Focused Green Wave ready for a battle


There is nothing more exciting than a showdown of the top-two teams, regardless of the sport, or the level of competition.

Anytime you have two undefeated teams, both with a right to be called the state’s best, ready to do battle in a contest they’ve been anticipating since the first day of practice, it makes for some high drama.

That is exactly what the Long Branch High School wrestling team has on its agenda for tomorrow night.

The Green Wave, last year’s No. 1- ranked team in the state, will be entering as hostile an environment as you can find tomorrow night when they travel to High Point, home of one of the region’s top wrestling programs. The hosting Panthers are currently the top-ranked team in the state, and are still smarting from their defeat to Long Branch a year ago. In that match, held at Rutgers University’s Brown Athletic Center, the two teams actually tied, 27-27, with the Green Wave earning the victory as a result of winning eight matches to High Point’s six.

High Point never really had a chance to redeem itself following the defeat, as the team was ruled ineligible to participate in the NJSIAA Team Tournament because it did not wrestle 70 percent of its matches against NJSIAA opponents by the cutoff date for the tournament.

As a result, the Panthers had no choice but to stew over what could have been. Long Branch, meanwhile, went on to finish the season undefeated, win its second consecutive Group II state championship, and earn the title of the state’s top team. With 64 wins in its last 65 matches, Long Branch is very much on top of its game heading into the showdown, despite losing some key members of last year’s team to graduation. Gone are Justin Clarke, Jon Robertson, Andrew Balina, Randy Rodriguez and Amir Washington — who combined for 147 wins a year ago.

But the cupboard is hardly bare, and with an 11-0 mark thus far, head coach Dan George’s team has looked every bit as good as advertised. This past weekend, Long Branch took a big step toward securing its third straight Shore Conference B North championship with a dominating 45-15 win over a solid Ocean Township team.

The Wave took control early, winning the first five matches, and won 10 of 14 bouts overall. As a team, they allowed just one takedown the entire match, while recording shutouts in four of the bouts. The highlight was senior Nick Visicaro’s win at 160 pounds (a pin in 3:15). With the victory, last year’s 160-pound state champion further cemented his status as a wrestling legend within a program that has certainly had its share, by claiming his 127th victory, a new school record.

With the record, Visicaro passed two of the greatest wrestlers in Shore Conference history. Earlier this season, he had passed Luke Skove, a three-time state champ from 1979-81. Then, on Saturday, he passed the great Sam Cole, who was the state champ at 116 in 1986, and a state runner-up the following two seasons.

Now that the school record is out of the way, Visicaro can focus on what is sure to be one of the key match-ups of the night against High Point. He is likely to face John Guzzo, who, like Visicaro, has started the year undefeated (5-0) and should contend for a state title.

In fact, there are several grapplers within the Panthers line-up that have yet to lose a match this year, despite facing some daunting competition.

On Dec. 30, High Point hosted another Shore Conference power, Jackson Memorial, and won a decisive 36-20 match, capturing eight bouts, including four pinfalls. While Jackson Memorial may not have quite the depth and talent that Long Branch has throughout its line-up, the Jaguars are certainly a formidable foe, as evidenced by their impressive 36-19 win over Brick Memorial on Saturday. Brick Memorial was ranked as high as third in the state in some polls prior to their loss on Saturday, suggesting that perhaps Jackson Memorial is a more dangerous team than people realized entering the year. The Jaguars and Mustangs are likely to meet twice more this season in the Shore Conference Tournament and the NJSIAA Group IV tournament, and will certainly pose a serious threat to Long Branch’s pursuit of perfection once again.

But for now, the Green Wave has its sights set on Friday night’s affair with High Point. The Panthers enter the bout with what some people are calling a more complete line-up, as they didn’t lose nearly as much to graduation as Long Branch did. In addition, they certainly will get an edge as the home team.

However, at the end of the day it will come down to match-ups, and Danny George’s squad has proven to be at its best when the stakes are highest. Either the atmosphere or their opponent will not intimidate them.

Long Branch has earned the right to have a swagger, and tomorrow night they will look to prove once again that they are the elite team in the state.