It was a week to remember for the Wayne Valley wrestling team. Coach Todd Schroeder saw his team rally from big deficits in the North 1, Group 4 semifinals and championship round to capture the program’s second state crown in the last five years.
Wayne Valley finished the regular season with an 18-5 record after losing to Phillipsburg in the Group 4 semifinal, on Feb. 10, in Toms River. The Indians will compete in what will be a rugged District 7, at Bergen Catholic, in Oradell, on Feb. 16. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at District 7 will move onto the Region 2 championships, at Mount Olive, in Flanders, which begins on Feb. 20, continues to Feb. 22 and concludes a day later. The top four wrestlers in each weight at all eight regions throughout the state move on to the state championships, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from Feb. 28-March 2.
Ryan and Sean Hammer had a huge impact on a state championship run. (Click on photo for larger image)
Wayne Valley’s run to the sectional championship gained a lot of steam on Feb. 6, when the Indians came back from 21-4 down to defeat Mount Olive, 37-31, at home, in the sectional semifinals. The Indians were led by Ryan Hammer and Sean Hammer, who won back-to-back matches at 126 and 132 pounds to cut into the deficit. Valley then got wins from Adam Tsay, who won a huge match at 145 pounds, by fall, after trailing for most of the bout, Elijah Lugo, who bumped up two weight classes to win by decision at 152, Nick Duncan (160), Reid Colella (170), Dan Murphy (182) and Nick Trani, who opened the match with a win at 220 pounds.
Left to right, Jordan Botero, Nick Duncan, Nick Trani, Dan Murphy, Reid Colella and Elijah Lugo after the state sectional championship was secured. (Click on photo for larger image)
In the title bout, at top-seeded Roxbury on Feb. 8, Wayne Valley, the second seed, fell behind 16-0 before the Hammer brothers came through again, with consecutive wins to narrow the Gaels’ lead to 16-6. Lugo was back at 138 pounds and won his match, by decision, before a big pin by Matt Jimenez made it 16-15, Roxbury. Later, with the Indians down, 25-15, Colella got a pin for his 100th career victory, at 170 pounds and then, with the score 31-21, Wayne Valley won the final three bouts to prevail, 33-31. Murphy won by decision at 195 pounds, Trani remained unbeaten with a pin at 220 and Jordan Botero wrapped it up with a dramatic victory, in four overtimes, when he escaped with 2.8 seconds left for the winning point.
Jordan Botero, taking in the moment, after winning the final bout in four overtimes. (Click on photo for larger image)
“Crazy,” said Schroeder afterward. “These kids are incredible. They’ve worked so hard this season and came back from a lot of adversity, against a really tough schedule. And to win it they way we did, with Jordan escaping at the buzzer, was something else. I’m so proud of them.”
The win moved the Indians into the Group 4 semifinals, in Toms River, on Feb. 10. There, the team fell short to Phillipsburg, 44-16. Trani, Colella, Murphy and Botero had wins for Valley, with Colella gaining the Indians’ only fall.
“I told our kids to be proud,” said Schroeder afterward. “We won a sectional five years ago, and those kids were tremendous. But this group? They really did something special this year. They won a state championship in incredible fashion. It’s something they should always look back at with pride.”
Getting ready for the districts means facing the state’s best team, in Bergen Catholic, among others.
“It’s a tough district,” said Schroeder. “But this is what we’ve been preparing for all season. We faced a strong schedule, which put us in good position to win a sectional title. Now, we’ve got two weeks left and hopefully, we’ll be ready to peak.”
Wayne Valley coaches enjoying the moment. (Click on photo for larger image).
Thanks to Christine Colella for the photos.