Whippany Park wrestling continues quest for title

Whippany Park wrestling continues quest for title

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Whippany Park wrestling continues quest for title

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It’s been a stunning year of wrestling revival at Whippany Park — and the Wildcats hope to pull off their biggest surprise of the season yet on their biggest stage tonight.

Whippany Park will travel to Roselle Park in the North 2 Group I championship where the Wildcats will be one of three Morris County schools vying for sectional crowns.

Hanover Park, which has won the last two titles in North 2 Group I, will battle South Plainfield for the North 2 Group II championship.

Roxbury, seeking its first sectional title since 2011, will host Warren Hills in the North 2 Group III final.

All matches are scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m., weather permitting. If tonight’s matches are postponed, they will be contested Saturday at noon.

The NJSIAA’s Group championships will be held at Toms River High School North beginning with Groups I and IV semifinals at 10 a.m., followed by the semifinals in Groups II and III at 12:30 p.m.

One of the biggest stories of the Morris County season has been the wrestling of Whippany Park (17-3), which has defeated Parsippany Hills (31-28), Seton Hall Prep (40-23), Westfield (39-26), Edison (34-27), Scotch Plains (46-22), Pequannock (36-28), and Parsippany (48-18).

But the sweetest win might have come Wednesday night, when Whippany Park knocked off Caldwell, 30-29.

Turns out, the Wildcats have been thinking about the Chiefs for quite some time — all the way back to last year, when Whippany Park missed qualifying for the sectionals by a single power point.

“Last year I went to the Hanover Park-Caldwell section final and the very next day on the bus to an away match, we starting looking how we could match up,” Whippany Park coach Devon Engelberger said. “All year we have been looking at their scores and lineups because we figured we’d see them in the sectionals. We got to watch them a few times this year and were confident that we were in better shape and could pick some people off. Each match this year we have had someone in the lineup come up with a big win or pin to keep us in alive.”

That was the case against Caldwell. Whippany Park’s Marc Muzeni has been wrestling all year at 152 and made the drop to 145 for the first time and came up with a pin. Muzeni was wrestling in place of MCT runnerup Joe Prato, who was out with a shoulder injury.

Whippany Park senior Mike DeCandia filled in at 152 and saved a team point when he gave up a technical fall in the third period. The one point DeCandia saved proved to be the difference.

Another hero was heavyweight Justin Lam, who had a 6-18 record coming in but began the evening by stunning Ian Davidson, 7-3. Davidson was 18-6 coming into the match.

“Three seniors pulled out close decisions to keep us alive in the middle weights,” Engelberger said, referring to Mitch Graessle (126), Matt Mastrobuono (120), and Nick Serafini (160), who had a third-period takedown to win his match, 5-4.

Vin Mattia (182) and Steve Webb (195) registered pins and Liam McLaughlin (220) avoided getting pinned to clinch the win.

The Wildcats will be vying for their first sectional title since winning it in 2008, the only sectional crown in school history.

Roselle Park, meanwhile, is vying for its first since 2011, when it captured Central Jersey Group I. Historically, the Union County school is one of the strongest in New Jersey with 21 sectional championships, tied for fourth all-time with Camden Catholic behind Paulsboro (33), Phillipsburg (32), and High Point (23).

“They are a very well-balanced team with really no weak spots,” Engelberger said. “We lost a lot of decisions. We hope to win a couple of the close bouts we wrestled last time.”

The Wildcats won four weights in the previous meeting against Roselle Park, including three in the lower weights (Matt Karovic at 113, Mastrobuono at 120, Graessle at 132).

Another big win for Whippany Park came at 182, when Vin Mattia beat Steve Loevsky in a matchup of two of the best upper weights at Region 3, 11-10.

Whippany Park saw four of its wrestlers lose by 3-1 scores, so the hope is that the Wildcats can reverse those outcomes.

Here is a look at the Hanover and Roxbury matches:

South Plainfield at Hanover Park: If this matchup were judged solely on history, Hanover would be in a lot of trouble.

The Tigers have won eight state Group II titles since 2000 and last year had one of the best senior classes in state history. This year’s team is solid but clearly a step down from last year’s group. The leaders are Ryan Walsh (24-6 at 120), Daniel Hedden (25-4 at 126), Ray Jazikoff (28-2 at 145), Inan Sikel (27-2 at 152), and Jordan Handwerger (25-6 at 160).

The Hornets, meanwhile, have seven sectional championships but are searching for their first Group crown. Hanover, which lost in the Group I finals to Bound Brook the last two years, is very imposing from 113-160 and at heavyweight. The team leaders include Lou Raimo (20-3 at 113), Anthony Cefolo (27-3 at 120), Austin Nash (25-6 at 126), Joe Zecca (12-7 at 132), Christian Bassolino (28-3 at 132), Gene Angelo (18-6 at 138), Anthony Olivieri (22-9 at 145), Anthony Bassolino (24-6 at 160), and Nick LaShell (20-0 at heavyweight).

Warren Hills at Roxbury: These two met in the sectional semifinals a year ago, with Warren Hills posting a 31-30 victory that saw the Gaels have a team point deducted for unsportsmanlike behavior.

Warren Hills, which last won a sectional title in 2007, will look to Matt Valli (20-7 at 113), Zack Nauta (16-7 at 120), Max Nauta (22-5 at 132), Stephen Cleaver (17-6 at 182), Ryan Witner (18-8 at 220), and Andrew Pacheco (25-2 at heavyweight).

The Gaels seem to be hitting their stride and have a fairly balanced lineup in the lower and middle weights with Dillon Artigliere (31-0 at 170), Troy Stanich (24-5 at 106), Richard Riemers (21-7 at 113), Kevin Hernandez (6-3 at 126), Devon LaFranco (24-7 at 132), Jake Legotte (19-11 at 138), Richard Day (18-11 at 145), Tommy Miller (20-8 at 152), Peter Sutton (12-9 at 182) and Clayton O’Leary (15-15 at 195) leading the way.

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