion Nick Raimo.

Paulsboro, which will return nine starters and celebrate its 75th season in 2017-18, is a nice get by Bollette for this event. The Red Raiders, who have gone 656-42-4 in 31 seasons under coach Paul Morina and 1,133-88-12 overall, rarely venture to Northwest Jersey, and have not done so since their series with Phillipsburg ended in 2014 -- a 38-21 loss at The Pit.

"We are extremely excited to have perennial Top 10 teams," Bollette said. "Add in Caldwell and Northern Burlington, which have been consistent winners and teams that are on the cusp of the [NJWWA Top 25], and we have a very competitive field with some great potential team and individual matchups."

Newton has won its event four times -- 2007-10 -- and most recently made the championship match in 2011, a 41-24 loss to Raritan.

Memory lane of champions

2006 -- Don Bosco 50, Haddonfield 24

2007 -- Newton 54, Pequannock 9

2008 -- Newton 36, Haddonfield 31

2009 -- Newton 43, Haddonfield 18

2010 -- Newton 34, Don Bosco 32

2011 -- Raritan 41, Newton 24

2012 -- South Plainfield 47, Raritan 18

2013 -- South Plainfield 62, Raritan 8

2014 -- Hanover Park 35, Raritan 29

2015 -- Howell 40, South Plainfield 15

2016 -- South Plainfield 45, Howell 20

2017 -- South Plainfield 43, Hanover Park 23

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wrestling: Phillipsburg sets schedule for 2017-18

Phillipsburg coach Dave Post confirmed on Wednesday that his schedule for the 2017-18 season is nearly complete, with the exception of two dates -- Dec. 20 and Feb. 1, 2018 -- that have yet to be determined. 

Phillipsburg celebrates its fourth straight Group 4 title in February.
The Stateliners, who finished 16-1 this past season and won their fourth straight Group 4 title for the program's 21st state championship overall, will open next season by returning to the King of the Mountain Tournament at Central Mountain (Pa.) High School, where they competed from 2010-13. Post's teams had opened the past two seasons at the Beast of the East Tournament in Newark, Del., since the Warren County school was unable to attend King of the Mountain, which ran the weekend before the season officially opened in New Jersey.

"We are really excited to go back," said Post, whose 2014-15 team went to the Reno Tournament of Champions. [King of the Mountain] finally moved [the dates] back this past year so we could go, but we unfortunately sent the Beast of the East contract in already."

In addition to its mandated six dual meets against Skyland Conference Raritan Division opponents, Phillipsburg, which is 112-18 overall in Post's seven seasons, will once again face Raritan, Cranford, Kittatinny and Hanover Park in independent matchups. All four of those teams appeared in the final New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 25 poll for 2016-17.

One notable addition is Newton, which owns a 9-6-1 edge overall against P'burg dating to 1947. The Braves are the only program in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area that leads in an all-time series vs. the 'Liners, including a 31-27 victory in the last meeting on Dec. 30, 2009. P'burg, which is 260-52-3 against HWS teams in its 71-year history, won the six previous matchups from 1956-2008.

P'burg, which returns 10 starters, including state medalists Cody Harrison (eighth at 126) and Brian Meyer (third at 145), will square off against Ocean Township for the first time in its final dual meet of the regular season on Feb. 3, 2018. The 'Liners are 41-15 overall against Shore Conference schools.

The annual matches against Pennsylvania's District 11 are also on the docket -- Easton (Jan. 20) and Parkland (Jan. 25). The 'Liners have beaten Easton in three of the last four seasons, including a 40-27 victory on Jan. 21 -- the most points ever scored against the Red Rovers in the series. However, Easton still has a 63-17 overall lead since the storied rivalry began in 1947.

Here's the complete P'burg schedule:

Dec. 15-16 -- at King of the Mountain Tournament (Mill Hall, Pa.)
Dec. 20 -- TBD
Dec. 22 -- Delaware Valley
Dec. 23 -- Newton
Dec. 28-29 -- at Bethlehem (Pa.) Holiday Classic (Liberty High School)
Jan. 3 -- at Bound Brook
Jan. 4 -- Raritan
Jan. 6 -- Cranford
Jan. 10 -- at Hunterdon Central
Jan. 11 -- at Kittatinny
Jan. 13 -- Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament (at Phillipsburg)
Jan. 17 -- at Warren Hills
Jan. 18 -- at Hanover Park
Jan. 20 -- at Easton (Pa.)
Jan. 24 -- North Hunterdon
Jan. 25 -- Parkland (Pa.)
Jan. 27 -- Southern
Jan. 31 -- Voorhees
Feb. 1 -- TBD
Feb. 3 -- Ocean Township
Feb. 5 -- Sectional first round
Feb. 7 -- Sectional semifinals
Feb. 9 -- Sectional finals
Feb. 11 -- Group championships at Toms River North
Feb. 17 -- District 9 Tournament at Phillipsburg
Feb. 21, 23-24 -- Region 3 Tournament at West Orange
March 2-4 -- State Tournament at Atlantic City

Note: Bold indicates Skyland Conference Raritan Division matches.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Wrestling: Easton Lions Club Classic matchups, info

The 37th annual Easton Lions Club All-Star Wrestling Classic -- originally slated for Tuesday night -- was postponed until March 21 at Easton Area High School's 25th Street Gymnasium.

The match pits seniors from New Jersey against their counterparts from Pennsylvania's rugged District 11. The high school event, slated for 8 p.m., is preceded by a youth event at 6.

Pennsylvania won last year's event, 33-15. New Jersey, which has lost the last four events, had won three straight and four of the five classics prior to a 32-15 setback in 2013. Pennsylvania leads the overall series, 21-15, dating to 1981.

Bouts will be three periods of 2 minutes, 1 1/2  and 1 1/2 minutes in length.

Tickets, available at the door, are $6 for adults, $4 for seniors (65 and older) and $3 for students.

Tentative high school matchups (New Jersey listed first):

113 -- TBA vs. Diego Santiago (24-11, 52-23, D5, R4), Easton.

120 -- Jacob Falleni (35-8, 90-26, D1, R2), Lenape Valley, vs. Luke Werner (36-6, 141-36, D2, R2, S2), Liberty.

126 -- Alec Gleason (42-5, 109-24, D1, R1, S5), East Brunswick, vs. Trevor Tarsi (27-16, 68-35, D2, R5), Nazareth.

132 -- Matt Valli (35-8, 105-23, D1, R3), Warren Hills, vs. KJ Fenstermaker (39-3, 159-16, D1, R1, S3), Northampton.

138 -- Matt Kolonia (43-4, 130-32, D1, R2, S7), Delaware Valley, vs. Dan Moran (43-6, 151-27, D2, R2, S2), Northampton.

145 -- Nick Lombard (38-3, 119-19, D1, R2, S5), Monroe, vs. Brock Wilson (41-7, 125-38, D1, R1, S3), Nazareth.

152 -- Cole Marra (33-7, 69-27, D1, R3), North Hunterdon, vs. Hayden Keleher (36-11, 45-22, D3, R4), Easton.

160 -- TBA, vs. Ryan Farber (25-2, 123-25, D1, R1, S2), Northern Lehigh.

170 -- Joey Schiele (44-3, 107-32, D2, R1, S7), Morris Hills, vs. Mike Labriola (44-0, 166-12, D1, R1, S1), Bethlehem Catholic.

182 -- Michael Iodice (38-9, 100-26, D1, R2, S6), Hunterdon Central, vs. Travis Stefanik (37-2, 154-34, D1, R1, S1), Nazareth.

195 -- Jack Miller (42-5, 94-32, D1, R3, S5), Westfield, vs. Carlo Perugini (24-10, D1, R6), Liberty.

220 -- Robert Melise (38-4, 121-22, D1, R1, S5), Phillipsburg, vs. Nathan Feyrer (29-12, 61-48, D2, R2), Parkland.

225 -- Victor Lacombe (41-3, 92-18, D1, R1, S3), Hunterdon Central, vs. Devin Fontanez (42-5, 121-25, D1, R2, S3), Saucon Valley.

285 -- Charlie Tordik (32-4, 83-24, D1, R4), North Hunterdon, vs. Niko Camacho (42-5, 93-19, D1, R1, S5), Bethlehem Catholic.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Wrestling: Home is where it's at for HWS champs

ATLANTIC CITY -- Homegrown champs are a special thing these days.

Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner, who dominated his way to the 195-pound state title and one of eight underclassmen to win titles, will look to join Jamie Wicks (1987-88) and Brent Conly (1992-93) as the only wrestlers at his school to win back-to-back championships next season. Jeff Segreaves (148 in 1975), John Pasterkiewicz (103 in '88), Ricky Krieger (189 in '93) and Dan Kelly (112 in 2007) are the other state champs for the Terriers.

