Monday, February 4, 2019

Wrestling: 'Cats, 'Liners, DV among section picks

The sectional wrestling tournaments begin on Monday with first-round matchups, mostly at 7 p.m. Winners advance to Wednesday's semifinals and the sectional championships will be contested on Friday.

All sectional winners will compete in the Group championships on Sunday, Feb. 10 at Toms River North High School.

In all, 15 of the 18 teams from the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area have qualified, with Hunterdon Central (Central Jersey, Group 5), Delaware Valley (North 2, Group 1), High Point (North 1, Group 2), Phillipsburg (North 2, Group 4) and Pope John (Non-Public North B) earning No. 1 seeds.

Newton (North 1, Group 2), Kittatinny (North 1, Group 1) and North Hunterdon (North 2, Group 4) are No. 2 seeds. In the only first-round matchup involving two locals, No. 5 Voorhees travels to No. 4 Warren Hills in North 2, Group 3 action on Monday.

Phillipsburg (14-2), which has won 38 of a possible 40 titles, eyes its sixth in a row after coming up short in 2013, a 30-29 loss to Hunterdon Central that snapped the Warren County school's run of 22 straight sectional championships.

High Point (12-2), which has won a Sussex County-best 26 sectional title, is looking to claim its third straight in North 1, Group 2 and a second consecutive Group 2 title.

North Warren (North 1, Group 1), Belvidere (North 2, Group 1), Lenape Valley (North 2, Group 2), Hackettstown (North 2, Group 2) and Sparta (North 1, Group 3) are the other area teams to qualify.

Here's an overall analysis and predictions for all sections:

Group 5

North 1 -- Passaic Tech
North 2 -- Watchung Hills
Central -- Hunterdon Central
South -- Howell

Notes: Howell, the two-time defending Group 5 champ and ranked No. 3 in the New Jersey Writers Top 20, is the favorite as Hunterdon Central looks to get back to the state final for the second time in three years. The Red Devils (19-1), who have been dinged up are looking to get sophomore Norman Cella (right knee injury) back in the lineup at 160 pounds this week, dropped a 29-20 decision to the Rebels in last year's sectional final after losing a heartbreaker in one the best state finals in recent memory -- a 28-27 win for the Rebels in 2017. Central, which has won only one state championship in program history (Group 4 in 1989), is led by sophomore state placewinner Brett Ungar (26-0 at 106) and sophomore Colton Washleski (24-4 at 120), along with freshman Tanner Peake (25-4 at 132) and seniors Pasquale Vizzoni (17-2 at 145) and Vincent Romaniello (23-5 at 152). Hunterdon Central shouldn't have much trouble in winning the program's 22nd sectional title and will likely rest some starters, at least against New Brunswick on Monday, while Howell will have to by Southern, which recently handed Phillipsburg a 32-16 loss. The Red Devils beat the 'Liners, 29-27, on Jan. 24.

Group 4

North 1 -- Wayne Valley
North 2 -- Phillipsburg
Central -- Jackson Memorial
South -- Kingsway

P'burg seeks its 38th sectional title overall.
Notes: Phillipsburg has been the heavy favorite to win a sixth straight state title (something done only once in program history from 1995-2000) and its sixth in seven seasons, but coach Dave Post's team must first secure the program's 38th sectional title. Post has been a part of 11 sectional titles at P'burg, including winning four as a wrestler from 2000-03. Senior Travis Jones (25-3 at 126-132) is just five wins shy of 100. North Hunterdon, the No. 2 seed, figures to be the opponent. The Lions are hungry for a rematch after a 30-24 loss to the Stateliners on Jan. 16. P'burg, which lost its only two sectional finals on the road in 1990 (34-30 at Warren Hills) and 2013 (30-29 at Hunterdon Central), will enjoy being home this season after having to go on the road for the first time in five years last season for a 32-30 win over Middletown North. The North 2 winner will be the top seed in Group 4 and both match up well against Kingsway. Roxbury was looking like the favorite in North 1, but coach Jim Dolan, who according to sources is in his final season, and the Gaels are nursing some injuries -- forfeiting four weights in a 44-25 loss to Newton on Friday.

