Despite its small enrollment, the Middlesex High School wrestling program continues to prove itself on a big stage.
RELATED: District 12 Tournament seeds
The Blue Jays, who otherwise would be a Group I school, are actually classified as a Group II because they feature three wrestlers from neighboring Dunellen to form an NJSIAA-sanctioned cooperative sports program.
Only one of the Dunellen wrestlers – he owns a 1-18 record – will compete in this weekend’s District 12 Tournament at South Plainfield.
Middlesex will not win the team title – the host Tigers are expected to run away with their state-record 31st consecutive crown – but the Blue Jays hope to advance eight wrestlers to the region tournament.
The Dinger twins, Tom (106) and Bob (132), are Middlesex’s lone incumbent region qualifiers.
Upper weights Kevin Ambicki (182), Matt Hode (195), Jeff Sweeney (220) and Edson Flores (285) all have an excellent chance to join the Dingers at the Hunterdon Central Field House for the Region V Tournament next week.
Jeff Johnson, a promising 126-pounder who also hopes to advance, is among the many Middlesex wrestlers who received a high seed for the district tournament.
Middlesex wrestled a challenging schedule on the way to compiling a single-season school record 21 victories including wins over District 12 entrants Colonia, Plainfield and Arthur L. Johnson (the Blue Jays also dropped a 43-28 decision to Governor Livingston and fell 34-33 to Watchung Hills, both of which will compete in the same district).
“We wrestled a good schedule for what really is a Group I school,” Middlesex head coach Pat Appello said. “Once people look at our schedule, they start to give us credit. We’re real happy with the way the season went.”
The Blue Jays had a stellar showing at last month’s Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament, placing seventh in the 22 team field, just half a point behind sixth-place Sayreville and one full point behind fifth-place Edison.
Only five other GMC schools had more medalists than the Blue Jays, who finished in the team standings behind five Group V schools and perennial state power South Plainfield, which has won 10 of the last 11 conference tournament titles.
Middlesex also performed well at the season-opening Hunterdon Central Invitational, advancing seven wrestlers to the semifinals, three of who reached the finals.
Chris Dessino, who has wrestled this season at 138 and 145 pounds for Middlesex, will compete in the latter weight class at the District 12 Tournament, where he is one of eight Blue Jays with a chance to advance.
After posting a 16-11 record last year as one of the GMC’s most improved programs, Middlesex went 21-8 this season including a 7-1 record in the Blue Division, where its only loss came early in the season to reigning division champion South River.
The Blue Jays qualified for the NJSIAA Team Tournament and defeated Delran in the opening round.
District 12 Wrestling Tournament
When/Where: Friday and Saturday at South Plainfield High School.
Friday schedule: Preliminaries and quarterfinals, 6 p.m.
Saturday schedule: Semifinals, 10:30 p.m.; consolation finals, 1 p.m.; finals, 3 p.m.
Teams: A.L. Johnson, Colonia, Governor Livingston, Middlesex/Dunellen, New Providence, North Plainfield, Plainfield, Rutgers Prep, South Plainfield, Watchung Hills.
PREDICTED REGION QUALIFIERS
106: Joe Heilmann (South Plainfield, 29-4); Danny Miller (Watchung Hills, 24-11); Tom Dinger (Middlesex/Dunellen, 26-9).
113: Rob Saum (Watchung Hills, 22-12); Jake Giordano (South Plainfield, 19-14); Luke Pero (Colonia, 23-6).
120: Carmine Boccellari (New Providence, 22-6); Christopher Fuschetto (A.L. Johnson, 30-3); Ryan Duhamel (South Plainfield, 13-18).
126: Ryan Walsh (South Plainfield, 28-5); Jeff Johnson (Middlesex/Dunellen, 32-4); Kyle Gregorio (A.L. Johnson, 28-5).
132: Kyle Bythell (South Plainfield, 25-6); Bob Dinger (Middlesex/Dunellen, 32-4); Austin Senkarik (Governor Livingston, 21-12).
138: Daniel Hedden (South Plainfield, 28-5); Tyler Gazaway (New Providence, 27-2); Dominick Mulhearn North Plainfield, 28-7).
145: Alex Murray (Watchung Hills, 31-2); Turner Haddad (Governor Livingston, 24-9); Frank Ferraro (South Plainfield, 23-10).
152: Neojoe Lughas (Plainfield, 30-6); Stephen Tyls (Watchung Hills, 23-11); C.J. Maszczak (South Plainfield, 12-20).
160: Jordan Handwerger (South Plainfield, 21-2); Daniel Kourakos (New Providence, 26-3); Wilson Urgilez (Watchung Hills, 18-10).
170: Michael Terpack (Watchung Hills, 17-9); Nicholas DiFrancesco (South Plainfield, 16-17); Sam Pero (Colonia, 14-0).
182: Rohan Phillip (Plainfield, 31-4); Christian Gonzalez (South Plainfield, 20-11); Kevin Ambicki (Middlesex/Dunellen, 28-8).
195: James Valley (North Plainfield, 32-1); Matt Hode (Middlesex/Dunellen, 27-8); Abdus Slater (Plainfield, 16-12).
220: Jack Sweeney (Middlesex/Dunellen, 29-7); Amir Sa`id (North Plainfield, 21-2); Dakota Pauls (South Plainfield, 21-10).
285: Sean Tomlinson (Governor Livingston, 29-2); Edson Flores (Middlesex/Dunellen, 29-7); Charles Thomas (North Plainfield, 27-4).