Hunterdon County produced five medal winners for the third time in six years and the first since 2014, as Lightner, along with teammate Matt Kolonia (seventh at 138), North Hunterdon junior Andrew Gapas (eighth at 132), and Hunterdon Central seniors Michael Iodice (sixth at 182) and Victor Lacombe (third at 220), were all first-time placewinners.

"It's great," Del Val coach Andy Fitz said of the county's showing in AC. "Every kid who places, that's another article written, and maybe a family can connect with it."
Nick Palumbo (far bottom right) and Kyle Lightner with the rest of the champs.

Lightner and Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo, the 145-pound winner, were among the 11 public school champions, which means quite a bit nowadays. Both coaches agreed that it's a major deal for their programs.

"It was wonderful to show that our area can still get the job done," Fitz said. "There's nothing better than a kid like Kyle coming up through the program and winning. Everybody feels great about it."

For Lenape Valley, Palumbo being the school's first champ makes it sweeter. Heck, they even threw him a party back at the school on Sunday night, with a police escort into town.

"He stayed with us and believed in us," said Patriots coach Doug Vetter, who has coached three of the school's four finalists after becoming its first with a runner-up finish at 189 pounds in 1990.  "He didn't get sucked into a parochial school. He had faith in the program and it worked out. Switching schools so you can be on the more popular team is not how I am. For him to be 46-0 and show that kind of composure ... to be a state champ ... that's a dream come true."

Palumbo was happy to stay home and make history, especially since Vetter is stepping down after 16 seasons. The coach and wrestler shared a unique bond.

"I wouldn't have been able to do it without him," Palumbo said.

"It's something that doesn't need words," Vetter said. "You just feel a connection with a person."

The public vs. non-public debate rages on, and one of the issues for realignment was a projected 30 percent of this year's medals going to wrestlers from private schools. The final numbers show that private schools accounted for 33 of the 112 placewinners, or roughly 29 percent, so the projections were pretty accurate. Only five of the 14 finals did not involve a private school wrestler, while 106, which had five private school wrestlers in the Top 8, and 120, were matchups between non-public wrestlers.

Next in 'Liner


Seems like after every season, the torch gets passed on to the next star.

For Phillipsburg, junior Brian Meyer will assume that role for 2017-18 after his third-place finish at 145 pounds in the 84th State Wrestling Championships on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.

"Nobody has worked harder. We have to drag him out of the practice room," said Stateliners coach Dave Post, whose program had three medal winners -- including sophomore Cody Harrison (eighth at 126) and senior Robert Melise (fifth at 220) -- for the first time since 1998.

Brian Meyer on the podium to the right of champ Nick Palumbo.
"He was a Fargo All-American [in freestyle], and after he lost last year and finished a round short [of a medal in Atlantic City], he's been relentless. We told him [in the offseason] that we were going to put him anywhere [in the lineup] that we needed to win, and against the best guys, because we believe you can beat anybody. He responded by saying, 'I'm looking forward to it.'"

Meyer (39-8), one of 12 state placewinners from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area, believes P'burg would have had a another medal winner if not for an unfortunate injury.

"[Drew Horun] would have been the fourth," Meyer said of his friend and teammate, whose senior season ended a week before the postseason due to a knee injury. "He just had surgery a couple of weeks ago. First time in 20 years that we had three or more, that's a tribute to the kind of team we had."

How serious is Meyer about his wrestling? Consider this. When he lost a tough 3-2 decision to Nicholas Santos of St. Peter's Prep in Saturday afternoon's quarterfinals, Meyer, who avenged that loss by pinning Santos in the third-place bout, didn't look at his phone until later that evening -- roughly a span of nine hours.

"I needed to refocus. You have to find what works for you," said Meyer, who will enter his senior season with a career mark of 92-32.

Post said he would like to see Meyer bulk up and come back around 170 pounds for the 2017-18 season. The 'Liners will graduate four of their five upper weights, including Melise, but they return every starter from 106 through 160. Post would have some flexibility up top with junior Shamyr Brodders (160 this season) and sophomore Austin Roth (170-182) likely to be coming back in the 182 or 195 range.

Honorary Brave


Andy Iliff with his award. (Theresa Iliff)
Newton wrestling legend Andy Iliff was honored prior to Sunday's championship round when he was presented with the NJSIAA State Assistant Coach of the Year Award.

Iliff is part of an excellent staff at his alma mater that includes assistant coaches Ted Sibblies, a state runner-up for the Braves in 1989, and Dave Young, a state runner-up for Morris Hills in '90, under head coach Eric Bollette, a former Kittatinny placewinner.

"It feels good," said the humble and classy Iliff, who is the school's last state champion, winning back-to-back titles -- Nos. 81 and 82, the most in state history, in 1986-87. "But I wish this could be a group award. I feel it should be. I'm just a sliver of the whole thing."

This staff really enjoys working together and it shows on and off the mat. But you always have to keep your head on a swivel as Bollette and Sibblies are the pranksters and instigators of the group -- all in good fun of course -- with Iliff as their primary target.

"When they're not making fun of me it's great," Iliff, a West Point product whose son Thatcher and daughter Ashley wrestled for Braves, said with a big smile.

As for being Newton's last champion, there is nothing Iliff -- pronounced Eye-liff, not E-liff, as it was by the clueless tournament announcer who kept saying Pope John the 22nd instead of the 23rd all weekend, would love more than to be rid of that distinction.

"I would like to be a distant memory," he said. "They can't pronounce my name now."

Could sophomore Wyatt McCarthy be No. 83? Time will tell, but McCarthy gave runner-up Ricky Cabanillas of DePaul all he could he handle in the second round before getting pinned in the first overtime tiebreaker. McCarthy won his first wrestleback bout before dropping a 7-2 decision to red-hot Nicholas Lombard of Monroe -- who won five in a row after a first-round loss in finishing fifth.

Back points


Region 2 led the way with 20 state medals, followed by Region 8 with 18 and Region 5 with 17. Region 4 was next with 15 and Region 3 had 14, including three from Phillipsburg. Regions 1, including three from Pope John in runner-up JoJo Aragona (120), Robert Garcia (fourth at 132) and Eddie Ventresca (sixth at 113), and 7 each had 10, while Region 6 was last with eight.

Region 5 had the most champs going 4-for-4 in the finals, including Bound Brook's trio, while Regions 3 and 8 had three apiece. Regions 4 and 7 had no gold medals.

Just looking over some of the numbers, the Shore Conference, which has 44 schools, produced 13 medals, up one from last year, while the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area, which has just 18 schools, took home 11. So, the Shore area, which pushed for this insane realignment of districts and regions, had a grand total of 32 more wrestlers in Atlantic City only to collect one more medal. It just shows you that you can shuffle the deck anyway you want it, but the cream always rises.


Not to be lost in the shuffle from a long three days of wrestling was the fact that Iodice earned his 100th career win in the wrestlebacks -- pinning Chris Nielsen of Pinelands to reach the consolation semifinals. Iodice, who lost his next two bouts, finishes 100-25, and is the 20th Red Devils wrestler to reach the century mark.

The 220-pound medal winners, including Melise and Lacombe.
Speaking of Central, what a finish for Lacombe, a Lehigh recruit, who defeated two state champions this season -- Lightner (8-7 on Feb. 1) and Howell senior Eric Keosseian (5-1 on Jan. 7), who won the 220-pound title on Sunday. The Rebels had three medal winners in all, including runner-up Kyle Slendorn (126) and seventh-place finisher Darby Diedrich, who knocked out Central junior Hunter Graf in the wrestlebacks. Howell, which returns the bulk of its team next season including two state medalists, has been on a major roll since a 28-27 win over the Red Devils in the Group 5 final on Feb. 12 -- thanks in large part to Keosseian's huge 4-3 win over Lacombe -- on a last-second takedown -- in that one.

The sport and our area will really miss Melise and Vetter. The Phillipsburg star, an extremely humble and nice young man, didn't have the finish he wanted or expected to have in Atlantic City, but he showed tremendous heart in rallying back to take fifth. P'burg fans love their wrestlers and their wrestling, but other than Brandon Paetzell, few come to mind who were as popular with the faithful than Melise, who is still considering his college choices for wrestling, not football. And he appreciated them just as much.

"I love every single one of these people," he said after the consolation finals. "I will always have love for that gym and that environment. It's one of the best places to wrestle in the country, if not the best."

Morris Hills snapped a long drought as senior Joey Schiele finished seventh at 170 pounds. Schiele is the school's first placewinner since Dave Young reached the finals in '90. Morris Hills is coached by former Kittatinny standout Brian Bollette, a brother of Newton coach Eric Bollette.

