Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wrestling: 'Liners sharp in new digs; HWS notes

There's plenty of room to roam at Phillipsburg's new home. A state-of-the-art gym that would make any school district proud to be sure. It's not the fabled Pit, and it never will be. But that's not all bad.

In other words, let's give it a chance. My first take was it's a great place for basketball. But upon further review, it can also be great for wrestling. The one major criticism is the bleachers are extremely far away from the mat. That's certainly bad for fans and it hurts the atmosphere to an extent. One of the best things about The Pit was that people in the stands were right on top of the action, and with the low ceiling, that place sure could rumble.

I recall many times over the years where it seemed like the roof would rip off the building. One that still sticks out was Robert Au's unexpected win in the opening bout of Phillipsburg's 30-28 win over Paulsboro back in 2001.

Surely, Brian Meyer's 3-1 win over Bound Brook state placewinner Joe Casey on Wednesday night that sent the 'Liners on to a 39-30 victory would have rated high on the decibel meter in the old gym.
But the 1,800 in attendance to see the new gymnasium were a raucous bunch, and the band in the stands was a nice touch.

"It was really crazy," said Meyer, whose escape and second-period takedown at the edge of the mat proved to be the difference in the marquee bout at 145 pounds. "The support we get is fantastic. It was a good environment. It makes me proud to wrestle for Phillipsburg."

There are a few wrinkles to be ironed out. P'burg coach Dave Post said things were a bit confusing concerning weigh-ins and where to be before the match. Basically, it was routine at The Pit simply by sheer repetition. Post wrestled for the 'Liners and had the chance to observe former coach Greg Troxell in action every home match and how he prepared the team for each contest.

"We just weren't in a comfort zone," Post said. "Searching for what door to use -- that can't be. That's on me. If I'm showing that confusion, the [wrestlers] pick up on it. We only had 45 minutes after weigh-ins before the match started. We need to do a better job, and we will. It's the little details -- getting the music right. Mr. Fisher puts on a first-class show and the expectation is a lively event."

Longtime athletic director Tom Fisher made a good point afterward on Wednesday when he said they never would have got a crowd of that size into The Pit. Many times people were turned away at the door -- bad for the sport. Everyone getting a seat -- good for the sport.

Long lines to get into the gym is another thing that shouldn't be an issue down the road. Kudos to everyone on staff for a pretty solid opening night. Fans are looking forward to many more.

The next big match at Phillipsburg is this Wednesday against Hunterdon Central. With wins over Bound Brook and Delaware Valley in hand, the 'Liners (3-0, 2-0 division) would take another huge step toward a fifth straight Raritan Division title and the program's 21st championship overall since joining the Skyland Conference for the 1995-96 school year.

Boresch Duals on tap

Head over to Newton High School on Saturday for what should be a big showdown between state powers in the finals of the 12th annual Boresch Duals.

South Plainfield and Hanover Park are the 1 and 2 seeds, while host and four-time winner Newton is the No. 5 seed.

South Plainfield, the 2016 Boresch Duals champion, is one of the challengers for the Group 3 title this season, while Hanover Park should make a run at its second Group 2 title in three years. The Hornets stunned the wrestling community with a 35-33 victory over Don Bosco Prep on New Year's Eve.

Also of interest is Newton coach Eric Bollette closing in on 200 career coaching wins after getting No. 198 against Vernon on Wednesday. His younger brother, Brian Bollette, will be in attendance as the head coach at Morris Hills brings his team to this event for the first time.

Check out the full schedule and history of the duals.

F(our)feits one too many

The astute observer of the sport has been noticing a disturbing trend for years now, but this season is really looking like an epidemic. You almost have to go out of your way to find a boxscore online that doesn't have a forfeit or two -- or four as was the case with Bound Brook on Wednesday. The Crusaders, who can't fill 106 and 126, were without their 120-pounder due to illness, while the regular 132-pounder missed weight.

Now, if Top 10 teams in the state are forfeiting weight classes, doesn't that signal a major problem? Instead of worrying about having an even number of teams in the 32 districts, the NJSIAA and the National Federation need to start taking a good hard look at why forfeits are becoming the norm. One reason is there are too many weight classes and the structure having far too many upper weights. Go back to 13 weight classes and put a few more in the middle -- how about that for starters?

