Hopewell wrestling team puts scare into Lawrence

Hopewell Valley wrestling

By: Mike Molaro
   The Hopewell Valley Central High School wrestling squad might not be a powerhouse just yet, but it might not be long before the Bulldogs make their presence felt.
   HoVal (3-5 overall, 1-2 in the Colonial Valley Conference) recorded a pair of victories last Saturday by dominating visiting Trenton 67-6 and Penns Grove 59-21. Its most impressive outing, though, might be the 41-30 setback at Lawrence on Jan. 4.
   The Cardinals, who have ruled the CVC for the past two-plus seasons, had all they could handle from a determined Bulldog team that almost pulled off the upset.
   "We wrestled Lawrence well," HoVal coach Mario Harpel said. "We won six of the 11 matches wrestled.
   "We didn’t back down. That’s a step in the right direction."
   HoVal received pins from seniors Roger Tower at 130 pounds (5:31), Anthony Lebbad at 103 (1:53) and Nick Kilstein at 135 (2:49), as well as sophomore George Saliba at 215 (3:58). Also victorious against Lawrence were juniors Bo Parker at 275 (7-2) and Warren Gerstacker at 130 (5-3 in overtime).
   The Bulldogs took a 30-26 lead with three straight victories at 130, 135 and 140.
   "The guys felt good after the outing," Harpel said. "I don’t know if they know how close they came to wining. This time, we wrestled well and wrestled with determination. Next time we want to take the win."
   Tower and Kilstein continued their tremendous wrestling with a pair of pins last Saturday, with Tower earning a 30-second fall against Trenton and a 1:34 fall against Penns Grove and Kilstein pinning in 2:42 against Trenton and 40 seconds against Penns Grove. Also recording double pins were sophomore Donnie McLane at 170 (2:27 against Trenton, 1:34 against Penns Grove) and freshman Matt Barnabei at 125 (2:27 against Trenton, 43 seconds against Penns Grove).
   From top to bottom, the Bulldogs reigned supreme.
   "We competed straight through the lineup," Harpel said. "We wrestled hard. Things went very well for us."
   Also victorious against the Tornadoes were sophomore Scott Yaros at 152 (12-9), Saliba at 189 (pin, 1:55), Parker at 215 (pin, 2:18), freshman Matt Pagano at 275 (disqualification), Lebbad (forfeit), freshman Tom Jones at 112 (forfeit), Gerstacker (pin, 1:08) and freshman John Gangi at 145 (11-3 major decision).
   Winning against Penns Grove were Saliba at 189 (injury default), Lebbad (pin, 39 seconds), Jones (pin, 5:18), Gerstacker (forfeit), freshman Chris Brezynski at 135 (forfeit) and Yaros (forfeit).
   A big plus for the Bulldog varsity program is the feeder system providing the solid foundation for the younger guys to learn the fundamentals and arrive at HoVal ready to rumble.
   "Chris Franco, the head coach of the middle school, and Rick Anderson, who runs the youth program through the Recreation Department, have done a superb job," Harpel said. "The freshmen coming in have gone through the programs and are further along than most people think.
   "Having those youth programs is a huge reason we are headed in the right direction."
   When Harpel took over the reigns this season, he brought with him one major philosophy: prepare, prepare, prepare.
   "My main focus as a coach has always been preparation," Harpel said. "I want the guys to be prepared and focused. The wins will come.
   "The excellent performances this week were the results of their hard work in the room. We had 20 guys focused and prepared. I’m extremely confident that good things will happen for this team."
   While the Bulldogs have not been a CVC power for some time, it would be foolish for future opponents to overlook this young team of determined athletes.
   "I think we surprised Lawrence," Harpel said. "They haven’t lost in the CVC in two-and-a-half years. They know they were in a battle. Not many teams mention us when they talk about the CVC or the Patriot Division.
   "There’s no reason we can’t compete if the guys stay focused. And I know they will."
   What makes things even more exciting is the fact Hopewell has 12 are freshmen and three sophomores among its 20 wrestlers.
   "We are building a nice program," Harpel said. "I think the match against Lawrence really showed the guys how far they have come and how much potential this team has.
   "We want to build on each match. We truly believe that our future is now."
• NOTES: The Bulldogs were scheduled to host non-league opponent Manville on Wednesday night and host West Windsor-Plainsboro North on Saturday.