With the eighth annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament freshly in the books, it's never too early to take a look at next year's event, which will take place in the spacious and beautiful Phillipsburg High School gym in 2018.
Hunterdon Central, which had served as the Hunterdon-Warren host school since the tournament began in 2010, is out of the mix, at least for now. Loyal readers of this blog will certainly recall several occasions over the years when we took Central to task for the way it ran some of the HWS events. Current head coach Jon Cantagallo-Rohm, who seem less than pleased with the way things ran at Hopatcong on Saturday, sure does, and he made certain to point out to several of us on media row about how we ripped his school and should return the favor.
In fact, much of our previous criticism of Central centered around rushing to get done, not having set times for rounds to make it more fan-friendly, and of course, the travesty of running semifinals and finals on multiple mats.
Well, in the interest of consistency, Hopatcong High School, the Sussex host, went to a one-day format this year for the first time ever. Longtime athletic director Tom Vara, who has since retired, always ran a classy show over two days. Aside from it being one day, several other disappointing moments stick out from Saturday. Running finals and consolations together is bad enough, but not holding up until each weight class is done and NO introductions of the finalists was poor, as well as no podium to recognize the placewinners. Here we have the best county tournament in the state with some great wrestling, and to not honor these guys is shameful.
Here is to hoping that Phillipsburg will take a much different approach and run the event with the dignity it so deserves. After all, 'Liners assistant coach Scott Silvis took charge of the seeding this year, which held up the 2016 tournament for hours that morning, and did a fantastic job of getting things done on Friday night. Coaches will not let this be a two-day event and it seems we're stuck with finals and consolations at the same time. But one mat in the center for finals -- consolations can be done on four in the previous round -- holding up the weight classes, a podium, and intros for the finalists are not much to ask. Also, finals at 5 p.m., and stick to it.
On a lighter note, it will be good to see tradition and history taking center stage this week with two longtime rivalries hitting milestone numbers on Wednesday. Warren Hills will travel to Phillipsburg for the 70th meeting in that series, while North Hunterdon heads to Delaware Valley for the 50th clash between county rivals on Gold Rush Night in Alexandria Township.
Now, onto this week's rankings.
1. Phillipsburg (5-1) -- Stateliners went 2-0 last week with wins over Hunterdon Central (34-24 on Wednesday) and Kittatinny (45-19 on Thursday) before finishing third in the Hunterdon-Warren Sussex Tournament. Junior Cullen Day won at 106 pounds, his first title, while senior Robert Melise repeated as the champ at 220. Melise, now 99-20 overall, will bid for his 100th career win against Warren Hills. "I'm hoping to get my 100th in front of my family and friends. It will be a nice feat," Melise said following his pin of Central's Victor Lacombe in the HWS finals. P'burg owns a 55-14 edge in the series vs. Hills dating to 1948 and has won 30 in a row since two losses in 1990.
Up next: Warren Hills at home on Wednesday; Hanover Park at home on Thursday; Easton (Pa.) at home on Saturday.
2. Pope John (6-0) -- Lions jump up a few spots after making tournament history on Saturday by winning their first HWS team championship -- giving Sussex County back-to-back titles for the first time and its third overall, joining High Point (2010) and Kittatinny (2016). Super freshman Eddie Ventresca (113) started the title parade, while two-time champions Joe Aragona (120) and Jake Rotunda (126) were also among the team's nine placewinners. In NJAC action, coach Mark Piotrowsky's team rolled to a 45-26 win over Jefferson in an American Division clash.
Up next: at Bergen Catholic on Monday; at Mount Olive on Wednesday; Mendham and Whippany Park at Randolph on Saturday.
3. Hunterdon Central (6-2) -- Red Devils fell just three points shy of Pope John in the team title race at Hunterdon-Warren Sussex, 196-193, despite having a tournament-best 11 wrestlers place in the top six. You have to wonder what might have been had senior Peter Nace, who left after being pinned in the semifinals, wrestled in the third-place bout at 126 pounds. A win by major decision would have given his team a share of the team championship, while scoring a technical fall or pin would have won it. Senior Michael Iodice became a two-time champion with his pin at 182, while Hunter Graf (120) and Victor Lacombe (220) were runners-up.
Up next: Voorhees at home on Wednesday; Watchung Hills at home on Friday; Old Tappan and Westwood at Emerson-Park Ridge on Saturday.