Group 3

North 1 -- Montville
North 2 -- Mendham
Central -- Ocean Township
South -- Lacey Township

Voorhees celebrates its sectional title in 2018.
Notes: This is about as wide open as Group 3 has ever been, with the winner in North 2 looking like the state title favorite. We get a good one out of the gate on Monday night at No. 4 Warren Hills hosts No. 5 Voorhees, which had its eight-match win streak snapped with a 47-21 loss to Hunterdon Central on Wednesday, in an intriguing first-round matchup. Coach Eric Hall's Vikings (19-5), who earned the program's 17th sectional title last season, suffered a 37-19 loss to the Blue Streaks, who are seeking their first sectional title since 2007, on Dec. 19. But that was a long time ago and unlikely that Warren Hills wins 10 bouts in the rematch. Look for a 7-7 split and a closer margin of victory. The winner likely gets a semifinal date with Mendham, which dropped a 31-30 decision to Lacey Township earlier this season. Keep an eye as well on West Essex, which knocked off Montville and Toms River North on Saturday.

Group 2

North 1 -- High Point
North 2 -- Hanover Park
Central -- South Plainfield
South -- West Deptford

High Point seeks its 15th sectional title under Gardner.
Notes: High Point was the toast of Toms River last season with a thrilling 30-25 come-from-behind win over Raritan in the Group 2 final following a 32-30 loss to Hanover Park in the 2017 semifinals. But the Wildcats have some injury concerns and must navigate through one of the toughest sectional fields. Coach John Gardner's team got sophomore Josh Gervey (hip) back in Friday's 49-21 rout of West Morris, but senior state placewinner and Duke University recruit Brandon LaRue (13-2 at 126-132) has wrestled just six times since the Cheesehead Invitational and he last appeared on the mat on Jan. 24. If he's not able to go, the 'Cats could be in trouble against either Westwood in the semifinals or Newton in the final, should coach Eric Bollette's Braves get past Jefferson in the semifinals after handing the Falcons a 44-16 loss on Jan. 3. High Point scored a 39-27 victory over Newton on Jan. 22 to secure the NJAC Freedom Division title.

Group 1

North 1 -- Emerson-Park Ridge
North 2 -- Delaware Valley
Central -- Shore Regional
South -- Paulsboro

Notes: Paulsboro is the class of Group 1, but keep an eye some local teams in the sectional chase as Delaware Valley is the top seed in North 2, Group 1. The Terriers have struggled some this season, but the opportunity is there to earn the program's 18th sectional title overall and fourth in five years, which would likely set up a Group 1 semifinal date against Paulsboro. Senior A.J. DeRosa (24-1 at 132-138), who is 122-23 overall, is two wins shy of passing former state runner-up Bobby Stevely (123-32 from 2006-10) for fifth place on the school's all-time list. Belvidere, which is the No. 7 seed, opens at No. 2 Whippany Park, as senior Quinn Melofchik (131-17 overall) will look to become the County Seaters' all-time wins leader in that one. In North 1, Emerson-Park Ridge appears to have a little more firepower than No. 2 seed Kittatinny, but the Cougars been coming on lately, having won six of their last seven, including a 35-33 win over Hanover Park on Tuesday.

Non-Public A

North -- Bergen Catholic
South -- St. Augustine

Bergen Catholic, the No. 1 team in the NJWWA Top 20 Poll, which is going for eight in a row and 15 of 18 in the rugged Non-Public North A section, is the class of a tough field that includes state-ranked Delbarton, St. Joseph-Montvale and St. Peter's Prep. St. Augustine, which is also ranked in the New Jersey Writers Top 20, will cruise to the final.

Non-Public B

North -- Pope John
South -- Camden Catholic

PJ eyes back-to-back titles for the first time since 1981-83.
Camden Catholic, which dropped from South A, should be the runaway winner in its section and is the state title favorites. Pope John (12-2), which won its first sectional title since 1994 and the program's eighth overall -- all in North B -- last season should easily repeat in its section. Seniors JoJo Aragona (29-0 at 138) and Robbie Garcia (9-0 at 152), along with junior Eddie Ventresca (26-1 at 120), are state medal winners and members of the Sussex County school's 100-win club. Junior Kaya Sement (22-5 at 132) is a Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament champion.

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