Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Smith perfect fit among 'Cats coaches (HWS ranks)

WASHINGTON TWP. -- Billy Smith never really left home. His heart has always belonged to the High Point wrestling program, and the big man is happy to be back in Wantage.

The former state champion now sits alongside his high school coaches, joining John Gardner's staff as an assistant after being hired by his alma mater as a special education and history teacher for the 2016-17 school year.

"It's good. I've got a lot to learn," Smith said following High Point's 1-2 showing at the Warren Hills quad on Saturday.
Billy Smith and John Gardner at the Zephyr Duals. (HP Wrestling on Facebook)

Smith was a key member of those great High Point teams (98 wins in his four years) from just a few years back -- going 138-20 overall from 2007-11. The Wildcats won three sectional and two Group 3 championships, including their first ever in '08. Smith was a three-time district and two-time region champion, capturing the 285-pound state title in '11 -- one of four High Point seniors to win gold medals in Atlantic City. The 'Cats finished No. 1 in New Jersey for the 2007-08 and 2010-11 seasons.

Smith went on to a successful collegiate career at Rutgers University -- one of just four wrestlers for the Scarlet Knights to make four consecutive national tournament appearances along with Scott Winston (2009, 2011-13), Dan Rinaldi (2010-13) and Andy Roy (2002-05).

"He's going to be a really good coach," said Gardner, also a state champion for the 'Cats (1990), and regarded as one of the best coaches in New Jersey with a 318-97-2 mark in 19 seasons.

Smith has had the luxury of wrestling for two of the most respected coaches in Gardner and Scott Goodale of Rutgers, something that should bode well for Smith in his new position. Like Gardner, Smith has always been a class act on and off the mat, win or lose, and his former coach has been a tremendous influence.

"A lot of positivity with John, no matter what the situation." said Smith, who finished 105-39 overall at Rutgers and one of just 16 to record 100 wins at the school. "Concentrating on winning and losing gets you lost. Ultimately, it's about the kids and making an impact on their lives."

High Point (12-4), which drew the top seed for the upcoming North 1, Group 2 sectionals, isn't as loaded with talent as when Smith was coming through the pipeline. Being in that practice room six years ago and spending the last five with a Division I program, Smith mostly knows about being around elite wrestlers. But he's learning to be a better coach in his return to the high school ranks.

"It's good for me ... it helps me stick with the basics," said Smith, now part of a solid staff which includes longtime assistant Mickey Thomas (the school's first district champion) and Mark "Otto" Veltri. "Some times, you get too complicated. It's hard to win with four All-Stars and 10 [weak weights]. It's about [developing] the kids in between."

Smith is impressed with some of the younger wrestlers in the lineup, like freshman Billy Talmadge (14-7 at 126) and sophomore Grayson Sabo (7-8 at 170). Sabo, a first-year varsity wrestler, has comes from good stock -- his father, Bill, was a region champion for Franklin High School (now Wallkill Valley) in 1980 and finished fourth in the state at heavyweight.

"Sabo is only a sophomore, and he's getting better just from the start of the season," Smith said. "Talmadge can be special, very tough and hard-working kid. Brandon LaRue (21-2 at 106) and Devin Flannery (16-2 at 113) are sophomores. We have a lot of young talent."

Smith may very well be the heir apparent to succeed Gardner one day, but could only smile when broaching the subject.

"I think he has got a couple years left," Smith said with a grin. "I haven't really thought much about it. I'm happy [being an assistant] for now."

Now onto this week's rankings:

1. Phillipsburg (10-1) -- Stateliners went 2-0 last week as senior Drew Horun became the 23rd wrestler in the storied program to reach the 100-win mark in the team's 45-16 victory over North Hunterdon in a Skyland Conference Raritan Division matchup. Horun (24-4 at 195) helped lead P'burg to a 36-23 win over Southern on Saturday, improving to 101-28 overall. Coach Dave Post's team has been shorthanded with injuries to Lance Wissing (138) and Austin Roth (182).

Up next: at Voorhees on Wednesday.

2. Pope John (12-1) -- Lions posted a 53-13 win over Christian Brothers Academy on Saturday in their only action last week. Junior Jake Rotunda (23-2) picked up his 80th career victory, while sophomore JoJo Aragona (20-0 at 120) got his 60th and senior Ryan Luchs (15-7 at 138) earned No. 70. Coach Mark Piotrowsky's team will next try to lock up the NJAC American Division title with a win over crosstown-rival Sparta on Wednesday.

Up next: at West Morris on Tuesday; at Sparta on Wednesday; St. Peter's Prep at home on Friday; Passaic Tech and Toms River North at Montville.

3. Hunterdon Central (16-2) -- Red Devils went 5-0 last week, including a 37-31 win over North Hunterdon, and are gearing up for Wednesday's showdown with Delaware Valley. The winner will make it a clean sweep of its Hunterdon County opponents this season. Central owns a 21-16 edge in the series dating to 1966 and the last five meetings have been decided by a total of 22 points. Junior Hunter Graf (23-1 at 120) enters the week with 89 career wins.