There are mixed reviews coming in from the new tournament, which included fourth-place finishers in each region this year, expanded the brackets to 32. Gapas was among four wrestlers to earn a trip after placing fourth in the region. But it added extra rounds and made for a very long Saturday with two wrestleback sessions to start before the quarterfinals, which got underway about an hour after the scheduled time of noon.

This will need to be addressed in the offseason, and according to one NJSIAA official, one possibility is starting earlier on Friday, possibly at noon instead of 2:30 p.m. We also don't need an endless parade of awards -- essentially a back-patting session for the state -- that pushes the championship round from 3 to 4 p.m. on a Sunday. And speaking of that, this tournament needs to start on Thursday and end on Saturday night, when the stands would have been a lot fuller for the finals. Anyone who thinks attendance was not down for the finals this year could not have been in the arena to see it for themselves. Longer days do not hold the fans' interest. Haven't we seen that enough with quads and tri-meets?

Bronze stars: Meyer, Lacombe among area placers

ATLANTIC CITY -- Phillipsburg junior Brian Meyer is looking forward to the offseason work ahead of him. After all, he says that's where the fun is.

Meyer was rewarded for the time he's put in to make himself a better wrestler, placing third at 145 pounds on Sunday at the 84th State Wrestling Championships on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.

"I love the offseason," said Meyer (39-8), a first-time placewinner who pinned Nicholas Santos of St. Peter's Prep in sudden-victory overtime for the bronze medal. "That's when I really enjoy wrestling. It's not as much of a grind. All that work in the offseason has translated to success in the postseason."

Robert Melise (second from left) and Victor Lacombe on the podium at 220.
Meyer, along with Phillipsburg teammates Cody Harrison (eighth at 126) and Robert Melise (fifth at 220), were among 12 wrestlers from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area to earn medals. Hunterdon Central senior Victor Lacombe was the area's other third-place finisher at 220.

Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo (145) and Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner (195) won their first titles, while Pope John sophomore JoJo Aragona (120) was a runner-up.

Rounding out the placewinners were North Hunterdon junior Andrew Gapas (eighth at 132), Pope John freshman Eddie Ventresca (sixth at 113) and sophomore Robert Garcia (fourth at 132) , Delaware Valley senior Matt Kolonia (seventh at 138) and Hunterdon Central senior Michael Iodice (sixth at 182).

Meyer earned some redemption by avenging a 3-2 loss to Santos in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

"He dominated me on the mat, and I think I was definitely better on my feet," said Meyer, a three-time district and two-time region champ who is 92-32 overall. "I used that to my advantage the second time around. You can't expect to go from losing a close match to pinning the same guy the next time. It was an exclamation point on the win. I'm very happy with the way I wrestled."

Hail to the Victor


There were several great stories involving area wrestlers, but one of the feel-good moments was when Lacombe converted a takedown with 16 seconds left in sudden-victory overtime for a 6-4 victory over South Plainfield sophomore Zach DelVecchio in their third-place bout at 220.

Lacombe (41-3), who lost a tough 3-1 decision to Don Bosco Prep junior Peter Acciardi in the semifinals, avenged two previous losses to Melise in the consolation semifinals by getting a late takedown in the third period en route to a 7-3 win in sudden victory.

"It was tough [to lose in the semis]. I was really upset that I lost," said Lacombe, who was pinned twice by Melise the last two seasons, including this year's Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament finals. "But my coaches told me that if I didn't push myself [in the wrestlebacks], I would regret it the rest of my life. So, I went for it. Melise beat me over the summer, too, so it was nice to beat someone who beat me three times."

After finishing fifth at 220 as a junior, Lacombe  wanted to improve on that performance. Not too shabby for a wrestler who entered the sport as a freshman and finished with an overall mark of 92-18.

"My goal was to place higher than last year," said Lacombe, who will head to Lehigh next fall where he projects to be a heavyweight in college.

Lacombe credits Central assistant coach Leigh Hall, one of the wrestler's biggest fans, for helping to get him this far.

"He's helped me a lot," Lacombe said. "He is always there for me and he believes in me."

Fine 'Liner


It was quite an emotional few days for Melise, his coaches, teammates and legion of fans as the three-time placewinner came up short of his goal to become the school's 34th state champion and first since Brandon Hull won at 220 in 2012.

Melise (38-4) closed the books on an outstanding career with his second fifth-place medal after finishing second in 2016. After a tough 2-1 loss to DelVecchio in the quarterfinals -- on a locked hands call in the ultimate tiebreaker -- Melise regrouped to reel off two wins in the wrestlebacks before the loss to Lacombe.

"Coach [Dave Post] is always saying, 'You have good ones and bad ones,'" said Melise, who scored a 6-4 win over Sean O'Malley of Hasbrouck Heights in his final match. "You can't wrestle bad matches here and it really showed [in the loss to Lacombe]."

As the thoughts of not putting on the P'burg uniform again and having practice on Tuesday after taking a much-needed day off on Monday, Melise was overcome with emotion.

"That's when it will really set it," he said, fighting back tears. "Wrestling here is one of the best experience of my life. I love every guy on the team, and most of all my coaches. I've always had high expectations. I'm sorry I couldn't have done better for them. I feel like I let them down and myself."

That last statement is really quite ludicrous, considering what Melise has meant to his program and the entire town the last four years. No one will ever forget his unexpected pin as a raw freshman to catapult the Stateliners to their Group 4 title win over Southern in 2014. And that was just one of many key victories.

"He means a lot to everybody," said Post, who also was overcome with emotion when talking about Melise's impact on the program. "He's just a likable kid. He apologized to us. When you wrestle for P'burg, you're carrying the whole town on your back. I've been there before. He could have sailed off into the sunset [after the win against Southern]. We told him not to let being a three-time placewinner at the state tournament be the apex of your life."

Junior grade


Gapas bounced back from a second-round loss in Atlantic City -- one of just four wrestlers in the field to place after finishing fourth in the region. It was Gapas' first and North Hunterdon's seventh medal in the last four years after missing in 2016.

After dropping a tough 6-5 decision in overtime to Raritan's Russell Benson in the pre-quarterfinals -- giving up the decisive points on a reversal at the buzzer in the second rideout -- Gapas had to win three in a row just to reach the medal rounds.

"I didn't have too great of a performance at regions, so I needed to step it up and try to place at states," said Gapas, a Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex champion who dominated Benson -- a 9-2 win --when they met in a dual meet earlier this season.

Gapas (38-7), the school's first placewinner since Ryan Pomrinca finished third for his third medal in 2015, will get right back to work with one more chance to get higher on the podium next season.

"I'm going to train as hard as I can every day," said Gapas, who is 72-21 overall.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Wrestling: Lightner joins Del Val elite in state title run

ATLANTIC CITY -- Just mere moments after winning his first state championship, Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner was already geared up for a repeat.

"Next year, I'm coming for another," said Lightner, who capped a dominating run to the 195-pound crown with a 5-1 win over Collingswood senior Michael Taulane on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.

Lightner (42-2) captured Delaware Valley's ninth state championship and its first since Dan Kelly won at 112 in 2007. He was one of two winners for the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area, joining Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo, who rolled his school's first title at 145 pounds.
Kyle Lightner and Nick Palumbo were crowned first-time champs on Sunday.

Among those champs for the Terriers are two-time winners Jamie Wicks (1987-88) and Brent Conly (1992-93), and Lightner is eager to become just the third to win back-to-back titles.

"This feels great. It feels amazing to be up there with the legends at Del Val," said Lightner, who is Hunterdon County's first champ since Hunterdon Central's Alex Shaffer won at 119 in 2010. "They are the people I always wanted to be like. I wanted to be Jamie Wicks."

Speaking of Wicks, who was in attendance on Sunday, Del Val coach Andy Fitz likened his wrestler to the legendary champ earlier this season. There are some physical similarities and Lightner's style is a lot like Wicks, known as a dominant mat wrestler -- turning opponents with legs and cranking them over with a vicious power half.

"He is Wicks-esque, you can say," said Fitz, who has his first state champ in 10 seasons after guiding Bobby Stevely to the 125-pound final in 2010. "The power half was Jamie's go-to move and Kyle's."

Lightner, now 68-10 overall, got a takedown in the first period and nearly rode Taulane, who pinned Lightner with a headlock last season, for the entire second period without giving up a point until he was called for locked hands with five seconds left on the clock.

"It was locked hands," Lightner admitted. "I realized as soon as I did it. I wasted a lot of energy trying to not give up a point, and I did."

Lightner escaped early in the third period for a 3-1 lead and later spun behind Taulane for a match-icing takedown with five seconds left on the clock.

"I wasn't real offensive as I usually am," Lightner said. "He was a real strong boy."

Like Palumbo, competing in freestyle and Greco Roman helped Lightner to his title run. In fact, he doesn't believe it would have been possible without that experience, not to mention being fanatical about practice sessions.

