Golden Griffins’ strong group headed to AC for state wrestling

It’s safe to say that the disappointment the Queen of Peace wrestling team experienced after a loss in the NJSIAA team sectional finals is a thing of the past.

That’s because the Golden Griffins will send a total of seven wrestlers to the NJSIAA state championships this weekend at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, easily the highest total in northern New Jersey.

How impressive is the QP contingency headed to New Jersey’s gambling capital?

Well, Nutley is the only other program in The Observer circulation area to have a representative in Atlantic City – and the Maroon Raiders, a perennially strong team in their own right, will have just one wrestler at Atlantic City.

The rest were totally shut out, unable to get a single wrestler to finish among the top four at last weekend’s eight regional tournaments.

The Golden Griffins crowned two champions at the Region 3 tournament at West Orange last Saturday, namely 182-pounder Dominic Mainiero and 132-pounder Ray Wetzel.

Mainiero defeated L.J. Castellano of Delbarton in the finals, 3-1, while Wetzel defeated Lou Raimo of Hanover Park, 5-2, in the title bout.

“Any time you beat a Raimo, you know it’s a quality win,” said QP head coach Scot Weaver. “It really looked like a college match. Ray is wrestling better now than he has ever with us. He’s peaking at the right time.”

Wetzel made his decision about college last week, giving a verbal commitment to Ithaca College. Weaver believes that the college choice took a huge weight off Wetzel’s shoulders.

“Ray is a smart kid who wants to get his master’s in engineering from Cornell,” Weaver said. “It’s all about the academics with him. They have a great five-year program there at Ithaca. He’s in a good place right now.”

Mainiero and Wetzel receive byes into the preliminary round, meaning that they only have to win once in Atlantic City to secure a medal among the top eight in the state.

Mainiero, the Nutley resident, was well rested and felt strong going into action last weekend.

“It helped a lot that I had some time off,” Mainiero said. “It gave me some time to rest.”

It also helped that Mainiero knew his opponent in the final – Castellano – very well.

“I’ve been wrestling with L.J. since I’ve been a little kid,” Mainiero said. “We were on the same national team and we traveled together. We’re friends except when we’re wrestling each other. Off the mat, we’re friends. On the mat, the wrestler’s mindset kicks in.”

Mainiero said that he took advantage of his knowledge of Castellano’s wrestling style and approach.

“I knew that I could escape from bottom,” Mainiero said of the first point he scored. “I was able to get a feel of what he was doing. In the third period, I just rode him out and got the win. I was pretty confident that I could score.”

“Dom is in the perfect place right now,” Weaver said. “Over the last three weeks, he’s been enjoying himself in practice and having fun. It’s showing in his performances on the mat. He was in a real physical match in the final and that’s how he likes to wrestle.”

Mainiero finished in the seventh/eighth position at the state tournament last year. He’s looking for more this time around.

“I feel very good about everything,” Mainiero said. “I feel strong. I feel fast. I feel ready for anything.”

Mainiero is also happy that so many of his teammates are going to Atlantic City as well.

“We’ve all worked hard all season,” Mainiero said. “It’s a good feeling to know that the guys you worked hard with are with you and have your back. I’m very prepared for this weekend.”

In addition to the two champions, the Griffins will send Matt Armamento (second at 120 pounds), Garrett Beam (second at 145 pounds), Enrique Sanchez (third at 113 pounds), Will Grater (fourth at 106 pounds) and Jacob Cardenas (fourth at 170 pounds) to the boardwalk this Friday.

“Sanchez wrestled real well,” Weaver said. “He got into a scramble in one match, tied 4-4 and that was it. Cardenas took fourth after losing two one-point matches. Armamento was second. He’s just a great kid, a workaholic. His leadership and companionship is second to none.”

For the first time, the state tournament will include the fourth place region finisher.

“It’s a goal of ours to get as many kids through to the states,” Weaver said. “Beam took second. He got taken down early and then battled back and lost by a point.”

“I’m just so hungry from last year,” said Beam, who placed in the seventh/eighth spot in the state tourney last year. “I’m glad we had a lot of guys come through. I’m fine with finishing second. I just have to go down to Atlantic City hungry again. I can never take anything lightly. It’s crazy. Last year, we only had three make it through and this year, we have seven. I feel healthy and ready to go. There’s nothing like going to the states. I’m getting a chance to be with the greatest in the state once again.”

So are six of Beam’s teammates. It should be a great weekend for the Golden Griffins in Atlantic City.

“I’m happy about it,” Weaver said. “It’s a testament to the kids’ hard work, the assistant coaches, the parents, everyone. For us to be this competitive with programs like Hanover Park, Delbarton and Phillipsburg, considered by many to be the best in the state. It’s a great achievement.”

Aaron Dunn of Nutley is the only local wrestler outside of QP to make it to Atlantic City. The Nutley senior 145-pounder won his consolation bout against Justin LeMay of West Morris, 5-3, to punch his ticket to Atlantic City.

In a total rarity, every other local school fell short. Maybe it was the restructuring of the entire state that hurt the local wrestler. In any case, QP will hold the banner for the area in Atlantic City 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.”