Bound Brook is not alone in a struggle with numbers. Too many teams in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area can not fill 14 weights and many only have starters and no backups. P'burg weighed in only three additional wrestlers from 152-285 on Wednesday night.

The lack of depth for the private schools is evident because wrestlers are not going there if they can't crack the lineup. That includes public schools like Bound Brook, which has drawn many top wrestlers with the choice school program.

Back points

It's easy to look back now, but you wonder if Bound Brook might have been better served to move state placewinner Robert Cleary up from 138 to 145 for a matchup with Meyer. Carlos Ugalde was available to go against P'burg sophomore Kyle Tino at 138 in what seemingly would have been a tight bout. Maybe the teams trade decisions there and it's a wash. As it turned out, Cleary scored a technical fall win over Tino and Casey lost to Meyer by decision, leaving Bound Brook plus-two in those two spots.

But say Ugalde and Cleary win, now the Crusaders are plus-six. Meyer is one tough customer and nothing is a given, but when you forfeit four weights and are down 27-0 through six bouts, you almost have to make a move somewhere to have a shot at winning the dual meet. Casey (152) and Stephan Glasgow (160) likely get bonus points, as do Mekhi Lewis at 170 and George Walton at 182. P'burg surely bumps Drew Horun to 220 and Robert Melise to 285, but would give up major points at 195. If everything plays out as expected, with the visitors winning every bout from 138-195, it's a much closer match. It was just one forfeit too many.

Make sure to head down to Delaware Valley on Friday night for what should be real dandy between Skyland Conference Raritan Division rivals as Warren Hills comes to town for a 7 p.m. matchup at Hutchins Memorial Gymnasium. Aside from P'burg, no one gets bigger home crowds with plenty of student support, and that's a credit to the school and Del Val coach Andy Fitz. We will take a closer look at this one tonight or tomorrow morning with a full preview, but the Terriers rate as the favorites based on results from the John Goles Invitational on Dec. 28. The Blue Streaks will likely be without junior Codey O'Rourke (foot) at 126, so that makes things more difficult for the visitors, who had a good showing on Wednesday in a 34-25 loss to a solid Hunterdon Central team. Speaking of the Red Devils, senior Peter Nace collected his 100th career win on Wednesday. Del Val star Matt Kolonia is sitting on 99 heading into Friday.

According to sources, Pope John junior Jake Brown will return to the lineup this weekend. Brown, a state qualifier last season, has yet to wrestle coming off a knee injury he sustained playing football. Brown projected to be the Lions' 195-pounder, but will start his season at 220. His addition is a huge boost to a pretty inexperienced group of upper weights. Pope John is pretty solid from 106-160.

The eighth annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament will be held at Hopatcong High School on Saturday, Jan. 14. Kittatinny, the defending team champion, scored a nice 43-23 win over Randolph on Wednesday. The Cougars aren't expected to repeat at HWS, but it should be an interesting race between Pope John, Phillipsburg and Hunterdon Central.

Seeking their second individual titles along with Horun and Melise will be: Joe Aragona and Jake Rotunda of Pope John, Matt Valli of Warren Hills, Jacob Falleni and Nick Palumbo of Lenape Valley, Michael Iodice of Hunterdon Central, Zach Mafaro of Kittatinny. Falleni won his first in 2015, while Valli was the OW last year. Only 17 wrestlers in tournament history have won at least two titles.

One newcomer to watch is High Point freshman Billy Talmadge, who lost in sudden victory to West Morris state placewinner Shane Metzler earlier this season and dropped a tight 6-4 decision to Falleni on Wednesday as the 'Cats cruised to a 66-9 win over Lenape Valley in an NJAC Freedom Division battle.

How about North Hunterdon losing to Raritan by just eight points -- 29-21 in an independent match on Wednesday? The Lions, who are in a bit of a rebuilding phase but have plenty of talent coming in the youth ranks, are always well coached as Tim Flynn's staff will have this team even better by season's end. Cole Marra (8-1 at 152) and Charlie Tordik (8-0 at 285) were HWS runners-up last year.

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