Golden Griffin wrestlers enjoy golden weekend in AC

The Queen of Peace wrestling team’s sojourn to Atlantic City and the NJSIAA state championships began Friday with a historic first night, winning seven of eight matches.

It ended Sunday with three wrestlers earning medals among the top eight in the state and three others finishing among the top 12 in their respective weight brackets.

Needless to say, despite no one coming away with the coveted state championship, it was indeed a weekend to remember for the Golden Griffins.

“When the coaching staff met in a huddle, we all agreed that it was a great effort,” said QP head wrestling coach Scot Weaver. “That goes for the entire team down to the final minute. We’re happy with it.”

If there was a sense of disappointment, it had to come from senior Dominic Mainiero, who suffered a controversial and heartbreaking 6-5 loss in the 182-pound semifinals to George Walton of Bound Brook by a tiebreaker after overtime.

Mainiero did manage to wrestle back on Sunday to win twice and take home the third place medal in the bracket.

But there was no consolation to Mainiero’s defeat. It still amazed onlookers how Mainiero actually lost the bout.

“It was a questionable call,” Weaver said of a late two-point takedown on Mainiero that didn’t appear to be a takedown at all. “The rules state otherwise. But the call was made and we have to live with it. For Dom to lose, then come back and win two is a credit to him. He could have folded up, but after the loss, he wanted third.”

And his two victories on Sunday came with his future coaches at Kutztown University looking on.

“I know they were impressed with the way he bounced back,” Weaver said.

The next best Golden Griffin finisher was sophomore Enrique Sanchez, who took fourth at 113 pounds. Sanchez suffered an early loss in the pre-quarterfinal round to Mitchell Polito of East Brunswick, but then had to win an ungodly total of six matches in order to claim his fourth place finish.

“What a tournament he put together,” Weaver said of Sanchez, the North Arlington resident. “When he’s on, he can wrestle with anyone. Our conditioning as a team is very strong. Enrique showed a lot of determination all weekend. For him to put on a run like he did is incredible. He puts himself in position to score with his hips. He has freakish hips.”

The third medalist among the Golden Griffins is senior 132-pounder Ray Wetzel, who finished fifth overall. Wetzel capped a stellar QP career with his second straight medal at the states.

“He finished his career with a win, which is nice,” Weaver said. “He ended up with 118 wins. He’s a special wrestler.”

Perhaps one of the feel good stories of the state tournament was the run put on by freshman Will Grater, who was seeded 30th out of 32 wrestlers in the 106-pound class.

Grater won his first two matches on Friday night, including a thrilling 4-3 win over No. 3 seed McKenzie Bell of Kingsway to advance to the quarterfinal round.

Grater then managed to fall just one win shy of a medal, but finished among the top 12 in the weight class, not bad for someone seeded so low.

“He’s just a happy, quiet kid,” Weaver said of Grater. “There were no expectations of him at all. For him to knock off the third seed like that is phenomenal. Any time you win one match at the states, it’s memorable.”

Grater ended up winning three times over the weekend.

Others to finish among the top 12 in their classes were Garrett Beam in the 145-pound class and Jacob Cardenas in the 170-pound class. Matt Armamento was among the top 16 in the 120-pound bracket.

If there was a team score placed on what the Golden Griffins achieved over the weekend, they would have finished sixth overall. That’s a great run for a program that was just revived a little over a year ago. Credit goes to Weaver and his staff for producing such a spirited and determined group of wrestlers.

“There was a buzz around the arena, saying, ‘Hey, take a look at this Queen of Peace team,’” Weaver said. “I thought we had a tremendous Friday and needed some breaks Saturday. But if we can say we finished sixth in the state at the state championships, then that’s tremendous.”

And gives Weaver a lot of hope for the future of the program. Now, if the school can only remain open past this year. 

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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.”