"I was able to control the ties. The whole third period was using ties and Russians ... that's from wrestling Greco," said Lightner, who placed at Fargo over the summer and said he enjoyed freestyle as well. "It worked well. I didn't let him get a single bit of offense on me."

Lightner will most likely get right back to work after doing some physics homework at home on Sunday night, while taking time to celebrate his best win to date.

"I love being on the mat because I care so much about this sport," he said.

Practice was the key to a title run, according to Fitz.

"He was always a competitor, but he wasn't necessarily into the practice end of it," said Fitz, who placed fifth in the state at 160 pounds as a senior in 1990. "The last two or three years, he devoured the practice stuff. And here we are as a junior."

Wrestling: Palumbo stands alone as first LV champ

ATLANTIC CITY -- The wait is over.

Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo completed his run to school history with a 5-3 win over DePaul sophomore Ricky Cabanillas to win the 145-pound state title on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.

In doing so, Palumbo (46-0) capped a fantastic unbeaten season while becoming the Patriots' first champion after head coach Doug Vetter (1990), Chris Ressa (2001) and D.J. Russo ('06) came up short in their title bids.

"It feels awesome. It doesn't feel real," said Palumbo, only the fourth-ever finalist for the Sussex County school since the program began in 1975. "I'm sure it means a lot for everyone [at Lenape Valley]. For me, I'm a state champion. I knew this was always possible, but I had to step it up."

Nick Palumbo displays his wall chart atop the podium at 145 pounds.
In addition to Palumbo, Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner won his first title at 195, while Pope John sophomore JoJo Aragona (120) was a runner-up, as the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area had three finalists for the first time since High Point's magical run of four gold medals and a silver for North Hunterdon in 2011.

Palumbo, who finished third at 145 last season, is the program's first two-time placewinner since Russo, who also placed fifth at 171 in 2005. But the first gold is something to be cherished by an entire community, according to Vetter, who is stepping down after 16 seasons. Former coach Bob Poggi, now the school's athletic director, was on hand to witness the historic moment, as well as former Patriots two-time placewinner and assistant coach Gary Mikolay, who is expected to be the next head coach.

"This is a dream come true, being my final time in the corner," said a teary-eyed Vetter, who lost an 8-5 decision to High Point coach John Gardner in the 189-pound final in 1990 before coaching both Ressa and Russo in their final bouts. "This is something special that I will take to the grave."

You couldn't have written a better script, as Cabanillas opted to wrestle Palumbo's style of match -- going upper body -- including one throw attempt that took both off their feet for a brief moment -- and tying up in the neutral position. After a scoreless first period, Palumbo escaped and later converted a match-turning takedown at the edge off a nice pass-by with just two seconds left on the clock for a 3-0 lead heading into the third.

Palumbo added another takedown with 36 seconds to go for a 5-1 lead and gave up a what amounted to a meaningless reversal with 17 ticks left on the clock.

"He was letting me get my ties. It was perfect," said Palumbo, who is the school's all-time wins leader with a career mark of 135-27. "[The takedown] was perfect right at the end of the second period."

Palumbo also knew he had to stay on the attack more than he did in a 1-0 win over Cabanillas last weekend in their Region 2 final.

"I needed to be a lot more aggressive," said Palumbo, while will wrestle for the University of Buffalo next season.

Along with crediting his coaches, Palumbo said offseason wrestling in the freestyle ranks helped make him a state champion.

"That's where I learned the two-on-one and the throw-by, which I scored with," he said. "I would tell all wrestlers to get out there and get that experience. It helped me jump so many levels."

Vetter promised tears if this moment came after Palumbo's win in the semifinals on Saturday night. They flowed, not only for the victory, but the special bond he shares with his wrestler.

"This is tough, emotionally," Vetter said. "I'm crying some happy tears. This was 43 years in the making. This was for the community. I received hundreds, not tens, of phone calls and text messages for people in the community, people I've coached who care about Lenape Valley wrestling. You could say there was a little bit of magic in the air."

"It's his last year, and I was happy to fulfill his dream," Palumbo said. "He's one of my all-time favorite coaches. He's always giving me words of wisdom and sharing tips. I wouldn't have been able to do it without him."

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Wrestling: Palumbo, Lightner going for gold in AC

ATLANTIC CITY -- Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo is determined to etch a new chapter in the school history books.

If his impressive win by technical fall in the 145-pound semifinals is any indication, the Patriots will soon have that missing piece when it comes to the championship round.

Palumbo worked two-time state placewinner Joe Casey of Bound Brook for a 16-0 win in 4:35 -- using a turk for four sets of back points -- to become just the fourth Lenape Valley wrestler to reach the finals on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall.

"It was a great confidence boost," said Palumbo, who placed third at this weight last season after finishing third in the region. "Winning by technical fall in the semifinals doesn't happen very often."

Palumbo (45-0) will face DePaul sophomore Ricky Cabanillas -- a rematch of the Region 2 final -- in Sunday's championship round that is slated to begin at 3 p.m.

"I had no preference [for my finals opponent]," said Palumbo, who earned a 1-0 win over Cabanillas last weekend. "I'm on the next level. I've beaten most kids here. I approach every match the same -- wrestle hard to win."

In all, there will be three wrestlers from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area going for state gold as Pope John sophomore JoJo Aragona (120) and Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner (195) also reached the finals for the first time.

Hunterdon Central senior Victor Lacombe (220) came up short in his bid to become the Red Devils’ 41st finalist and first since Gary Dinmore made three straight appearances (2012-14). Lacombe (39-3) dropped a 3-1 decision to Don Bosco Prep's Peter Acciardi in the semifinals. The last of the Hunterdon County school’s 12 champs was Alex Shaffer (119 in 2010).

Palumbo joined head coach Doug Vetter (1990), Chris Ressa (2001) and D.J. Russo ('06) as the only wrestlers at the Sussex County school to reach the finals. Interestingly, Vetter has been involved in all four, three times as a coach.

"I feel fortunate and blessed," said Vetter, who dropped an 8-5 decision to current High Point coach John Gardner in the 189-pound final in '90. "I lost by a couple of points, Ressa lost by one point [5-4 to Ryan Cunningham of Cherry Hill West at 152] and Russo lost [6-4 to Jack Corcoran of St. Joseph-Hammonton at 215] in one of the most controversial finals that I can remember.

"It's Nick't turn.You can tell he's dialed in and he's in a good spot mentally. He has that look in his eye. I refer to it as being in the zone."

Palumbo, now 134-27 overall and the school's all-time wins leaders, sure was in the zone from the top position against Casey. After taking a 2-0 lead into the second period with an early takedown, Palumbo attacked on top, using the turk three times in the second for three points each turn to build a 13-0 lead. There was little doubt as to his choice to take top in the third period, where he turned Casey a fourth time to end the bout.

I used [the turk] in the regular season, but he gave it up way too easy, so I kept going back to it," Palumbo said. "I think I broke him [from the top position]."

Palumbo wasn't lacking for confidence coming in as the No. 1 seed and this performance only boosted his mental state heading into the biggest bout of his career.

"I'm going to be the first champ," he said.

Lightner strikes again


Who knew that Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner was a child prodigy?

Terriers coach Andy Fitz said he was first introduced to his 195-pound wrestler, who was the tender age of just 7, and was told that he had state gold in his future. Well, Lightner has certainly blossomed into one of the best in the state, as evidenced by his pin of Woodstown senior Chad Watt in 2:50.

“Growing up, I never would have comprehended being in the state finals,” said Lightner (41-2), now the Hunterdon County school’s 15th finalist overall and first since Bobby Stevely (125 pounds in 2010).

Lightner, the lone Trentonian area finalist, will attempt to become Del Val’s ninth state champion and first since Dan Kelly won at 112 in 2007, when he takes on Collingswood senior Michael Taulane in the championship round slated for 3 p.m. Taulane (38-1), a Region 7 champion, pinned Lightner in 3:00 last season when their teams in the Group 2 semifinals in Toms River.

Lacombe was unable to give the county back-to-back finalists, dropping a 3-1 decision to top seed Peter Acciardi in the 220-pound semifinals. Lacombe, who finished fifth last year at this weight class, was looking to become the Red Devils’ 41st finalist and first since Gary Dinmore made three straight appearances in 2012-14.

Fitz, who now has his second finalist in 10 seasons at the helm of his alma mater, shared the conversation he had with his father many years ago regarding a young, 98-pound Lightner.

“My dad [legendary Del Val coach Vince Fitz] introduced us and told me that [Lightner] would be our next state champ,” Andy said.

Lightner, a Region 5 champion and 67-10 overall, is one win away from fulfilling that promise. He certainly made it look easy in the semis -- getting a takedown nine seconds into the bout and turning Watt twice with the legs in, while nearly getting the first-period pin with a power half. Leading 8-0 in the second period, Lightner got a reversal before stacking Watt for the fall.

