Now that we have had almost a day to digest the NJSIAA Team Tournament here are some thoughts about the format the tournament was conducted under this year.
1. Was Group V a good idea?
Having five public school groups, which resulted in another state champion and four more sectional champions watered the tournament down.
It resulted in teams advanceing to the state semifinals Sunday at Sun National Bank Center, Trenton, that probably should have not been there and created a lot of matches that were not interesting.
Brick Memorial is a very good team, so is Phillipsburg. Those two teams are probably going to finish ranked No. 2 and 3 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20 behind Bergen Catholic when that poll comes out later this week.
It would have been great if we got to see those two teams, which represent two of the most storied programs in the state, wrestle each other Sunday in a group final. It would have been a group final that would have been highly-anticipated.
Under the old setup of four public schools groups, Brick Memorial and Phillipsburg probably would have both been Group IV schools. There would have been a good possibility that a final, between those two would have happened.
Instead, Brick Memorial was in Group V and had two matches Sunday against North Bergen in the semifinal and Hunterdon Central in the final that were pretty much formalities. This Hunterdon Central team is not on the same level of most of the teams it has had.
Phillipsburg had a Group IV final against Jackson Memorial. On paper, it looked Jackson Memorial had a chance, especially with Phillipsburg’s standout 113-pounder Brandon Paetzell being out for the season, but that match turned out to be a major disappointment.
Also, with Group V, how did the three best teams in the group in the state in Brick Memorial, Howell and Southern all wind up in South Jersey while the Central V section, with the exception of Hunterdon Central, was barren?
It would have been much better for the sport and the fans if either Howell or Brick Memorial was in Central V. That way two of the three teams from Brick Memorial, Howell and Southern would have advanced to the state semifinal and had a good chance of wrestling each other in the state final.
2. Was the change of venue a good idea?
The change from Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North to Sun National Bank Center was made because with the creation of a fifth group for the public school, Sun National Bank Center could accommodate the extra mats that were needed for the first semifinal round and the first championship round.
Six mats were used for the first semifinal round. Four mats were used for the first championship round. There were two additional semifinal matches and one additional championship match.
In the past, four mats were used at Pine Belt Arena for both semifinal rounds and three mats for both championship round.
Pine Belt Arena was the perfect place to hold the group semifinal and championship matches. It has a capacity of more than 3,100 and was filled most of the time. A lot of wrestlers and coaches from the Shore whose teams were not involved would attend the matches as well as fans from all the other teams in the event. The fans were seated close to the mat at Pine Belt Arena and the atmosphere in the building was outstanding.. Pine Belt Arena is also right in the middle of one of the wrestling hotbeds in the state the Shore Conference.
Sun National Bank Center is in Mercer County, which is not one of the most rabid areas for high school wrestling in the state.
The weather Sunday morning, which made for terrible road conditions early, obviously hurt attendance. But, with that building having a seating capacity of 8,600, it seemed like the place was empty and there was not the same atmosphere we had at Pine Belt Arena from 2005-2014.
Sun National Bank Center hosted the event in 2004 and there was the same atmosphere than that there was Sunday.
3. What should be done?
Go back to four public school groups. It would result in the possibility of more interesting group semifinal and championship matches, at least on the public school level.
The concept of giving more teams opportunities to win championships is something we have long disliked. Championships are something that should be earned by beating the best competition out there. They are not something that is an entitlement.
Also, move the group semifinals and championship matches back to Toms River North. Pine Belt Arena provided the right venue and atmosphere for the event.
Even if five groups is here to stay, Toms River North is the right place to have it. There is a second gymnasium a few feet down the hall from Pine Belt Arena that could be used to have three matches Pine Belt Arena would not be able to accommodate.
And while we’re at it, combine the Non-Public Groups into one. Non-Public B has long been uninteresting.
4. Who should be ranked higher Brick Memorial or Phillipsburg?
Both were very impressive on Sunday. But, Brick Memorial defeated Howell 28-25 in the South V championship match and its only loss was to Bergen Catholic. Phillipsburg lost 27-24 to Howell on Dec. 23 with Paetzell in the lineup.
It would have been great to see them wrestle each other, but….