By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Mike Goff is in his third year coaching the Lyndhurst-North Arlington High Schools wrestling cooperative and the energetic coach feels much more at home now.
“I’m a little more settled in,” Goff said. “The kids all know me. The team is made up of juniors that I had as freshmen. I think we’re moving in the right direction. We’re still a work in progress, but we’re much improved. We’re fighting and going into matches thinking we can win. We’re putting ourselves in situations where we can win.”
That was evident on Saturday, when the Golden Bears/ Vikings defeated Kearny and Orange and battled perennial Group IV playoff contender Livingston down to the final bout.
“I think we’re at the point where we’re starting to break through,” Goff said. “We’re in a good position right now.”
Lyndhurst-North Arlington, which features wrestlers from both high schools, lost close matches to Belleville and Lodi in the last few weeks.
“We were in both matches,” Goff said. “I think that shows the kids that we’re moving in the right direction.”
The interest is definitely there as well. Goff had a total of 31 prospective wrestlers try out for the team last month.
“It’s the most we ever had,” Goff said. “I do like the makeup of this team. There’s good chemistry.”
So much so that they went to a wrestling team camp at The College of New Jersey last summer – despite the fact that the team is comprised of kids from two different neighboring schools that are generally archrivals.
“They all hang out together and get along so well,” said Goff, who took his entire team bowling Sunday afternoon.
There’s another aspect to the team’s camaraderie – namely their hair color. More than half of the team has dyed their hair bleach blond as a sign of unity.
“It’s a close-knit group,” Goff said. “We have a group of juniors who have been doing it (dying their hair) since fifth grade. I didn’t think we’d have that many this year, but 16 kids have done it.”
As long as the Golden Bears/ Vikings continue to win, they could dye their hair green and it wouldn’t matter to Goff.
“It just shows that we’re all on the same page together,” Goff said.
A quick glance of the Golden Bears/Vikings’ roster right now shows a very young team with a good balance of both Lyndhurst and North Arlington students.
Freshman Matt Daub is the team’s 106-pounder.
“He’s doing very well,” Goff said. “He wrestles all year round, so he has good experience as a wrestler. There’s still a big learning curve as a freshman.”
Sophomore Conor Yunis is a fixture at 113 pounds.
“He had a good year for us last year at 106 pounds,” Goff said of Yanis.
Junior Corey Leclerc is one of the team’s top returning wrestlers. Leclerc holds down the 120-pound weight class. “Corey was third in the districts and made it to the second day of the regions,” Goff said. “We’re expecting bigger things from him this year.”
Junior Devin Yunis is the team’s 126-pounder.
“He’s come a long way since freshman year,” Goff said of the elder Yunis. “Now, he’s quick on his feet and picked up from where he left off last year. He’s a tough kid.”
All four of the aforementioned wrestlers attend Lyndhurst High School.
The team’s 132-pounder, Louis Arzuaga, is from North Arlington, so he has to commute daily from NA to Lyndhurst for practices. Now that’s dedication.
“Louis has picked up where he left off last year and he’s part of the junior class I have that is rock solid,” Goff said. “Louis is another tough kid who puts up a fight every time out. He’s a fighter.”
Junior Andrew Fernandez is another North Arlington student. Fernandez is a junior at 138 pounds.
“He’s very strong and very agile,” Goff said of Fernandez. “He uses his strength to his advantage.”
Christien Campana is a newcomer to the local scene. Campana, the team’s 145-pounder, is a transfer from Pennsylvania.
“He’s a very technical wrestler and fits in well with the rest of the team,” Goff said of Campana.
Nick Fernandez, a freshman and the younger brother of Andrew, is the team’s 152-pounder.
“He’s jumping into a tough weight class,” Goff said of the North Arlington freshman. “But he’s holding his own.”
Senior Rocco Russomano is the team’s 160-pounder. Russomano missed all of last year with a foot injury that required surgery.
“He’s back and on the right path,” Goff said of Russomano, a Lyndhurst student. “It helps us a lot having Rocco back.”
The team’s 170-pounder is perhaps the team’s best wrestler in junior Matt DeMarco, who finished second in the District 15 last year and was a qualifier for the Region 2 tournament.
“If we have him healthy, it means a lot to the team,” Goff said. “I’m expecting a lot from Matt.”
North Arlington High School senior Giuseppe Gugliuzza is the team’s 182-pounder.
“He’s a tough kid and a very strong kid,” Goff said. “He knows how to use his strength to his advantage.”
Junior Michael Cooper is the team’s 220-pound student. Cooper attends Lyndhurst.
“He’s improved like five times more than he was last year,” Goff said.
Junior Ryan Smith, also a Lyndhurst student, is the team’s heavyweight.
“He’s a new kid that I got from off the football team,” Goff said. “He fits in well with our lineup.”
Even though Smith is brand new to wrestling, he won all three of his matches Saturday in the tri-meet at Kearny with Orange and Livingston.
“He’s done pretty well so far,” Goff said.
The team holds a 5-6 record, which isn’t good enough to qualify for the NJSIAA team sectional championships.
“We don’t think the idea of being in the state tournament is farfetched,” Goff said. “It can happen. We’ve been in every match this year. There have been no blowouts. We set the goal of competing for a state sectional title. We just need a little patience.”
The team faces Becton on the road Wednesday, followed by a matchup with 13-3 Garfield at the North Arlington gymnasium at 7 p.m. That should be a treat for the North Arlington contingent, getting a chance to wrestle on their home floor.
The team then returns to action Saturday in a quad meet with Vernon, Cliffside Park and Hasbrouck Heights at Hasbrouck Heights. Sure looks like a make or break week for Goff and his young team of blond merry men.
“It’s a big week for us,” Goff said. “There’s no question we have to do well this weekend.”
At least the term winning is being associated with Lyndhurst wrestling once again.