It did not take long for Mike Denver to understand the type of wrestler he was going to be coaching at Brick Memorial after he became the Mustangs’ head coach of the storied program in the summer of 2013.
|”Coach O’Cone (former Brick Memorial head coach and current Brick Memorial assistant principal Dan O’Cone) told me ‘These kids are blue-collar kids. They’re tough. They’ll push the pace. They’ll do whatever you say. You’ve just got to be able to have faith in them and coach them the way that they should,’ ” Denver said Friday night after Brick Memorial won the NJSIAA South Group V championship with a hard-fought 28-25 win over Howell.
The characteristics O’Cone was telling Denver about are what have been with the Brick Memorial for more than 30 years, going back to the tenure of legendary coach Tony Caravella and then current Mustangs’ assistant coach Dean Albanese and O’Cone.
It is that approach that has helped Brick Memorial win a Shore Conference-record 15 sectional championships, a record eight overall group championships and a record 15 Shore Conference Tournament championships.
Friday’s win was the Mustangs’ first sectional championship under Denver. Earlier this year, Brick Memorial won the SCT for the first time under Denver, a former Central Regional wrestler and NCAA Division III national champion at The College of New Jersey.
Sunday, weather permitting, Brick Memorial will be a solid favorite to win the Group V state championship at Sun National Bank Center, Trenton.
Brick Memorial (19-1), ranked No. 2 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20, will wrestle North I champion North Bergen (18-2) in one semifinal at 10 a.m. North II champion North Hunterdon (16-3) and Central champion Hunterdon Central (16-7) will meet in the other semifinal.
The Group V championship match will be at 3:30 p.m.
Jackson Memorial will be the other Shore team seeking a state group championship on Sunday.
The Jaguars (18-4), who won the Central Group IV champion Friday night with a come-from-behind 34-31 win over Brick for their seventh sectional title and first under fourth-year head coach Aaron Gottesman, will wrestle South Group IV champion Clearview (18-2) in a Group IV semifinal at 12:30 p.m.
North I champion Roxbury (15-3) will meet North II champion and defending Group IV state champion Phillipsburg (16-1) in the other semifinal.
The Group IV championship match will be at 6 p.m.
NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko said Saturday afternoon any decision on a postponement because of the weather will not be made until between 5:45-6 a.m. Sunday.
Timko said that information will be posted on the NJSIAA’s Web Site njsiaa.org. If there is a postponement, Timko said the makeup date would be at noon Monday at Sun National Bank Center.
An example of Brick Memorial’s tough-minded approach came Friday night when it was confronted in several bouts with Howell’s style of trying to save bonus points.
The style worked for Howell at heavyweight and 113, where it lost by decisions in bouts many expected Brick Memorial to get bonus points. Howell’s approach was close to working at 152 before Alec Donovan recorded a last-minute pin that swung momentum in Brick Memorial’s direction.
“The thing about this team is they’re constantly doing the right thing,” Denver said. “They’re constantly getting extra workouts. They believe in their coaches. This team is one of the best teams I’ve ever seen. They’re the most coachable team I’ve seen.”
Brick Memorial is heavily favored against North Bergen If it defeats North Bergen, who it will wrestles in the final is a tossup. Hunterdon Central beat North Hunterdon 39-29 on Jan. 14, but North Hunterdon does appear to have a more balanced team, led by returning state third-place finisher Ryan Pomrinca at 126.
Jackson Memorial will be trying to win its fifth state group championship. Its semifinal match against Clearview will not be easy.
Clearview, which won Group III last year , does have firepower in returning state third-place finisher and unbeaten Zack Firestone (120/126), unbeaten and returning region third-place finisher Michael VanBrill (132), returning region runner-up Ed Lenkowski (160) and returning third-place finisher Joe Sindoni (170).
If the Jaguars can get by Clearview, Phillipsburg, which defeated Southern in last year’s Group IV final, will be waiting.
That match could be interesting. Jackson Memorial would appear to have the advantage down low, especially with Phillipsburg’s Brandon Paetzell, last year’s state runner-up at 106, out for the season.
Paetzell being out could mean anywhere from a 9-12 point swing in favor of Jackson Memorial.
The heart of the Stateliners’ lineup comes from 160 on up with Max Elling (28-2 at 160), Jimmy Schuitema (27-3 at 170), Andrew Horun (23-6 at 182), Robert Merlise, (24-6 at 220) and Kyle Nothnagel (9-0 at heavyweight).
The heavyweight bout between Nothnagel and Jackson Memorial’s Brody Graham (27-1) and the 106-pound bout between Jackson Memorial’s Matt McGowan (22-5) and Phillipsburg’s Kyle Markus (19-11) could be key swing bouts.
Phillipsburg is 2-1 against Shore Conference teams this season. It lost 27-24 to Howell on Dec. 23 with Paetzell but Nothnagel sidelined because of NJSIAA transfer rules. Jackson Memorial defeated Howell, 27-22, on Jan. 31. Phillipsburg defeated Southern, 27-23, without Paetzell on Jan. 31, Jackson Memorial defeated Southern, 32-23, on Jan. 7. The Stateliners routed Raritan, 56-6, on Feb. 7.
Steven Falk 732-643-4267; firstname.lastname@example.org