When you think Rumson sports, you think football, or perhaps some girls basketball. Wrestling, well, that always seemed like a town afterthought.
Now when you think Rumson-Fair Haven wrestling, think The Big Ten, think Penn State, think big.
Learning some Big Ten mentality from his coach Bryan Heller, Marcus Iwama became the Bulldogs’ first Region VI champ in 11 years when both Heller and Patrick Berger won regions for Rumson-Fair Haven.
One year after getting upset in the quarterfinals, Iwama took down Howell’s Kris Lindemann four times to capture the 132-pound crown, 8-4, from the fourth-seeded slot on the bracket sheet. He walked off the mat slowly, calm on the outside, like he had done this before.
“Keep the pace up, don’t let him relax, score here,” were some of the constant reminders Heller relentlessly voiced.
The determined Iwama seemed to be striving to be a professional takedown assassin. He took down Lindemann twice in the first period, once in the second and once more in the third frame.
“I don’t celebrate too much on the mat,” Iwama said. “I don’t show that much, but I’m really happy I won. Rumson is very different than other schools. We don’t get any recognition. But we wrestle hard.”
Heller wrestled for Penn State and the first-year coach has begun teaching his young Bulldog team how to wrestle like — well, Bulldogs.
“In the Big Ten your taught to always go forward, hand fight, never let the other guy think he has a shot,” said Heller. “Most of our team is young. Marcus is an example of our philosophy coming to fruition.”
Iwama (30-2) and Heller are similar in size, providing Marcus the opportunity to have a Penn State wrestler as his practice partner every day.
“He’s the best workout partner possible, he destroys me everyday in practice,” Iwama said. “It has worked out great for me.”
Iwama pinned Matawan’s Khalil Haskins (25-4) in 2:47 in the quarterfinals, then dominated Southern Regional first seed Bryan Brown, 9-2, in the semifinals.
Marcus began wrestling in the fourth grade at the suggestion of his dad, himself a two-time district second place finisher for Rumson-Fair Haven. Right now, Iwama is Rumson-Fair Haven’s lone shining star.
But that could change. The community is becoming a wrestling community. There are 90 boys wrestling in juniors and they are being coached by two of the Skove brothers — Andrew and Tom.
“Andrew and Tom are also Big Ten kids, we are heading in the right direction as a team,” Heller said. “They are learning to hand fight it’s just a matter of experience.”
Now Rumson-Fair Haven will be one of 10 Region VI schools sending a champion down to Boardwalk Hall next weekend. Last year, Iwama qualified for Atlantic City as a third place finisher but lost both of his state tournament bouts.
“I can say all the work has paid off,” said Iwama, now smiling with a spreading grin of satisfaction. “Last year I lost two state bouts and went home. I don’t want that this time.”
“The idea is to put him on the podium in states,” Heller said. “There are two returning state champs at 132 (Mike Magaldo and Anthony Giraldo), but I’m not going to count Marcus out of any match. If he stays on offense, he is good to go.”
Once again, Iwama will be trying to replace his coach in the history books. Heller was a state seventh-eighth place finisher in 2003. No Bulldog has placed since, then, since Marcus was in kindergarten.