Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wrestling: LV's Palumbo, P'burg No. 1 (HWS ranks)

The most exciting time of the season is upon us as the district tournaments are set to commence this weekend. If you despise this new realignment as much as I do, the thought of 18 teams from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area spread out over 12 districts isn't exactly getting you in the mood.

Locally, Kittatinny will be the host for District 2, while District 9 is at the new Phillipsburg High School gym. District 5 will be contested at Lenape Valley.
P'burg hopes to claim another team trophy in District 9 this weekend.

Speaking of Lenape Valley, senior Nick Palumbo (35-0), who is seeking his second district title and is expected to challenge for the 145-pound state championship, became his school's all-time wins leader on Saturday with an overall mark of 124-27 -- surpassing D.J. Russo (122-31 from 2002-06).

Other wrestlers to watch this weekend include Hopatcong junior Anthony Mastroeni (33-3) and Voorhees senior Michael Fernandes (34-0), as both became members of the 100-win club on Saturday.

Mastroeni, now 100-19, is the 13th wrestler to reach the century mark for the Chiefs and will have a good shot at breaking the Sussex County school's all-time mark of 142 -- set by Dan Haines from 2007-11. Mastroeni will be a state medal contender at 126 pounds.

Fernandes, who will enter District 16 with a mark of 101-17, is only the 10th wrestler for the Vikes to hit triple digits.

Warren Hills senior Matt Valli (97) could join them this weekend at District 12 in Livingston, while Hunterdon Central junior Hunter Graf (98) should become the 20th to do so at his school in District 17, which is at Hillsborough High School.

Phillipsburg won its 21st state championship with a 35-24 win over Mendham in the Group 4 final, while Delaware Valley became the first Hunterdon County school to win a title since 2002.

Hunterdon Central dropped a tough 28-27 decision to Howell in the Group 5 final, as the area just missed getting three winners in a season for the first time since 1989 -- when Central won its lone title. while Del Val and P'burg won in Group 2 and 4, respectively. The only other time we had three champs was in '87 with P'burg (G4), Del Val (G2) and Voorhees (G3).

So let's put a bow on the dual meet season with our final team rankings. And check back here on Thursday night for the final New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20.

1. Phillipsburg (16-1) -- Stateliners won their 36th sectional title with a 36-27 win over Middletown North on Friday before a 41-21 pasting of Kingsway in the Group 4 semifinals en route to its fourth straight Group 4 title. Junior Tyris Manley (120) and sophomore Kyle Tino (132) had key decisions in the win over Mendham. The 'Liners received some bad news as senior Drew Horun (195), who would have been a state medal contender, saw his season end with a knee injury sustained against Middletown North. Junior Brian Meyer (145) and senior Robert Melise (220) will bid for a third district title.

2. Pope John (16-2) -- Lions closed out their fine dual-meet season with a 51-18 loss to champion Bergen Catholic, who also won 50-13 when the teams met on Jan. 16, in the Non-Public North A semifinals. The Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament champions will compete in the two-day District 2 Tournament at Kittatinny starting on Friday night. Junior Jake Rotunda (126) will be looking to make school history by becoming just the seventh to win at least three titles and the first since Jeff Cies did it in 1997, while sophomores JoJo Aragona (120), Robert Garcia (132) and Jake Brown (220) go for their second titles.

3. Hunterdon Central (24-3) -- Red Devils captured the program's 21 sectional title with a 28-24 win over Monroe in the Central Jersey, Group 5 final on Friday, while posting a 62-6 victory over Passaic Tech in the Group 5 semifinals before the one-point loss to Howell in the championship match. Senior Peter Nace (126) will look to become a four-time District 17 champ on Saturday, while Graf shoots for his third title in a row. Sophomore Jack Bauer (113), junior Kevin Ciresa (145), and seniors Michael Iodice (195) and Victor Lacombe (220) bid for their second.

4. Delaware Valley (23-3) -- Terriers partied like it was 1999, according to coach Andy Fitz, a big Miami Dolphins and Prince fan, after their 30-28 win over Hanover Park (No. 752) that gave the program its first championship in 28 years and its eighth overall. Del Val, which set a school record for wins, also won its third straight Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional title on Friday with a 36-23 victory over rival Raritan. Senior Matt Kolonia (138) and junior Kyle Lightner (195) will look to become two-time champions this weekend at the District 19 Tournament in Old Bridge.

5. Kittatinny (19-5) -- Cougars saw their season end for the second straight year in the Group 1 final -- a 44-16 loss to Paulsboro -- after a gutsy 39-33 win over Point Pleasant Beach in the semifinals, as they literally stepped off the bus and onto the mat. Veteran coach John Gill's team was delayed after their bus did not show up at the school on time, making for the late arrival in Toms River. Senior Mark DiGeronimo (120) will look to become the 13th wrestler to win at least three district titles for the Sussex County school, which hosts the District 2 Tournament starting Friday at 5:30 p.m.

6. North Hunterdon (17-6) -- Lions really came on strong in the second half, reaching the North 2, Group 4 semifinals before bowing out with a 53-17 loss to Middletown North. Coach Tim Flynn's team, which won eight of its last 11 dual meets, heads to the District 15 Tournament at Westfield this weekend. Seniors Cole Marra (152) and Charlie Tordik (285) will be looking for back-to-back titles, while junior Andrew Gapas (132), who is having an outstanding season, seeks his first.

7. Warren Hills (16-9) -- Blue Streaks saw their run end with a 33-22 loss to Cranford in the North 2, Group 3 sectional final -- a nice effort by coach Jarrett Hosbach's team, which closed the gap after a 48-21 loss to the Cougars at home in the regular season on Jan. 28. Up next is the District 12 Tournament -- not District 2 which has been incorrect on the NJSIAA site all season -- at Livingston. Senior Matt Valli (132), who won as a freshman and finished second last season, and junior Jarod Ostir (170) will go for their second titles.

8. High Point (16-6) -- Wildcats almost pulled off the upset in the Group 2 semifinals on Sunday, but dropped a tough 32-30 decision to Hanover Park. On Friday, junior Sawyer Fenlon (160) and senior Matt McDonnell (182) scored big early wins to help the 'Cats roll to a 43-19 win over Jefferson in the North 1, Group 2 final for their Sussex county-record 25th sectional title. On tap is the District 1 Tournament at Ramapo, which includes Newton and North Warren. For the first time since 2005, coach John Gardner's team has no returning champs, but keep an eye on sophomores Brandon LaRue (106) and Devin Flannery (113).

9. Voorhees (19-7) -- Vikings advanced to the Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals with a 38-23 win over Holmdel before bowing out with a 43-27 loss to runner-up Raritan. Coach Eric Hall's team will next compete in the District 16 Tournament at Millburn High School. Michael Fernandes looks to become a two-time champ, while his brothers, Scott Fernandes (30-4 at 182) and Lewis Fernandes (27-7 at 195) should also be contenders.

10. Sparta (19-9) -- Spartans made history of their own by claiming the program's third sectional title and first since 2000, with a 29-25 win over Old Tappan in the North 1, Group 3 final on Friday before a tough 44-15 loss to champion South Plainfield in the Group 3 semifinals at Pine Belt Arena. Coach Frank Battaglia's team will next compete in the District 3 Tournament at Don Bosco Prep. Senior William Loewen (220) eyes his second straight title, while junior Robert Gennat (195) and senior Zach Herbert (285), who both hit 80 career wins on Sunday, look to improve on their second-place finishes in 2016.

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