“He was a wet noodle on bottom,” said Lightner, who breezed to a 10-2 major decision over Tommy Maxwell of Delsea in the quarterfinals. “I got the arm bar pretty easily. There was no panic ... no stress. Everything was just great. I had a lot of energy. To make the state finals as a junior at 195, I don’t think it has set in yet.”

No quarter


In one of the more stunning results on Saturday, Phillipsburg senior Robert Melise lost his bid to reach back-to-back finals with a 1-0 loss to South Plainfield sophomore Zach DelVecchio -- 2-1 in the ultimate tiebreaker -- with the difference being a penalty point for locked hands with eight seconds left on the clock.

Melise (36-3), a runner-up at 220 last year and fifth as a sophomore, rebounded with two wins in the wrestlebacks to reach the consolation semifinals. In a neat twist, Melise will face Lacombe with the winner moving on to the third-place bout, while the loser can finish no higher than fifth. Lacombe, who has been pinned in two career meetings with Melise, including this season's Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament finals, was fifth at 220 as a junior.

Phillipsburg sophomore Cody Harrison (126) and junior Brian Meyer (145) joined Melise in the consolation semifinals -- giving the Stateliners at least two medal winners for the fourth straight year and three for the first time since collecting five in 1998 -- Aaron Freer (second at 171), Steve Kempinski (fourth at 215), John McRoberts (sixth at 152), Russ Trauger (seventh at 145) and Zach Miers (seventh at 215). 

Harrison (28-8) will face West Morris ace Shane Metzler in the seventh-place bout, while Meyer (36-8) will get a rematch with Bound Brook's Joe Casey, a three-time placewinner who lost 3-1 when they met in a dual meet earlier this season, for the right to wrestle for third.

Back points


Aragona (34-2), who finished third at 106 last season, has the unenviable task of taking on two-time runner-up Patrick Glory of Delbarton -- one of the biggest favorites in the tournament -- in the 120-pound final. Aragona ended the Cinderella run by Lodi senior Chris Caban, the No. 15 seed, with a 5-2 decision in the semifinals.

Rounding out the medal winners for the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area are two from Pope John -- freshman Eddie Ventresca (113) and sophomore Robert Garcia (132), along with North Hunterdon junior Andrew Gapas (132), Delaware Valley senior Matt Kolonia (138) and Hunterdon Central senior Michael Iodice (182) giving Hunterdon County an overall total of five placewinners.

Finishing one round shy of a medal were Hunterdon Central junior Hunter Graf (120), who was eighth at 113 last year, and Voorhees sophomore Lewis Fernandes (195).

Voorhees has the longest state title drought in the county with John Brienza (130 in 1998) being its fourth and last winner.

Melise scored a 2-1 win over Hopewell Valley senior Will Ortman in the fifth round of wrestlebacks, dropping Ortman to the seventh-place match on Sunday at 11 a.m. Ortman is just the third wrestler at his school to medal -- joining George Saliba (fourth in 2008) and Mike Markulec (fifth in 2014).

Region 2 led the way with 11 in the semifinals and matched Region 1 with the most finalists at six, followed by Region 5 (9 in the semis) with four and Regions 3, 6 and 8 with three apiece. Region 4 is next with 2 and Region 7, which had only two semifinalists, has just one in the finals.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Wrestling: Harrison, Graf, Palumbo lead locals in AC

ATLANTIC CITY -- Between last year's cup of coffee here and last weekend's loss in the region quarterfinals, Phillipsburg sophomore Cody Harrison certainly got his wakeup call.

Harrison won his first two bouts -- including a pin of No. 4 seed Anthony Clarizio of Cedar Grove in 1:09 at 126 pounds -- in advancing to the quarterfinals of the 84th State Wrestling Championships on Friday night at Boardwalk Hall.

"It was nice to win the first match [10-4 over Lower Cape May's Alexander Pruszinski] because it gives you confidence going into the second one," said Harrison, a transfer who went 0-2 at 106 pounds in AC as a freshman for Warren Hills. "I was very disappointed last year, and I just wanted redemption."

Phillipsburg junior Brian Meyer (145) and senior Robert Melise (220) also went 2-0 for the Stateliners, as a total of 12 wrestlers from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area will compete in the Round of 8 on Saturday at noon, while another 35 will try to battle back for medals in the wrestlebacks that begin at 9 a.m. The second day concludes with the semifinals and more wrestlebacks at 6 p.m.

Harrison (25-5), who finished third in Region 3, stepped across on a single-leg takedown attempt and sunk a half-nelson to stick Clarizio. Now in the quarters, Harrison needs just one more win to guarantee placing in the Top 8. But he's not content with just any medal.

"It puts me in a great spot as far as placing, but I want to win it," said Harrison, who will next face DePaul state placewinner Daniel Percelay. "I still have three more matches to win. I can take anyone down, and I'm good on offense. I have great workout partners. Meyer and I push each other to the next level."

Meyer (35-7), a two-time region champion who lost in the pre-quarterfinals last year, moved into the quarters for the the first time with an 8-1 decision over West Deptford's Corey Fischer.

Melise (35-2), who is one of the area's best shots at state gold, continued his tear at 220 with a technical-fall win in the opening round before pinning Pennsauken's James Thompson in 1:37 to reach the quarters, Melise, the school's all-time pins leader and last year's state runner-up will meet South Plainfield sophomore Zach DelVecchio (42-1), who finished seventh at 220 in 2016.

Hunterdon review


In addition to Phillipsburg, Hunterdon Central has three wrestlers in the quarterfinals with junior Hunter Graf (120), along with seniors Michael Iodice (182) and Victor Lacombe (220).

Graf met a familiar opponent in the second round -- scoring four points off a takedown and a near-side cradle in the first period en route to a 4-2 win over Lenape Valley senior Jacob Falleni in a loaded 120-pound class that features seven returning medal winners.

Graf (39-2), who placed eighth at 113 last year, is now 3-0 all-time against Falleni, including wins -- 6-4 in 2016 and 6-0 in '17 -- in the last two Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournaments. That quick 4-0 lead in this one might have actually worked against Graf, who gave up a takedown with 26 seconds left in the third period and nearly got turned with a merkle in the closing seconds.

"I don't usually consider my self a staller, but you can't help it some times when you get up that much early," said Graf, the No. 7 who will next face Lodi's Chris Caban, who upset No. 2 Michael Kelly of St. Peter's Prep, 6-5, the second round.  A win over Caban could set up a potential semifinal rematch with Pope John sophomore JoJo Aragona, who scored a 2-0 win over Graf in the HWS finals on Jan. 14.

"[Falleni] is a good kid and doesn't stop wrestling. I need to step my game up. Tomorrow is a new day. You have to make something out of the hand you're dealt, and do whatever you can to win."

Iodice, who went 2-2 and did not place at 170 last year, reached the quarters with a 7-3 win over Cinnaminson's Shaun Davilla. He will next face Queen of Peace placewinner Dominic Mainiero.

Lacombe, who finished fifth at 220 last season, moved into the quarters with a 3-1 victory over previously-unbeaten Michael Mascioli of St. Joseph-Hammonton.

Delaware Valley has two going for gold as Matt Kolonia (138) and Kyle Lightner (195) reached the quarterfinals for the first time.

Kolonia (41-2) will face No. 1 seed and 2015 champion Gerard Angelo of Bergen Catholic, while Lightner (39-2), who is looking like a strong contender for the 195-pound crown, gets Tommy Maxwell of Delsea.

North Hunterdon has three in the wrestlebacks, including junior Andrew Gapas, who lost a heartbreaker in overtime -- 6-5 -- when he gave up a reversal at the buzzer to Raritan's Russell Benson after getting an escape in the first 30-second rideout.

Seniors Cole Marra (152) and Charlie Tordik (285) are the other Lions in the field.

Voorhees junior Scott Fernandes shook things up in the opening round with a dominating 12-4 win over Kittatinny senior Josh Klimek, who pinned Fernandes in the HWS Tournament. But Fernandes lost his second-round matchup to join brothers Michael (160) and Lewis (195), as well as Aidan Taylor (106) in the wrestlebacks.

Patriot is game


Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo took another step in his bid to make school history with a 9-6 win over Evan Fisler of Washington Township to reach the 145-pound quarters for a second straight year.

"I feel good. I feel confident," said Palumbo, now 43-0 on the season and 132-27 overall. "Not much has changed from last year [being the No. 1 seed]. I wrestle everyone the same."

Palumbo (43-0), who was third in 2016, is looking to become just the fourth state finalist for the Patriots, who have never had a champion. Head coach Doug Vetter was the first to reach the finals at 189 in 1990, followed by Chris Ressa (2001) and D.J. Russo ('06).