Up next: Delaware Valley at home on Wednesday; Hunterdon Central Duals on Saturday.

4. Delaware Valley (16-2) -- Terriers are eager to make another run at sectional and state titles, but they have some business to attend to on Wednesday with a match for county bragging rights and likely sole possession of second place in the Skyland Conference Raritan Division at Hunterdon Central. The stage was set by virtue of last week's 42-31 win over Bound Brook, as senior Matt Kolonia (26-1) helped lead the way with a 3-2 decision over state placewinner Joe Casey at 145.

Up next: at Hunterdon Central on Wednesday; Old Bridge and St. John Vianney on Saturday at Hunterdon Central Duals.

5. North Hunterdon (13-5) -- Lions move up the ranks despite losses to Phillipsburg (45-16 on Wednesday) and Hunterdon Central (37-31 on Friday) last week in Skyland Conference Raritan Division matches. Senior Charlie Tordik (24-0 at 285) missed the P'burg match, but returned to the lineup to get his 75th win vs. Central. Coach Tim Flynn's team closes out the division slate against state-ranked Bound Brook on Wednesday.

Up next: at Bound Brook on Wednesday; Old Bridge and Somerville on Saturday at Hunterdon Central Duals.

6. Warren Hills (10-8) -- Blue Streaks move up following their 34-21 upset of High Point, which was ranked No. 17 in the state by the New Jersey Wrestling Writers, on Saturday. Freshman Logan Nauta (10-9) set the early tone with his stunning pin of region qualifier Devin Flannery in the third bout at 113 pounds. Senior Zach Nauta (21-3), who later took his first loss at 138, also scored a big 6-2 win over Shane Kobis. Sophomore Nick Galka (18-8) sealed it with a last-second major at 182. The win was the Streaks' third straight over the 'Cats and evened the all-time series at 11-11.

Up next: St. John Vianney at home on Wednesday; at Newton on Friday; Cliffside Park and Ocean Township at home on Saturday.

7. High Point (12-4) -- Wildcats will be looking to bounce back in a big way this week after going 1-2 on Saturday in a quad with Cranford, Paramus and Warren Hills. They had Cranford on the ropes with a 28-24 lead, but coach John Gardner opted to forfeit the last two bouts as he was without the services of starters Matthew McDonnell (personal) at 182 and Hunter Flores (injury) at 195. The team will need both this week as it looks to clinch the NJAC Freedom Division title on Wednesday before the big rivalry showdown against Kittatinny on Friday.

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

8. Kittatinny (12-4) -- Cougars can put the finishing touches on another NJAC Colonial Division title with a win over Hopatcong on Wednesday. Coach John Gill's team, which is once again the No. 1 seed in North 1, Group 1, will look to make it two in a row against High Point, which holds a 27-13-1 lead in the all-time series, on Friday in Hampton Township. Senior Josh Klimek (21-4 at 182) and sophomore Zach Mafaro (20-5 at 195) anchor the upper weights, who could be the key to securing a victory. Mafaro pinned region qualifier Robert Gennat in a surprisingly lopsided 51-12 victory over Sparta on Friday.

Up next: Parsippany at home on Tuesday; Hopatcong at home on Wednesday; High Point at home on Friday

9. Voorhees (13-6) -- Vikings went 4-1 last week, dropping a 34-26 decision to Warren Hills on Wednesday in the 41st meeting between Skyland Conference Raritan Division rivals. Coach Eric Hall's team rebounded with wins against Manville (49-24) on Friday, and Livingston (58-10), Mahwah (60-16) and Belvidere (57-22) on Saturday. Senior Michael Fernandes (26-0) is one of only four wrestlers in the HWS area still unbeaten, and he enters the week with 93 career wins.

Up next: Phillipsburg at home on Wednesday; at Hunterdon Central Duals on Saturday.

10. Sparta (12-7) -- Spartans opened last week with a 39-24 victory over Jefferson to set up a showdown for the NJAC American Division title against Pope John on Wednesday. Coach Frank Battaglia's team dropped a 51-12 decision to Kittatinny on Friday and swept its quad on Saturday, including wins over Hopatcong and Vernon. The return of sophomore Chris Hwang (7-0 at 113) has been a plus, but seniors William Loewen (17-3 at 220) and Zach Herbert (16-2 at 285) have been in and out of the lineup since the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament.

Up next: Pope John at home on Wednesday; Morris Knolls and Wayne Hills at Randolph on Saturday.

On the bubble: Newton (10-7) -- Braves went 3-0 last week with wins over Wallkill Valley (46-24), Pascack Valley (40-26) and Dumont (57-12). Sadly, their scheduled match against Kittatinny earlier in the week was cancelled due to poor weather and will not be made up. It's the first time the rivals won't meet in a series that had been continuous since 1976. Kittatinny holds a 31-15 edge -- 3-2 in sectional matchups -- in the series.

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