Maroon Raider grapplers struggle through injuries


The Nutley High School wrestling team has a record of 4-7, but that’s not going to discourage the energetic Mike DiPiano from anything.

DiPiano, who also doubles as the girls’ soccer coach at the school, took over for his brother, Frank, last year when Frank went back to his alma mater to work on the program at St. Benedict’s Prep that their father, Mike, Sr., headed for ages.

Mike DiPiano didn’t expect for the Maroon Raiders to be struggling at the midway point of the season, but then again, he didn’t anticipate the four devastating injuries that have ravaged the Maroon Raiders’ lineup.

“We have two kids who tore a knee ligament and are out,” DiPiano said. “We have another (Sam Coppola) who was going to be one of our best wrestlers and he’s out. But I’m OK with it, because in all four of the weight classes, we have younger guys as backups. So it happened and we’re OK. It’s just that the younger kids get brought along faster than we thought they would. The freshmen are getting time with the varsity right away. I’m not concerned with wins and losses. We are who we are.”

So as the Maroon Raiders prepare for the Essex County Tournament this weekend at the Codey Arena in West Orange (Thursday and Friday at 5 p.m.), they might not be in contention for a team title like they have been in recent years.

“We’ve had a good couple of weeks with the younger kids,” DiPiano said. “The kids are getting it. They’re working real hard. We also have good coaches in the room working with them.”

Sophomore Dominic Cofone is the team’s 106-pounder. He was a standout at the same weight last year and won 25 matches.

“He’s going to be a kid who has a shot to get to Atlantic City,” DiPiano said. “He also has Montes blood in him.”

Cofone is the cousin of Nutley wrestling legends Anthony and Dante Montes, who are two of the most storied grapplers in the school’s program.

The 113-pound class is being shared by sophomore Shane Mainieri and freshman Jacob Gonzalez.

Senior Seamus Hargrave is the team’s 120-pounder.

“He’s been around for a while,” DiPiano said. “He works hard every day and gives us everything he has.”

Freshman Dean Polewka is the 126-pounder.

“Our goal is to make him better,” DiPiano said.

Senior Tarrin Goldberg is the 132-pounder.

“He is extremely smart, both on and off the mat,” DiPiano said. “We’re hoping to get him into Cornell. He’s that good of a student. But we’re going to take advantage of his smarts by putting him in the varsity lineup. He’s a competitor.”

Frank DiMaio is the team’s 138-pounder. DiMaio, a football standout, comes from a long line of Nutley athletes.

“His father was a starting quarterback on the football team during his day,” DiPiano said. “He’s the hardest worker we have on the team. He’s a tough kid. He has a shot to get to Atlantic City. He’s in every match. He’s like a throwback wrestler, like the kind of kid my father used to have.”

Senior Aaron Dunn is the team’s 145-pounder. A transfer from St. Mary’s of Rutherford (which dropped its wrestling program), Dunn was a region qualifier three years in a row for the Gaels.

“Can we get him to Atlantic City? He’s good enough to do it,” DiPiano said. “I’m glad we got him. He’s been a great addition to our program. We’re close to him getting his 100th win.”

Senior Joey DiPasquale is the team’s 152-pounder and one of the team’s captains.

“He’s a great kid who has a shot to get to Atlantic City,” DiPiano said. “He has the ability to do it. His brother Ralph is one of my assistant coaches, so we really want this for him.”

Junior Frank Gabriele is another football player who wrestles. Gabriele is the team’s 160-pounder.

C.J. Haddock, the captain of the soccer team, is the Maroon Raiders’ 170-pounder.

“All those guys are good friends who train together,” DiPiano said. “We have five guys for three spots. C.J. is a tough kid who thinks first about the team.”

Freshman Dan Jennings is handling his own at 182 pounds.

“He has a winning record,” DiPiano said. “He wants to learn. He listens to everything we tell him. After the match, he asks what he did right and what he did wrong. He’s a good kid.”

Justin Bivona is the team’s 195-pounder and is another senior captain who had a dream run at the end of last season that resulted in a trip to Atlantic City.

“He had an unbelievable run,” DiPiano said. “He had a losing record going into the districts and won there and finished third in the regions (Region 4). He can do the same this year.”

Senior John Sanchez is at the 220-pound class that Coppola would have occupied.

“He’s stepped in and given all that he has,” DiPiano said.

The heavyweight is junior Luis Abreu.

“He’s beginning to get it,” DiPiano said of Abreu.

There are 27 guys in the Nutley wrestling room who are clamoring for the chance to crack the lineup, so the competition is good for all of the Maroon Raiders.

“We have to wait and see what happens,” DiPiano said. “It all begins this 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.”