Anthony Cassar of Montgomery has been named Courier News Wrestler of the Year

Anthony Cassar of Montgomery has been named Courier News Wrestler of the Year

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Anthony Cassar of Montgomery has been named Courier News Wrestler of the Year

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The scene after Montgomery High School senior Anthony Cassar won the 195-pound state title in Atlantic City wasn’t typical for such occasions. Cassar didn’t make emotional gestures to family and friends at Boardwalk Hall, didn’t sprint into the arms of Cougar coaches or perform a standing somersault.

Cassar simply helped Franklin senior Ralph Normandia to his feet, hugged him, then walked over to Warriors coach Rick Krieger and shook hands. Cassar then trotted over to Montgomery head coach Kurt Franey and assistant Marc Eberstein and enjoyed a warm, celebratory embrace.

Franey said any other Cassar reaction would have been a surprise.

“I wanted to show my gratitude to Ralph for being part of this great journey,” said Cassar, who won the championship on his 18th birthday. “I really appreciated the fight, the effort he gave all four times we wrestled.”

Montgomery’s first state champion and first state tournament place winner is the Courier News Wrestler of the Year.

Cassar’s attack was never funky or risk taking, but well measured. He digested weaknesses, plotted an attack and followed it to perfection, finishing 43-0 for the season and 113-21 for his career.

The final with Normandia was yet another chess match between the two Somerset County rivals, who had met in the county tournament final, the District 18 final and the Region V final. All Cassar victories.

Cassar beat Millville’s Ed Shockley 4-3 on a takedown with three seconds left in the state quarterfinals, then advanced to the final with a 3-1 semifinal win over Keansburg’s Tyree Sutton. The final was even more stressful, the score 1-1 after regulation followed by a scoreless sudden victory period. Cassar rode Normandia for the entire first 30-second rideout period. Cassar got free for a 2-1 lead eight seconds into the second rideout, then hit a sealing takedown to win 4-1.

Normandia, a third-place state finisher last year at 220, will forever be linked to Cassar, he hung in after losing his front tooth when his mouth collided with Cassar’s head. Normandia was 41-4, the losses all to Cassar, who finished fourth at 170 pounds at last season’s regions.

The distance from the Hunterdon Central Fieldhouse where Cassar was pinned by John F. Kennedy’s Brandon Simon in a region consolation final to Boardwalk Hall is about 115 miles. How far Cassar traveled in getting to the top of the podium can never be answered.

Countless disappointed fourth-place region finishers in the minutes following their last bout pledge to do everything physically possible to make the state tournament the next year. So did Cassar.

“It wasn’t lip service,” Franey said.

He rarely missed a day throughout the summer, drilling in Morganville at Rhino Wrestling Club with former Edison star and Middlesex County College coach Mike Malinconico, founder of the club. The two paid much attention to Cassar’s attack on his feet. Cassar also drilled with Hunterdon Central state 152-pound finalist Gary Dinmore.

“I worked out a lot with lighter guys,” Cassar said. “Every workout I did, every move I made, revolved around that one goal of being state champion.”

When the Cassar family took a vacation to Montauk in late June, the goal came along and workouts featuring beach runs and weight training.

“I really love the sport, and I decided that if I was going to really commit to this goal I was going to really go for it,” Cassar said.

Before the state final, Cassar did something he always does with his family on Sunday. He attended Mass at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Atlantic City. His family are parishioners at Mother of God Orthodox Church at Princeton a Day School in Princeton. Father John Cassar — the state champ’s dad — is head of the church, which will soon relocate to a new building on Cherry Hill Road in Princeton.

Faith played a big part in Cassar moving from a unheralded hard worker to a wrestler who has gotten the interest of Penn State, Virginia Tech and the University of North Carolina. He should be considered a wrestler with a very big upside with a maturity coaches desire, Franey said.

His trip to the state tournament was his first, and though he maintains a stoic appearance, he did feel the energy around. Cassar said he was a “nervous wreck” and felt uncomfortable at times because of the noise inside Boardwalk Hall. He knew where to find his peace.

“On the mat,” he said. “When the match started it was just that — a wrestling match.”

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