Two-time defending District 17 champ Hunterdon Central has two wins over Phillipsburg and North 2 IV and Skyland Delaware Division titles to show this season; Voorhees’ a 23-5 dual meet record and North 2 Group II crown.
What about Delaware Valley and North Hunterdon? Wouldn’t a district championship trophy make the winter a bit brighter?
The districts at the Hunterdon Central Field House Saturday should be as tight as it’s been over the last decade or so with Hopewell Valley serving the role as rising third party candidate, as one coach referred to the Bulldogs. Lawrence has returning district champ Gordon Wolf, who won at 113 last year, and Mike Jennings, a runner-up at 138.
The rise in Hopewell Valley’s game, has made this district even more formidable than usual with the four score – Del Val, Hunterdon Central, North Hunterdon and Voorhees – still in front. Last year, Hunterdon Central – which was 0-4 against its county rivals in dual meets – nipped North Hunterdon 161-158 for the district title. Voorhees was third and Del Val fourth. This year, the Red Devils, who finished 18-2, had a 4-0 dual meet record against the county – and every single one of them was close.
The tight dual meets the four went through this season likely means another wide open tournament.
“We have nothing to hang our hat on, we were second at Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex (tournament to Phillipsburg), but you can’t hang our hat on that,” said North coach Tim Flynn, whose team was 15-4 in duals. “It would be great to win it. Hopefully we put guys in good position,” to at least qualify for next week’s Region 5 Tournament.
“It’d be nice to win it, but who knows?” added Flynn.
The big favorites are Hunterdon Central’s top-seeded 138-pounder Gary Dinmore, 27-0, who beat Del Val senior Mike Pongracz 4-0 in overtime in a wild district final at 126 last year. Dinmore, who also beat Pongracz a week later in a region semi, went on to place second in the state. Pongracz was fifth. Pongracz, 25-0, is the top seed at 126.
Others to follow are Voorhees’ unbeaten senior defending district champ Jadaen Bernstein (33-0). Bernstein, the top seed at 170, would like to win a state title after finishing seventh last year and second as a sophomore. He will be shadowed by the second-seeded Hunterdon Central senior David Fenton, beaten 3-2 in last year’s 152-pound district final by graduated North standout Beau Vrancken. Fenton is 24-3 with a 6-3 loss to Bernstein, a 3-1 sudden victory loss to Kittatinny junior Kieran Gerrity (29-3) in a Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament semi that prevented an earlier rematch with four-time champ Bernstein. Fenton beat Gerrity 11-3 at the season-opening Caldwell Tournament. Fenton’s other loss was 6-3 to Watchung Hills’ unbeaten senior Mike Carroccia (25-0) in the North 2 IV semifinal last week.
Who knows? Maybe Bernstein and Fenton (24-3) can finish 1-2 in the state this year? Or would it be the other way around? What happens Saturday between the two could impact a whole bunch of teams who figure to be in the team title race. Or the winner at 106 could just as easily determine who wins the team title. Hunterdon Central sophomore Kyler Rodriguez, 9-10, who missed a significant part of the season with an injury, earned the No. 1 seed courtesy of a 3-2 win over Voorhees’ freshman Kyle DiNapoli (22-9) back on Dec. 22. DiNapoli is the second seed ahead of third-seeded North Hunterdon sophomore Paul Robinson (19-9). Robinson was runner-up to P’Burg’s Brandon Paetzell at the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex meet.
“It’s up for grabs,” said Flynn, referring to the district race.