The 2022-23 high school wrestling season will go down as the greatest ever in Morris County.
Yes, it was. But that was the only other time a Morris-Sussex team had performed thae
The numbers do not lie.
The county had five – count ‘em, five – state championships.
Delbarton had four (Tyler Vazquez, Alessio Perentin, Louis Cerchio, Simon Ruiz) and Roxbury had one (Luke Stanich).
Morris County had never had more three in one year. Roxbury’s Ryan Fikslin, Delbarton’s Mike Grey, and Jefferson’s Dan Vallimont won state titles in 2005. In 2003, Grey and teammate Antonio Mangione, and Mendham’s Steve Adamcsik were state champions. The only other time Morris had three champions was in 1972, when Randolph’s Jeff Surenian, Dover’s Joe Camel, and Roxbury’s Mike Bennett won state titles.
The county had already been on the map because of many great individual and team performances in a state setting down through the years, including:
What Delbarton pulled off (four state champions, three in a row) was extraordinarily rare, especially by local standards.
In 2011, High Point had four state champions (Nick Francavilla, Drew Wagonhoffer, Ethan Orr, William Smith), becoming the first Morris-Sussex school to accomplish that feat. Bergen Catholic had four champions in 2016 (Nick Suriano, Shane Griffith, Joe Grello, Kevin Mulligan) and four in 2015 (Suriano, Griffith, Grello, Mulligan).
After scanning through all of the past state champion lists, no other New Jersey school in modern history had ever pulled off the remarkable feat.
That’s modern history.
Back in 1948, Newton had seven state champions, including four in a row to end the day (Don Frey at 146, Doug Frey at 155, Emil Perona at 166, and heavyweight Harry Lanzi).
Coach Henry Boresch’s Braves had eight in 1947 and seven in 1946, an incredible feat but one that doesn’t carry the same weight as now. There were simply not many schools that fielded wrestling teams back in those days.
State team scoring
Official scoring is not kept at the state wrestling tournament.
Unofficial team scoring? That’s another matter entirely.
And that goes double if you’re Delbarton.
The Green Wave lost to St. Joseph-Montvale in the state Non-Public A championship match.
Coach Bryan Stoll’s team set out to outscore everyone in New Jersey in the states and managed to pull it off at the last possible moment when Alessio Perentin, Louis Cerchio and Simon Ruiz went back-to-back-to-back to win state championships.
“We know we needed to win the last three,” coach Bryan Stoll said.
The final team scoring went like this:
1. Delbarton (205).
2. St. Joe-Montvale (203.5).
3. Bergen Catholic (133.5).
4. St. Peter’s Prep (122.5).
5. Southern (117.0).
6. CBA (112.0).
7. Paramus Catholic (108.5).
8. St. Augustine (92).
9. St. John Vianney (73.5).
10. Brick Memorial and North Hunterdon (58).
“This means a lot to us,” Stoll said. “We’re proud of our program and what we accomplished and that we had one of the best teams in the country this year.”
It’s been quite a climb for Delbarton and Stoll to reach that status. When Stoll took over 18 years ago, Delbarton had an occasional state qualifier here and there. Soon, an Antonio Mangione or Mike Grey came to the school. Then other top-notch wrestlers followed.
“The first two years were rough and then all of a sudden, we cracked the Top 20,” Stoll said. Then we cracked the Top 10 and then we won the (Non-Public Group A) state championship in 2011. We have a great coaching staff with Guy Russo (who came aboard in 1991), who is the face of the program.”
The program also has great young assistants such as Ryan Harrington, a two-time state champion out of Mendham, and former Morristown standout Darren Dungee.
Top area contenders for next year
Here are the best bets to win state championships from the Morris-Sussex area next year (listed in no particular order)
1. Alessio Perentin (Delbarton)
2. Louis Cerchio (Delbarton)
3. Vincenzo LaValle (Hanover Park).
4. Jaydin James (Delbarton).
5. Daniel Jones (Delbarton).
6. Carson Walsh (Pope John).
7. Jack Myers (Morristown).
8. Brandon Jon Dean (West Morris).
9. Tyler Bienus (Mount Olive)
10. Tommy Borgia (West Morris).
And while we’re on the subject of 2023-24, here is what a preseason Morris-Sussex Top 10 might look like:
2. Pope John
3. Mount Olive
4. High Point
7. Hanover Park
8. West Morris
State team rankings
Speaking of team rankings, the media organizations who mix the public and private schools together in the rankings have it all wrong: Publics and privates should be separated when it comes to rankings.
You know how the parochial schools are crowding out the public schools at several regions? Well, the same is taking place in the rankings.
Schools like Southern, Delsea and Delaware Valley had terrific seasons but were buried in the rankings by the parochial schools. Schools such as those gather their wrestlers from a specific area. The Catholic schools, meanwhile, gather their athletes from an almost unlimited area. So why are they ranked in the same lists?
I’m not saying that the Parochial schools are wrong. They have every right to exist. But mixing the two when it comes to a statewide ranking is silly – and wrong.
The Bergen Record’s season-long football rankings have it right: Separate the publics and privates when it comes to final rankings.
