Wild weekend of wrestling for locals;Lyndhurst’s Dylan Weaver; Kearny native Mullen win Region gold

Jimmy Mullen only heard stories about what it was like to wrestle at an NJSIAA Region championship.

After all, the Kearny native is still only a freshman at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, so Mullen had never competed in a region tournament before this weekend’s Region 1 tournament at West Milford.

“Everything up there is amazing,” Mullen said of his sojourn to the mountainous region of northern New Jersey. “I felt a little nervous, like I did during the districts, but this time, for some reason, I felt more comfortable. At the districts, I knew that if I lost the first round, I was lost and done. After that first match, every nerve that I had in my body went away.”

Mullen proved that by winning the Region 1 championship at 285 pounds (heavyweight), even though Mullen, through weight training and diet, is now down to 230 pounds these days. After a brilliant football season, playing defensive end for the Green Knights, also as a freshman, Mullen has continued his prowess through the wrestling season, proven by his immense success at the Region 1.

“I’m doing all the same things I always did all season long,” Mullen said. “I’m sticking with whatever works. It’s been working all season, so I can’t switch up now.”

Mullen gained a 4-0 decision over Jakob Shapiro of Fair Lawn in the championship round. He said that the weight differential, surrendering as much as 55 pounds to most opponents is “noticeable.”

“Not having the size is difficult, but I make up for it with speed and technique,” Mullen said. “I’m used to being undersized. And age doesn’t matter either.”

Mullen said that he received a special message from his long-time friend, namely two-time NJSIAA state champion Jacob Cardenas, now wrestling at Cornell.

“He texted me and said, ‘Congrats, kid, keep it up,’” Mullen said. “That kid meant everything to me. We’re really close. He said, ‘Now it’s on to AC.’”

Mullen is just one of nine local wrestlers who punched their ticket to the NJSIAA state championships next weekend at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

“It feels good, going to Atlantic City as a freshman,” Mullen said. “I’m happy to be one of the local guys going. I’m going to try my best down there.”

The other local region champion is Dylan Weaver of Lyndhurst, who repeated as the Region 3 champion at 152 pounds at West Orange High School.

Weaver was a dominant force at the region, winning his first two matches by early first period pins, winning his first match in just 21 seconds and the second in just 46 seconds, before disposing of Colin Calvetti of Delbarton by a final score of 7-3 in the championship round.

“I think I was pretty good,” Weaver said. “I was so prepared, because I had that experience of winning the region before. It was just business as usual for me. I just go out there and wrestle, I don’t let the coaches tell me about my opponent. I think they know not to tell me, because I want to wrestle my own match every time. If I go out there and think too much, I could be in trouble. But right now, I think I’m ready to wrestle anyone.”

Weaver and Mullen have to be considered favorites to come away with state championship gold medals Saturday in Atlantic City.

Mullen’s younger brother Damian Weaver will also head to Atlantic City, after placing third at 138 pounds. The top four finishers in each weight class get to compete in A.C.

“After Damian lost on Friday, he just turned it up a notch,” Dylan Weaver said of his brother. “I think the experience he’ll gain by going to A.C. as a freshman is huge. It will be a big stepping stone for him.”

Kearny’s Jacob Baeza will head to Atlantic City as well after finishing second at 126 pounds at Region 3. For a guy who didn’t know if he was going to be able to compete after injuring his knee seven weeks ago, qualifying for the state tournament has to be rewarding.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Baeza said. “I was just going to the regions to wrestle and see what happens. I didn’t think this could have happened. I went through a lot of stuff this year, including my knee.”

Baeza said that his knee caused little difficulty at the region tourney.

“I’m getting my wrestling down back now,” Baeza said. “Nothing is going to stop me now.”

While Baeza was the lone Kearny wrestler to qualify for Atlantic City, Nutley was blessed to have four of its Maroon Raiders make their way, a year after sending no one to A.C.

“For 25 years in a row, we had at least one kid in A.C.,” Nutley head wrestling coach Mike DiPiano said. “So last year’s Region 3 was an upsetting tournament for all of us. I couldn’t watch the states last year. I had to get out of there. I went to the St. Patrick’s Day party with the Elks for the first time. I couldn’t deal with everything down there. I talked to the kids about getting through Wednesday (the first round of the Region 3). We went out there and wrestled tough. And our Nutley wrestling fans were in full force Saturday, making the most noise. It was tremendous.”

Perhaps the loudest cheers came when 220-pound junior Nick Polewka won his match to finish fourth and punch his ticket to A.C. Polewka entered last week’s District tourney with an 18-16 record and was the No. 13 seed in the Region. But Polewka defeated the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds in the bracket to become the lowest seeded wrestler to earn a berth in the state championships.

“In the postseason, all the records don’t matter,” said Polewka, whose seasonal record is now 23-19, but he’s headed to wrestle the best. “It felt great being underestimated. Making it this far has been a lot of fun.”

Heavyweight Billy Searle, who lost out on a chance to head to the Region 3 last year by a horrendous referee call, costing him a pin that would have advanced Searle, got his sweet redemption by finishing third at Region 3.

“With everything that happened last year, I just had to get back,” said the junior Searle. “It was always in the back of my mind in everything I did.”

It was so prominent in Searle’s mind that he set the alarm on his phone to signal at 2:36 p.m. every day.

“At that time, it sends me a message to remind me,” Searle said. “It says, ‘Don’t forget what happened to you.’ I think I got quicker, stronger and better on my feet. I’m more athletic now. It’s a big difference.”

Teammates Jacob Gonzalez finished third at 145-pounds to improve to 35-8 this season and Sal Mainiero finished third at 160 pounds to improve to a stellar 39-4 this season. It’s all a far cry from what the Maroon Raiders endured a year ago.

“I would have been happy with one,” DiPiano said. “Getting four was tremendous.”

Zachary Andruchowitz, Bloomfield’s 182 pounder, punched his ticket for A.C. by finishing third in his bracket.



Lyndhurst junior 152-pounder Dylan Weaver. Photo by Jim Hague


St. Joseph freshman heavyweight Jimmy Mullen of Kearny. Photo by Karyn Ochiuzzo.


Nutley junior 220-pounder Nick Polewka. Photo by Jim Hague


NOTE: Last caption is only if you can’t use that other picture of Mullen….if you can, then disregard Polewka



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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.”