Vetter, who coached Ressa and Russo, is stepping down after this season -- his 16th as the head coach of his alma mater. There would be no better way to go out than with Palumbo snapping the Sussex County school's title drought.

"Knowing this is it for me, if that's the way it ended, that would be a storybook ending for sure," said Vetter, truly one of the good guys in the sport. "And an answer to a prayer."

Palumbo, who will Southern's Nicholas O'Connell in the quarters, credits his coach for being a fine example to follow.

"He's very wise and gives me a lot of tips," Palumbo said. "He keeps me focused. It would feel awesome to win it."

Back points


Pope John is the third team from the area with three in the quarterfinals -- including freshman Eddie Ventresca who stunned the arena by decking former placewinner Richie Koehler of Christian Brothers Academy with a cradle in 40 seconds.

Aragona, who was third at 106 last season, had a tight bout with Rahway's Sabri Murray before getting a takedown in the final seconds to ice a 5-2 win at 120.

Sophomore Robert Garcia made it three in a row for the Lions by pinning Johnson's Christopher Fuschetto in 42 seconds at 132.

The real downer of the night came in the opening round when junior Jake Rotunda, a three-time region finalist and champion this season, sustained a separated shoulder -- winning 8-0 at the time -- and was unable to continue at 126. Rotunda (33-4) also lost by injury default in the opening round in 2015.

It was a rough night for Warren Hills, which saw its three qualifiers drop into the wrestlebacks. In the opening round at 132, senior Matt Valli lost 8-6 to Howell's Danny Esposito -- leading by one with 13 seconds left before giving up an escape in the final seconds of the third period and the decisive takedown in overtime.

Rashon Wade Taylor, a first-time participant, was pinned at 152, while junior Jarod Ostir, who won his opening bout, dropped an 8-5 decision to Morris Hills ace Joey Schiele in the pre-quarters at 170, ensuring that the Blue Streaks will go 19 years without a champion since Justin Colaluce went back-to-back in 1997-98.

Newton sophomore Wyatt McCarthy gave the No. 2 seed at 145 all he could handle before getting reversed and pinned by DePaul's Ricky Cabanillas with 10 seconds left in the first 30-second tiebreaker in OT.

McCarthy (35-5) got an escape early in the third period to tie it at 4 and nearly had a takedown off a great scramble with 1:29 left on the clock.

Region 2 leads the way with 19 wrestlers in the quarterfinals, followed by Region 8 with 17 and Regions 3 and 5 with 16 apiece. Region 7 has 14 and Region 4 has 12, while Region 1 has 11 and Region 6 just seven.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wrestling: Top 8 medalist picks by weight class

What: 84th State Wrestling Championships.

Where: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City.

When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Friday's schedule: Preliminaries, 2:30 p.m.; pre-quarterfinals, to follow.

Saturday's schedule: Wrestlebacks (first three rounds), 9 a.m.; quarterfinals, noon; semifinals, plus fourth and fifth round of wrestlebacks, 6 p.m.

Sunday's schedule: Sixth round of wrestlebacks, 10 a.m.; consolation finals (third through eighth places), to follow; championships, 3 p.m.

Here are Open Mike's predictions for the top eight finishers at each of the 14 weight classes.

106 -- 1. Dante Mininno, Gateway-Woodbury; 2. Anthony Clark, Delbarton; 3. Nick Kayal, Bergen Catholic; 4Dylan Cedeno, Fair Lawn; 5. Nick Schutzenhofer, Christian Brothers Academy; 6. Samuel Eddie Alverez, St. Joseph-Montvale; 7. Nicholas DeNora, Passaic Valley; 8. McKenzie Bell, Kingsway.

113 -- 1. Joe Manchio, Seneca; 2. Antonio Mininno, Gateway-Woodbury; 3. Robert Howard, Bergen Catholic; 4. Eddie Ventresca, Pope John; 5. Victor Lopez, West Orange; 6. Jack Prendergast, Woodstown; 7. Enrique Sanchez, Queen of Peace; 8. Mitchell Polito, East Brunswick.

120 -- 1. Patrick Glory, Delbarton; 2. JoJo Aragona, Pope John; 3. Mark Schleifer, East Brunswick; 4. Hunter Graf, Hunterdon Central; 5. Michael Kelly, St. Peter's Prep; 6. Joe Heilmann, South Plainfield; 7. Lucas Revano, Camden Catholic; 8. Edison Echevarria, Delsea.

126 -- 1. Nick Raimo, Hanover Park; 2. Shane Metzler, West Morris; 3. Carmen Ferrante, Bergen Catholic; 4. Anthony Clarizio, Cedar Grove; 5. Jake Rotunda, Pope John; 6. Anthony Duca, Paulsboro; 7. Daniel Percelay, DePaul; 8. Kyle Slendorn, Howell.

132 -- 1. Quinn Kinner, Kingsway; 2. Gianni Ghione, Brick Memorial; 3. Robert Garcia, Pope John; 4. Chris Scorese, Cranford; 5. Andrew Gapas, North Hunterdon; 6. Russell Benson, Raritan; 7. Ray Wetzel, Queen of Peace; 8. Matt Valli, Warren Hills.

138 -- 1. Gerard Angelo, Bergen Catholic; 2. Jake Benner, Ocean Township; 3. Robert Cleary, Bound Brook; 4. Matt Kolonia, Delaware Valley; 5. Evan DeLuise, Don Bosco Prep; 6. Alex Carida, Hackettstown; 7. Travis Layton, Woodstown; 8. Trace Kinner, Kingsway.

145 -- 1. Nick Palumbo, Lenape Valley; 2. Ricky Cabanillas, DePaul; 3. Nicholas Lombard, Monroe Township; 4. Joe Casey, Bound Brook; 5. Brian Meyer, Phillipsburg; 6. Nicholas Santos, St. Peter's Prep; 7. Garrett Beam, Queen of Peace; 8. Nicholas O'Connell, Southern.

152 -- 1. Stephan Glasgow, Bound Brook; 2. Shane Griffith, Bergen Catholic; 3. Michael O'Malley, Hasbrouck Heights; 4. Robert Kanniard, Wall; 5. Dominic Fano, Montville; 6. Dillon Taylor, St. Augustine Prep; 7. Avery DiNardi, Holy Cross; 8. Omar Abdelhamid, Rutherford.

160 -- 1. Mekhi Lewis, Bound Brook; 2. Kyle Cochran, Paramus; 3. Michael Petite, Piscataway; 4. Christopher Foca, Bergen Catholic; 5. Jake Maxwell, Buena; 6. Michael Fernandes, Voorhees; 7. Blaine Shade, Timber Creek; 8. Andrew Meyers, Toms River East.

170 -- 1. Bryan McLaughlin, Woodbridge; 2. Dominick Mandarino, Don Bosco Prep; 3. Bill Janzer, Delsea; 4. Aidan Monteverdi, Seton Hall Prep; 5. Vince Concina, Cranford; 6. Shane Reitsma, Howell; 7. Anthony Asatrian, Bergen Catholic; 8. Nicholas Caracappa, St. John Vianney.

182 -- 1. Shane Sosinsky, Northern Highlands; 2. George Walton, Bound Brook; 3. Dominic Mainiero, Queen of Peace; 4. Sean Bowker, Rancocas Valley; 5. Dean Helstowski, Brick Township; 6. Christian Dalla Riva, Caldwell; 7. L.J. Castellano, Delbarton; 8Michael Iodice, Hunterdon Central.

195 -- 1. Kyle Lightner, Delaware Valley; 2. Joseph McKenzie, Wall; 3. Chad Watt, Woodstown; 4. Brian Bonino, Paramus; 5. Michael Taulane, Collingswood; 6. Theo Addison, Rumson-Fair Haven; 7. Josh Lewis, Emerson-Park Ridge; 8. Nick Faber, Neptune.

220 -- 1. Robert Melise, Phillipsburg; 2. Peter Acciardi, Don Bosco Prep; 3. Victor Lacombe, Hunterdon Central; 4. Eric Keosseian, Howell; 5. Zach DelVecchio, South Plainfield; 6. Jake Brown, Pope John; 7. Joe Soreco, DePaul; 8. Sean O'Malley, Hasbrouck Heights.

285 -- 1. Eric Chakonis, Don Bosco Prep; 2. Dylan D'Amore, Montgomery; 3. Alex Esposito, Cranford; 4. Michael Porcaro, Sayreville; 5. Elyezer Oliviery, Union City; 6. Alexander Lagrippo, Woodbridge; 7. Parker Fox, Montville; 8. Charlie Tordik, North Hunterdon.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wrestling: Ten best shots (HWS) at medals in AC

Here is a look at the 10 wrestlers (actually 11) from the Open Mike area who have the best chances at capturing a medal this weekend in the 84th New Jersey State Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

In all, there are 47 qualifiers (up 16 from last year and 20 more than 2015) among Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex schools.

