MHS teams set for February action

Wrestlers, cagers hit home stretch

By: Rudy Brandl
   The Manville High girls’ basketball team pumped a little life into the school’s February athletic schedule with last Saturday night’s victory at Gill St. Bernards in the Somerset County Tournament.
   For one thing, the victory kept alive the team’s hopes to qualify for the Central Jersey Group 1 playoffs. It also earned the Lady Mustangs a second round date at fifth-ranked Hillsborough, a big-time team that’s having an up-and-down season.
   With the wrestling and boys’ basketball teams long out of state playoff contention, all hopes for post-season action rest on the young shoulders of the Manville girls. The team entered the week with a 6-7 record, so it needs to win at least two of three to achieve a .500 record by the Feb. 4 cutoff.
   Here’s a team-by-team look at what’s ahead in the month of February:
   Girls’ Basketball – Kyle Rehrig’s bunch deserves plenty of credit for pulling out a county tournament victory on the road on a Saturday night. If they can find a way to make the state playoffs, they certainly will have earned it. Belvidere and Hillsborough are two very good teams that will be difficult to beat.
   Even if the Lady Mustangs don’t make it to 8-8 by Saturday afternoon after their 1 p.m. county game at Hillsborough, they’re still having an exciting year. Saturday’s win at Gill was nice, but several near-misses earlier in the season may have cost this feisty bunch a trip to the states.
   The MHS girls have been hovering around .500 all season and could finish with a winning record. Upcoming games include home dates vs. St. Mary’s (Feb. 7), Roselle Park (Feb. 14) and David Brearley (Feb. 17) and a road game at Newark Technology (Feb. 16).
   Boys’ Basketball – The Mustangs (3-12) were rocked in Saturday’s first round SCT game at Hillsborough, but playing a Group 4 school should prepare them for an upcoming stretch of very winnable games.
   MHS head coach Larry Blasi and his players were looking forward to starting a winning streak on their home floor this week. Sussex Tech, Belvidere and Bound Brook were coming to town and the Mustangs match up with all three clubs. They were particularly fired-up about Friday night’s game vs. Bound Brook, a team that defeated them earlier this season.
   "These are games we can play well in and win," Blasi said. "We have to keep building confidence. We just have to keep working hard and playing."
   Last weekend’s logjam of games forced Friday night’s home contest vs. Jonathan Dayton to be rescheduled for Feb. 13. The Mustangs lost a close one in Springfield in the first meeting, so they’ll be looking to settle a score in the season finale.
   Wrestling – Head coach Brett Stibitz is guiding his young troops through the toughest part of their season, hoping they’ll learn enough to make them more competitive at the end of the season.
   That’s when the Mustangs have a handful of winnable team matches in the second week of February and then the District 18 Championships at the end of the month. Manville was rocked by Union County powers Roselle Park and Rahway last week. Things won’t get much easier vs. North Plainfield and David Brearley, but the team could post victories in its home finale vs. Newark Central (Feb. 8) and in a season-ending tri-meet with Pingry and Orange.
   Heavyweight Mark Manderski is having a nice season. He finished third in the Somerset County Tournament and won the Princeton jayvee tourney in December. He leads the Mustangs with an 8-4 record.
   Other Mustang individuals who have shown some spark include freshman 112-pounder Wayne Snell, junior 135-pounder Roland Yakobchuk and sophomore 171-pounder Glen Hall. The Mustangs aren’t giving away a lot of points to forfeits, so they should be competitive against teams like Central and Pingry that have lots of holes in their lineup.
   The district tournament at Hillsborough will present a whole new challenge, but the Mustangs won’t see much better competition than they’ve faced against teams like Rahway, New Providence and Roselle Park. Still, it will be difficult for any MHS individuals to qualify for the Region 5 Tournament. Manderski placed in the county so he’ll have the team’s best shot of making it out of the district.