When Mike DiPiano took over the Nutley High School wrestling program from his brother, Frank, he wondered if he could continue the run of success that his brother established.
After all, Frank DiPiano had won four NJSIAA District 14 championships during his tenure as head coach of the Maroon Raiders, after Nutley had not won a district title over the previous 35 years.
“I don’t think it was pressure taking over,” Mike DiPiano said. “I thought we had a team that could do it again, win five in a row. I guess there’s always pressure, but it’s how you handle the pressure. Instead of being nervous, the kids wanted to keep it going. All week long, the kids kept saying, ‘Cinco.’ They embraced winning five in a row. They wanted it.”
Sure enough, the Maroon Raiders went out to keep the winning tradition alive, winning their fifth straight District 14 title in convincing fashion, defeating runner-up West Orange by 60 points Saturday at Livingston High School.
The Maroon Raiders crowned four individual champions, all four with their own unique stories.
Incredibly, two of the Maroon Raiders’ mainstays, 138-pounder Robert Duxbury and 152-pounder Darwin Pena, both lost their final bouts, which made the Maroon Raiders’ team title even more impressive.
“They didn’t win, so it was up to what everyone else could do,” DiPiano said. “I think it shows the depth of the team and the courage of the others to step it up.”
Sophomore Frank DiMaio won the 132-pound title with a 6-4 victory over Brad Murillo of Belleville.
“DiMaio is already showing signs of being a good leader for us,” DiPiano said.
Junior Joseph DiPasquale won his 145-pound title in impressive fashion, gaining a technical fall over Abraham Dada of West Orange, winning 19-3 in 4:25.
Senior John Zarro won the 160-pound crown, defeating Joseph Nguyen of Belleville, 4-3, in the finals.
“He never won a tournament of any kind before,” DiPiano said. “He took second a couple of times in different tournaments, but never won. I was proud of the way he wrestled.”
Finally, junior Justin Bivona was the most unlikely of district champions.
“He’s been up and down all year,” DiPiano said.
At one point this season, Bivona had a less-than-stellar 3-10 record.
“Then, he started winning and was putting it all together,” DiPiano said.
Bivona capped off his amazing turnaround to win the 182-pound title over Kasson Quince-McGee of Montclair, winning in sudden death fashion by a 3-1 score in overtime.
“It really was a great moment for him,” DiPiano said. “We had others step up to make sure we continued what was started before them. They didn’t want to be the ones to see the streak end. They wanted to continue that. It’s exciting for our kids to move on and have a chance to get to Atlantic City (for the state championships in two weeks).”
Duxbury and Pena were runners-up, so they get to move on to the Region 4 tournament this weekend at West Orange High School, as does fellow second-place finisher Sabino Coppola (220 pounds) and third place finishers Domonic Cofone (106 pounds) and Francesco Gabriele (126 pounds).
Besides second place finishers Murillo and Nguyen, Belleville saw 138-pounder Joseph Buonanno move on as a third place finisher.
Bloomfield saw 126-pounder Pablo Estevez, 170-pounder Barak Pipkins, 195-pounder Noel Eustquio and 220-pounder Adam Lutick win District 14 gold.
At District 15 in Ridgefield Park, Queen of Peace made a gallant effort to try to capture the team title, but finished second behind state sectional champ Clifton by 23 points.
It was an emotional time for the Golden Griffins, who had to compete without their head coach Scot Weaver.
Weaver was hospitalized for a stint with an undisclosed illness and had to miss the tourney.
“It was shocking to hear that he wasn’t going to be able to coach us,” said 152-pound sophomore Garrett Beam, who won the District 15 gold medal via a second period pin. “We all miss him a lot and we all dedicated this tournament to him. It is a little strange not having him here. It definitely motivated me more.”
Junior Dominic Maniero won the 182-pound title with a solid 17-5 decision over Jordan Colon of Becton/Wallington. Maniero is a Nutley resident who last year won a District 8 title for St. Joseph of Montvale and finished eighth overall in the state.
“I want to be high up on that podium this year,” said Maniero, who improved his seasonal mark to 31-3 heading into the Region 4 tourney this weekend. “I felt pretty confident coming in, but this gave me even more confidence.”
The Golden Griffins dominated the lighter weight classes, winning at 106, 113 and 120 pounds.
Sophomore Matthew Armamento won the 106-pound class with a 13-2 win over Matthew Daub of Lyndhurst/North Arlington.
Sophomore Enrique Sanchez, a resident of North Arlington, won the 113-pound gold medal with a 10-1 decision over Peter Innis of Hasbrouck Heights. Sanchez was the top seed in the bracket and takes a 27-4 record into the region tourney.
And Ray Wetzel won the 120-pound crown, defeating two-time District 15 champ Phil Ruiz by a 1-0 decision. Wetzel, a junior, won his second District 15 title.
QP’s Michael Scaravelli, who won his 100th career match in the district quarterfinals, lost in the 132-pound finale to James Murdoch of Clifton, 7-3. The win gave Murdoch 100 wins for his career.
Interim QP head coach Jason Silverstein said that the goal was to send as many wrestlers to Region 4 as possible, so the Golden Griffins will have six participants in the tourney.
“Definitely, things were different without having our leader (Weaver) here,” Silverstein said. “But we can’t use that as an excuse. However, any time you don’t have someone like Coach Weaver here, you suffer. It was definitely different not having him here. It’s a lot easier when he’s here.”
Silverstein was pleased with Sanchez’s performance.
“This was a big win for him,” Silverstein said. “He’s been moving forward after beating (Michael) Simonetti of St. Peter’s Prep. I’m very happy with the way he’s been practicing. It’s paying off in the end.”
Besides runner-up Daub, Lyndhurst/North Arlington will send 120-pounder Devin Yunis, 145-pounder Andrew Fernandez, 182-pounder Matthew DeMarco and 220-pounder Michael Cooper to Region 4. Yunis, Fernandez, DeMarco and Cooper all finished third at District 15.
The five wrestlers is the highest competitor total for the Golden Bears in several years.
Kearny saw Travis Witt finish as a runner-up in District 16 in North Bergen and teammates Jason Dukhi (113 pounds) and Lukasz Glazewski (170 pounds) finish third, punching their ticket to Region 4.
The Region 4 tourney begins Wednesday night with the pre-quarterfinal round for those who did not win district titles over the weekend.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”