JoJo Aragona (30-2), Pope John -- The sophomore reached the semifinals last year at 106 pounds, where he ran into eventual state champ Joe Manchio of Seneca, dropping a 3-0 decision, before he bounced back to take third place. Aragona, now at 120 pounds, is among seven qualifiers for the Lions, who are looking for their first state champ since Brian Unkert won at 145 pounds in 1990. Aragona is very skilled on his feet and that will bode well, as the neutral position has been a weakness in our area. As the No. 3 seed, Aragona, a two-time region champion, will face Butler's Brandon Wyble in an opening-round matchup. Another returning placewinner, Lucas Revano of Camden Catholic, is a potential opponent in the quarterfinals. Aragona would love a rematch with No. 2 seed Michael Kelly of St. Peter's Prep -- who won a 1-0 decision when they met on Feb. 6.

Career mark: 70-3.
Previous state appearances: Third place at 106 in 2016.

Hunter Graf (37-2), Hunterdon Central -- Making his third trip to Atlantic City, the skilled junior is looking to better his eighth-place finish last year at 113 pounds. One of his two losses was a 2-0 decision to Aragona in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex finals on Jan. 14. Graf, a three-time district champ, went six weeks before getting his second -- 7-4 to East Brunswick's Mark Schleifer in the Region 5 finals on Saturday -- after reeling off 24 straight wins. In the bottom bracket as the No. 7 seed, Graf will first face Bishop Ahr's David Loniewski, who finished fourth in Region 5. A rematch with Lenape Valley senior Jacob Falleni -- who lost 6-0 to Graf in the HWS semifinals -- could be on tap in the second round.

Career mark: 103-21.
Previous state appearances: 0-2 at 106 pounds in 2015; eighth place at 113 in '16.

Jake Rotunda (33-3), Pope John -- A three-time district champ and region finalist, the third time might be the charm for the talented junior to come back with some hardware after coming so close last season -- a one-point loss to Bound Brook's Joe Casey in the blood round. Rotunda steamrolled through the 126-pound class in winning his first Region 1 title and seems to be peaking at the right time. The No. 8 seed's first-round opponent will be Highland sophomore Justin Cariss. Rotunda, whose only loss to a New Jersey opponent was a 6-4 decision in overtime against Bergen Catholic state placewinner Carmen Ferrante on Feb. 8, seems to be on a collision course with top seed Nick Raimo of Hanover Park in the quarterfinals.

Career mark: 90-16.
Previous appearances: 1-2 at 113 pounds in 2015; 2-2, fourth round of wrestlebacks at 120 in '16.

Robert Garcia (31-6), Pope John -- After going 0-2 as a freshman, Garcia should be plenty hungry to atone for last year's disappointment in AC. He avenged one of his losses this season with an 11-5 decision over New Milford state placewinner John Burger in the Region 1 final. Burger beat Garcia, 5-1, in the District 2 finals and 6-5 in last year's opening round of states. Garcia drew the No. 3 seed and will face Gateway-Woodbury junior Tim Sparks (35-5), who was fourth in Region 8, in the opening round. The bottom bracket is brutal with No. 2 seed Quinn Kinner of Kingsway, as well as locals Matt Valli of Warren Hills and No. 7 seed Andrew Gapas of North Hunterdon. Gapas (34-4), who finished fourth in Region 4, pinned Garcia in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex finals.

Career mark: 63-13.
Previous appearances: 0-2 at 126 pounds in 2016.

Matt Kolonia (39-2), Delaware Valley -- Finishing a round shy of a medal in his first trip last year, Kolonia showed he's right there with the top contenders at this rugged 138-pound class in Saturday's 4-3 loss to Bound Brook placewinner Robert Cleary in the Region 5 final. Kolonia may get the chance to avenge his other loss -- 5-3 to Hackettstown junior Alex Carida, who is the No. 7 seed, in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex finals. The upper quarter of the draw, where Kolonia, the No. 8 seed resides, is no cakewalk. He will take on South Plainfield's Joe Sacco (37-6) in the first round and a win could pit Kolonia against Hanover Park's Sean Conley, a Region 3 runner-up, in the pre-quarterfinals. Top seed Gerard Angelo of Bergen Catholic looms in the quarters.

Career mark: 126-30.
Previous appearances: 2-2, fourth round of wrestlebacks at 132 pounds in 2016.

Alex Carida (37-2), Hackettstown -- The junior is on red-hot entering the state tournament after impressive performances in winning the District 9 and Region 3 titles. Carida, who is looking to become the Tigers' first state medalist since Corey Kozimor placed seventh at 119 pounds in 2009, first turned heads this season with a 5-3 win over Kolonia in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex finals. Interestingly, neither of the wrestlers to beat Carida this season are in the draw -- Middlesex's Jeff Johnson (who is at 145) and Warren Hills' Zach Nauta (fifth in Region 3). Carida, who has won 28 straight bouts, will first face Roxbury's Richard Reimers (32-6) in the opening round, where a win would likely set up a second-round match with Cranford's Tom DiGiovanni, who beat Nauta twice this season.

Career mark: 95-24.
Previous appearances: 0-2 at 132 pounds in 2016.

Nick Palumbo (41-0), Lenape Valley -- Looking to become his school's fourth state finalist and first champion, Palumbo is the No. 1 seed at 145 pounds after finishing third at this weight class last season, when he finished third in Region 1. A powerful wrestler who can wear you down with relentless pressure, the senior may have caught a big break on Tuesday when original first-round opponent Nicholas O'Connell of Southern was moved from the 32nd slot to the 25th. O'Connell finished fourth in Region 8, but he owns a win over Phillipsburg's Brian Meyer -- 7-5 in sudden-victory overtime on Jan. 28. Palumbo, who has waged two intense battles with Meyer in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex finals -- pinning the Stateliner in both meetings in 2016 and '17 -- will instead take on Northern Burlington sophomore Ryan Feig in the opening round. No. 4 seed Joe Casey of Bound Brook, who lost 3-1 to Meyer on Jan. 4, also looms in the upper bracket.

Career mark: 130-27.
Previous appearances: 6-1, third-place finish at 145 pounds in 2016.

Brian Meyer (33-7), Phillipsburg -- The No. 6 seed at 145 pounds is battle tested, having faced the Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 7 seeds in the draw -- going 2-2. Meyer, a three-time district and two-time region champion, was pinned by Lenape Valley's Nick Palumbo in the HWS finals and dropped a 6-3 decision to DePaul's Ricky Cabanillas at the Beast of the East in December. Meyer beat Joe Casey, a two-time seventh-place finisher, 3-1 in January and eighth-place finisher Garrett Beam of Queen of Peace by the same score in the Region 3 finals. Another medalist, Nicholas Santos of St. Peter's Prep may await Meyer in the quarterfinals, provided he gets past his first two opponents, starting with Haddon Township senior and Region 7 fourth Vincent Delligatti (32-5).

Career mark: 86-31.
Previous appearances: 1-2, third round of wrestlebacks, at 145 pounds in 2016.

Kyle Lightner (37-2), Delaware Valley -- The Hunterdon-Warren Sussex champion made some believers with a dominating 5-1 win over Phillipsburg's Drew Horun in the finals on Jan. 14. Since then, the Terriers ace has gone 19-2, bumping up to 220 where he suffered his only losses -- 7-5 to Sean O'Malley of Hasbrouck Heights and 8-7 to Victor Lacombe of Hunterdon Central. Unbeaten at 195, Lightner, the No. 3 seed, has the talent to make a run at the state title. He will open up against Pompton Lakes sophomore Frankie Negrini (34-7), a Region 1 fourth, and is in the same quarter of the draw with Voorhees sophomore Lewis Fernandes (32-9). Lightner ran into DePaul state champ Brandon Kui in last year's second round, losing by fall, and came up a round shy of a medal when he was pinned by Josh McKenzie of Bergen Catholic, whose brother, Joseph, a senior at Wall, is the No. 1 seed.

Career mark: 63-10.
Previous appearances: 3-2, fourth round of wrestlebacks, at 182 pounds in 2016.