So here is how the final state Top 20, according to the New Jersey Sportswriters, would look if we separated them.
Parochial Final Top 10
1. St. Joseph-Montvale
3. Bergen Catholic
4. St. Peter’s Prep
6. Paramus Catholic
7. Don Bosco
8. St. Joe’s-Metuchen
9. Seton Hall Prep
10. Camden Catholic
Public Final Top 10
3. Delaware Valley
5. Warren Hills
6. North Hunterdon
8. Hunterdon Central
9. Jackson Memorial
LaValle bounces back for third
Hanover Park’s Vincenzo LaValle took third in AC and showed how resilient he is at the state tournament. He may have done something more difficult than wrestling for a state championship. The Hornets 190-pounder lost in his semifinal match but then bounced back to win two matches in the wrestlebacks to place third in the state. That’s not easy.
LaValle's bid to win a state championship ended in the semifinals, when he lost a 3-2 decision to St. Peter's Prep's Anthony Harris.
"The goal is to win it," coach Tyler Branham said. "It was heartbreaking, but he was able to come back and collect himself to come back and beat two really tough kids."
LaValle, who finished third last year, bounced back in the wrestlebacks. First, he beat Howell's D.J. Henry, 5-2. Then, in the wrestleback or third place, he knocked off Absegami's George Rhodes, 5-4.
"He was able to come back and win not once, but twice, which isn't easy," Branham said. "He wasn't happy losing in the semifinals, but he collected himself ad wrestled two great matches. We are very proud of him."
Marauders make their presence felt
Jack Bastarrika and Anthony Moscatello have wrestled their final matches for Mount Olive. The two will be missed beyond words in the program. They came up through the ranks and have been Mount Olive wrestlers seemingly forever.
Bastarrika lost in the state finals to Brick Memorial’s eventual Outstanding Wrestler Anthony Santaniello, 10-0.
Bastarrika performed brilliantly in the clutch just to get to the finals. He trailed in his semifinal match to St. Peter's Prep's Donovan Chavis by three points before battling back to tie it and then had a takedown to win it in overtime.
"There was no panic, none at all," coach Sean Smyth said. "He's so cool, calm and collected. Just go out and get the next point in the match. He's a Virginia Tech commit, and he'll do really well there. He's a great kid with great grades and very mature."
Bastarrika was a standout growing up in the town.
Said Smyth, "One of the coaches said to me, 'You've got to see this kid, he'll be special.' And that coach was right. He has great skill and a great work ethic. Him and Anthony have been role models in our program.”
Moscatello wrestled back for seventh in the state, beating CBA’s Robert Canterino in the seventh-place match, 3-1.
"Anthony has been in the program since Kindergarten," Smyth said. "He is one of the kids who brought a change in our culture. He's blossomed as a wrestler. He has a great work ethic, he has great grades. Just a fantastic kid. Princeton is getting an awesome kid.
"You get to coach great kids as a coach, but he is more than great. He has had a tremendous career for us. Anything we have done as a program, he has been right in the middle of it, whether it is winning a Group IV championship, a sectional championship, or a district championship. I can always lean on him. With Anthony, it was always, 'I'm getting points here!'
Mount Olive’s 175-pound Tyler Bienus, meanwhile, found himself in one of the top weights in the state but that is just how he wanted it from the beginning of the year. He was seventh after beating Paramus Catholic’s Edward Terreri, 3-1.
"He told us where he was going to wrestle, and we said, 'Are you sure?'" Smyth said. "He said, 'There is no other weight I'd rather be. He came here and competed with the best kids in the state. He's wrestled the top kids in New Jersey and Pennsylvania."
"He is an absolute competitor," Smyth said. ""He is one of the hardest-working kids I have ever coaches. He is 100-percent wrestler all the time. We are looking forward to him coming back and placing next year down here."
Smyth was impressed with the Mount Olive contingent at the state tournament.
"The whole community of Mount Olive sold 85 tickets, which is a lot," he said. "Many of them didn't have any kids here but were neighbors, friends, friends of friends. As a coach, that is what we are trying to do as a program.”
Past State tournament sites
The state wrestling tournament has been held in Atlantic City every year since 1992. Before that, the states were held at Jadwin Gym in Princeton. Does anyone know where the states were held before that? Here is a look at where the states have been held, according to Cliff Sailer’s wonderful book Fifty Years of New Jersey High School wrestling.
By the way, in the early days, there were a handful of teams that were dominant: Newton, Roselle Park, Washington (now Warren Hills), Teaneck, Freehold, and Union, among a few others. Wrestling had nowhere near the same hold on the state back then as it does now.
1934-1937: Union High School.
1938: Grover Cleveland Junior High (Elizabeth).
1939-40: Teaneck High School.
1941: Springfield High School.
1942: Grover Cleveland Junior High (Elizabeth).
1943: Thomas Jefferson High School (Elizabeth).
1944-45: Roselle Park High School.
1946: Elizabeth High School.
1947-55: Elizabeth Armory.
1956: Rahway High School.
1957-58: Somerville High School.
1966-69: Asbury Park Convention Hall.
1970-91: Jadwin Gym, Princeton.
1992-present: Atlantic City.