4. Delaware Valley (8-2) -- After lopsided victories over Pingry (52-15 on Tuesday) and Watchung Hills (42-22 on Wednesday), Terriers finished fifth at the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament. Senior Kyle Lightner (18-0) posted an impressive 5-1 win over Phillipsburg's Drew Horun in the 195-pound final, while freshman Gage Crater had a nice run to the championship round, pinning Nace in the semifinals and finishing second at 126. Senior Matt Kolonia (18-1) got his first loss in the 138-pound final.
Up next: North Hunterdon at home on Wednesday; Kittatinny and West Morris at Westfield on Saturday.
5. High Point (8-1) -- Wildcats gutted out a 36-31 win over Sparta on Thursday before finishing seventh in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament. Coach John Gardner's team was missing a few starters, including sophomore Devin Flannery (11-1), who would have been one of the contenders at 113 pounds but he did not compete due to illness. Sophomore Brandon LaRue (106) and freshman Billy Talmadge (126) were third-place finishers, while senior Aric Wingle (160) was fourth.
Up next: Delsea and Bridgewater-Raritan at Roxbury on Saturday.
6. North Hunterdon (9-2) -- Lions opened eyes with their fourth-place finish and three individual champions at the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament. Junior Andrew Gapas won the rugged 132-pound weight class and the OW Award, while seniors Cole Marra (152) and Charlie Tordik got their first titles after runner-up finishes last year. Sophomore Connor Robinson was fourth at 106. More on this Tuesday night, but it should be interesting vs. Del Val, which rated as a big favorite coming into the season. But North looks to have a real shot at pulling off the upset.
Up next: at Delaware Valley on Wednesday; Bridgewater-Raritan at home on Thursday; Hillsborough, Watchung Hills and Woodstown at home on Saturday.
7. Warren Hills (7-6) -- Blue Streaks had a tough week with losses to Bound Brook and North Hunterdon before placing sixth as a team in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament as junior Jarod Ostir (170) was the lone finalist. Seniors Zach Nauta (145) and Taylan Zafis (285) were third, while junior Kyle Wulff (120) and senior Matt Valli (132) finished fourth. Wulff scored a nice 5-2 win over Del Val's A.J. DeRosa in the quarters after dropping their first two meetings this season.
Up next: at Phillipsburg on Wednesday.
8. Kittatinny (6-3) -- Junior Shane Smith surprised the field by winning the 160-pound title as the Cougars finished eighth in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament. Smith pulled off wins in the semifinals and finals with a flying cement job -- decking Pope John's Reece Mulduun for the gold. Senior Josh Klimek (182) was second, while junior Josh Hiler (170) placed third. In dual meet action last week, coach John Gill's team rolled to a 75-5 victory over Wallkill Valley before a 45-19 loss at Phillipsburg.
Up next: at North Warren on Wednesday; Delaware Valley and West Morris at Westfield on Saturday.
9. Voorhees (6-4) -- Third time was a charm for unbeaten senior Michael Fernandes as he won the 170-pound title after back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament. Coach Eric Hall's team finished ninth in the team standings, as junior Scott Fernandes (182) and sophomore Lewis Fernandes (195) placed third for the Vikes, who dropped a 43-30 decision to Bound Brook in their lone dual meet of the week.
Up next: at Hunterdon Central on Wednesday; Ridge and New Brunswick at Franklin on Saturday.
10. Sparta (5-5) -- Senior Zach Herbert (285) was a runner-up as the Spartans finished 13th in the team standings at the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament. Junior Robert Gennat (195) was a fourth-place finisher for the Sussex County school. Herbert (15-2) dropped a 2-1 decision to North Hunterdon's Charlie Tordik, who also won 5-4 when they met in the John Goles Invitational finals on Dec. 28. In dual meet action, Spartans rolled to a 56-11 win over Morris Hills and had a tough 36-31 loss to High Point.
Up next: Roxbury at home on Wednesday; North Warren and Pompton Lakes at Lenape Valley on Saturday.
On the bubble -- Lenape Valley (4-6) and Newton (4-4). Patriots finished 10th in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament behind two-time champion Nick Palumbo (145) and two third-place finishers in Jacob Falleni (120) and Ray Smaha (138). They will get a chance to crack the Top 10 with a win over Sparta on Saturday. Braves were 11th at HWS, with sophomore Wyatt McCarthy (152) finishing second and Jonathon Borgognoni (160) taking third. They will travel to Lenape Valley on Wednesday.