Robert Melise (33-2), Phillipsburg -- Quite possibly the area's best hope for a gold medal, Melise looks to improve on last year-runner-up finish at 220 -- seeing his 36-match winning streak snapped with a 12-3 loss to Holy Cross stud Matt Correnti, now at Rutgers. It's hard to believe that anyone is on a bigger roll right now than Melise, who has pinned in 22 of his last 26 bouts, with the other four being forfeits. He was simply awesome in winning the District 9 and Region 3 titles -- pinning Sam Mellow of Montclair in both finals. Melise combines power with athleticism, and is simply vicious on top with arm bars. The No. 2 seed -- by virtue of an early-season loss to Don Bosco Prep junior and top seed Peter Acciardi (29-2) -- Melise will square off against Shawnee's Cadrick Augustin (28-8) in the opening round. The bottom half of the draw is brutal with three other placewinners -- Howell senior Eric Keosseian (No. 3 seed), DePaul senior Joe Soreco (No. 6) and South Plainfield sophomore Zach DelVecchio (No. 7).

Career mark: 116-20.
Previous appearances: 5-2, fifth place, at 220 pounds in 2015; 3-1, second place, at 220 in '16.

Victor Lacombe (36-2), Hunterdon Central -- One of the Cinderella stories last season, Lacombe isn't going to sneak up on opponents in his second trip to the dance after placing fifth at 220 pounds as a junior. Drawing the No. 4 seed may work out very well for Lacombe, whose two losses this season are to Robert Melise -- by pin in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament finals -- and Eric Keosseian -- 4-3 on a controversial last-second takedown in the Group 5 final. Lacombe previously beat Keosseian, 5-1, earlier this season. One of the strongest wrestlers in the field, Lacombe, who worked tirelessly in the offseason and did not start wrestling until his freshman year, will take on Penns Grove sophomore Tyreke Brown (24-5) in the opening round and could cross paths with Sean O'Malley in the quarterfinals.

Career mark: 87-17.
Previous appearances: 4-2, fifth place, at 220 pounds in 2016.

Other area qualifiers (37):

Belvidere -- Quinn Melofchik (106)
Delaware Valley -- Connor Mills (132)
Hunterdon Central -- Jack Bauer (113), Peter Nace (126), Bryce Hall (138), Michael Iodice (182)
Phillipsburg -- Cullen Day (106), Travis Jones (113), Cody Harrison (126)
Pope John -- Eddie Ventresca (113), Ryan Luchs (138), Reece Mulduun (160), Jake Brown (220)
Hackettstown -- Joe Andes (285)
High Point -- Brandon LaRue (106), Devin Flannery (113), Shane Kobis (138)
Hopatcong -- Jake Wilkerson (170)
Kittatinny -- Kasey Hotz (152), Josh Klimek (182), Zach Mafaro (195)
Lenape Valley -- Jacob Falleni (120), Ray Smaha (138)
Newton -- Wyatt McCarthy (145)
North Hunterdon -- Andrew Gapas (132), Cole Marra (152), Charlie Tordik (285)
Sparta -- Robert Gennat (195), Zach Herbert (285)
Voorhees -- Aidan Taylor (106), Michael Fernandes (160), Scott Fernandes (182), Lewis Fernandes (195)
Warren Hills -- Matt Valli (132), Rashon Wade Taylor (152), Jarod Ostir (170)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wrestling: Atlantic City by the numbers

Let's go inside the numbers for the 84th New Jersey State Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall:

41 -- Number of wins for Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo -- the most victories for any wrestler in this year's field. Palumbo (41-0), the top seed at 145 pounds and who finished third last season at 145, looks to become his school's fourth state finalist and its first champion. Patriots coach Doug Vetter (1990), along with Chris Ressa (2001) and D.J. Russo ('06), were runners-up for the Sussex County school.

20 -- Palumbo is also among 20 unbeaten wrestlers in this year's tournament, along with Rutherford's Omar Abdelhamid (39-0 at 152), Northern Highlands' Shane Sosinsky (39-0 at 182), Delbarton's Patrick Glory (38-0 at 120), Woodstown's Travis Layton (38-0 at 138), Bound Brook's Mekhi Lewis (38-0 at 160), Gateway-Woodbury's Dante Mininno (38-0 at 106), Howell's Shane Reitsma (38-0 at 170), Woodstown's Chad Watt (38-0 at 195), Lacey's Hunter Gutierrez (37-0 at 106), St. Joseph-Hammonton's Michael Mascioli (36-0 at 220), Wall's Joseph McKenzie (35-0 at 195), Toms River South's Cole Corrigan (33-0 at 145), Union City's Elyezer Oliviery (33-0 at 285), East Brunswick's Mitchell Polito (33-0 at 113), Brick Memorial's Gianni Ghione (32-0 at 132) and Nick Rivera (31-0 at 285), Rahway's Rhise Royster (32-0 at 126), Cinnaminson's Keith Swartley (32-0 at 285) and Cranford's Alex Esposito (29-0 at 285).

10 -- Regions 2 and 5 had the most returning state placewinners competing in those tournaments the past weekend with 10 in each, including state champions Gerard Angelo (138) and Shane Griffith (152) of Bergen Catholic, as well as Paramus' Kyle Cochran (160) and DePaul's Brandon Kui (182), housed in Region 2. Returning champs Stephan Glasgow (152) and Mekhi Lewis (160) of Bound Brook were among the state medalists in Region 5. Region 3 was next with nine, while no other region had more than six. Phillipsburg senior Robert Melise, who was second at 220 last year, is looking to add his name to the Stateliners' list of state champs, which stands at 33. Brandon Hull is the last, winning at 220 in 2012. The Warren County school ranks fourth all-time on the list of champions behind Newton (82), Washington/Warren Hills (46) and Union (40).

8 -- Griffth is among eight returning champions -- four are from non-public schools -- and will look to three-peat at Boardwalk Hall -- winning at 132 pounds as a freshman and 138 as a sophomore. Don Bosco Prep's Eric Chakonis will aim to repeat at 285, while Seneca's Joe Manchio, who won at 106 pounds last year, returns at 113.

7 -- Hanover Park is one of 10 schools with seven state champions in their program's history. The Morris County school advanced six of its wrestlers out of Region 3 -- including talented sophomore Nick Raimo, a state runner-up last season and a major contender for this year's 126-pound title, as is Brick Memorial's Ghione at 132. Last year, Raimo scored a 9-3 win over Ghione in the quarterfinals before knocking off Angelo, 3-1, in the semis. Angelo was the last champ for Hanover Park -- winning at 106 in 2015.

47 -- Pope John leads the way with seven wrestlers as the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area will have 47 representatives this weekend at Boardwalk Hall. Hunterdon Central is next with six, while P'burg has five qualifiers, followed by Voorhees with four. Speaking of the Vikes, congrats to former state champion John Brienza, who was the school's last winner at 130 pounds in 1998, on his induction into the Region 5 Hall of Fame on Saturday. He was a four-time district and a region champ in '98, while compiling a career mark of 115-11 from 1994-98. Well deserved and long overdue.

36 -- It's been seven years since Hunterdon County produced a state champion -- Hunterdon Central's Alex Shaffer was the 36th and last in 2010 -- but could this be the year to end the drought? Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner (195) figures to be a contender as the Terriers, who haven't had a finalist since Bobby Stevely in 2010, look to get their ninth champ overall and first since Dan Kelly won at 112 pounds in 2007.

23 -- Atlantic City will host the state tournament for a 23rd time this year -- one more than Princeton University's Jadwin Gym (22 from 1970-91). The event shifted to AC in '92 where it's been ever since, sans a two-year move to the Meadowlands in 2000 and '01, when Boardwalk Hall underwent renovations. Others sites include the Elizabeth Armory (nine times, 1947-55), Rutgers (seven from 1959-65) and Asbury Park Convention Hall (four from 1966-69). Ten high schools have hosted the tournament -- Union, Somerville, Roselle Park, Teaneck, Grover Cleveland Jr. (Elizabeth), Springfield, Thomas Jefferson, Rahway and Belvidere (1946). Union hosted the first four tournaments from 1934-37.

129 -- State champions produced by Union County, by far the leader. Westfield's Christian Barber (2011) is the last champ from the county. Union's Leo Moorman was the first at 95 pounds in 1935. Next up is Bergen with 119, passing Sussex (113) for second place with six winners in 2016. Ethan Orr is the last Sussex winner after capping High Point's amazing four-champion run in '11. Warren County ranks fourth with 85, followed by Somerset (63), Ocean (62), Morris (61), Gloucester (59), Camden (57), Middlesex (41), Monmouth (39), Hunterdon (36), Essex (34), Burlington (26), Passaic (23), Atlantic (20), Cumberland (12), Salem (8), Hudson (7), Cape May and Mercer (4).

1,002 -- Total number of state champions in New Jersey history. Last year, Bergen Catholic's Nick Suriano, now at Penn State, became No. 1,000 in winning his fourth title. This year's tournament is the 84th overall since 1934 -- when Newton's Leo Snover won the first state title and started the Sussex County school's run to a state record 82 champions. The last for the Braves was Andy Iliff, who won his second title in 1987. Now a coach at his alma, mater, Iliff was named the Region 2 assistant coach of the year on Saturday.