STATE CHAMP! Kearny’s Mullen achieves what buddy Cardenas did a year ago

A year ago, Jimmy Mullen was a spectator at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, watching intently as his close friend Jacob Cardenas won his second straight NJSIAA wrestling championship, competing for Bergen Catholic.

“I saw how the crowd goes crazy,” Mullen said of Cardenas’ state title a year ago. “I thought then that maybe I could do this. It was definitely my motivation for this year.”

Except there were some obstacles: Mullen is only a freshman at St. Joseph Regional in Montvale and no freshman had ever won the state championship in the heavyweight division. And Mullen weighs only 230 pounds in a class where most of the competitors weigh as much as 285 pounds.

And there was another obstacle entering the state championships that were held last weekend again in Boardwalk Hall. For some reason, Mullen was the 13th seed in the bracket, which meant he would have to face a lot of the higher seeds working up the ladder toward a possible state title.

The seeding both befuddled and motivated Mullen who entered action in Atlantic City with only one loss all season.

“To think that there were 12 kids in the bracket better than me?” Mullen said. “It kind of got me mad and motivated. As the 13th seed, I knew I had to knock off some of the better wrestlers in the state along the way. I knew I had to be good, but if I wrestled up to my potential, I felt like I had a good chance of winning.”

Despite the odds being against him, despite the higher seed and being a freshman competing against kids much older than him, Mullen dominated the opposition and made a little history along the way.

Mullen rolled through five straight victories, including a pin in 42 seconds in the semifinals and then a 9-4 victory over Southern Regional’s J.T. Cornelius in the finals to capture the heavyweight (285 pound) state championship Saturday at Boardwalk Hall.

With the win, Mullen became the first freshman to ever win the heavyweight division at the state championships. He was the first freshman to ever reach the title round, but took that distinction to the top of the podium.

With the win also, Mullen becomes only the third Kearny wrestler ever to win a state championship, joining Mullen’s friend Cardenas, who captured two 195-pound state titles over the last two years at Bergen Catholic. Cardenas, who is taking a freshman redshirt season at Cornell University, was at Boardwalk Hall once again to cheer on buddy Mullen.

Both Cardenas and Mullen were proud products of the Kearny Recreation program when they were youngsters and both captured state titles on the youth level, with Mullen winning an astounding five state championships at different weight classes over the years.

Cardenas, who was constantly talking with Mullen, then cheering him on from the close sidelines, supported his childhood friend the whole way.

“I was close to Jimmy as I could get,” Cardenas said. “I like this kid, either wrestling or around the community. It didn’t seem real at first. I thought it was like a dream. But I was super proud of him. I knew he could win it all and come out in the end. We wrestled together this year and by the way he handled me, I knew he could destroy everyone. I saw the other guys and I knew Jimmy was the best. No doubt, it was going to be him.”

Mullen said that he’s been besieged with calls from friends and neighbors after winning.

“My phone just kind of blew up,” Mullen said. “It’s all over Facebook and Twitter. Being the first-ever freshman to win was a ‘Wow’ moment. I didn’t know that. It really started to hit me when they started calling all the names and then I was right there. And I found out I just missed being the MOW (Most Outstanding Wrestler) of the tournament.”

No question there were doubters.

“People were saying that I was too small to win,” Mullen said. “I knew I could. I also had some really great support from the people of Kearny, the Kearny Rec coaches were here. They’re all part of my Kearny family and they were all here to support me. It’s amazing here.”

Mullen received a congratulatory text from David Cordoba, the other Kearny state wrestling champion, owner of Cordoba Trained facilities in Fairfield. Mullen has worked with Cordoba’s staff of excellent coaches in the past.

“It said, ‘Welcome to the club,’” Mullen said of Cordoba’s text. “That was really special.”

“I’m so proud of him,” said Cardenas, who hopes to be a big cog in the Big Red’s lineup next year, credited Mullen for having that intense burning desire to turn into reality. “I know how good that feels, winning a state title. It makes even happier for him.”

Mullen will next head to the freshman nationals in Virginia Beach next weekend.

Over the weekend, Mullen, who is also a standout football player, received a scholarship offer already to play at Rutgers one day, after visiting the school and coach Greg Schiano on Sunday.

It was Mullen’s first college football scholarship offer.

But as has been mentioned a few times here, Mullen is only a freshman. The talk of football will have to wait.


Weaver’s dream dies hard


Lyndhurst/North Arlington junior Dylan Weaver had to experience disappointment once again. A year after finishing third at the state championships, Weaver, the top seed at 152 pounds, lost via pin in the semifinals to Nick Boggiano of Toms River North and then fell via pin to Brandon Mooney of Camden Catholic in just 34 seconds in the consolation round to finish fourth overall this year.

Being fourth overall is nothing to sneeze at, but it was a bitter disappointment to the talented Weaver.

“I was winning 2-0 and riding him out,” Weaver said of his semifinal loss. “Then I got high and he pulled me over. I don’t even know what happened. I haven’t watched the video of it. It was definitely hard to take, especially being the No. 1 seed. I was one match away from the finals. It was such a shock. I was emotionally shocked and upset. Anyone who has watched it noticed that it was a quick pin. Just like that, I have to wait one more year to get my state championship.”

Weaver finished his season with a 41-3 record. He couldn’t function without thinking already about next year.

“Everyone who saw the match (against Boggiano in the semifinals) thought it was a quick call,” Weaver said. “Things happen for a reason. Yeah, for sure, I was upset and it was tough to bounce back and wrestle again (in the consolation round). I have one more year to do it (win a state title) and hopefully next year it’s my year. You’ll see a whole different me.”

Belleville’s Safforld finishes third among girls at 107 pounds


Belleville junior Alisa Safforld earned her own piece of glory when she finished third among the girls’ 107-pound bracket at the states in Atlantic City.

After Safforld lost to eventual state champion Sydney Petzinger of Parsippany in the semifinals by a tough 3-1 decision, Safforld battled back to win over Mandy Gavares of Old Bridge in the wrestleback consolations via a second-period pin, then defeated Jazmine Aizley of Allentown by a 5-1 decision to earn third place overall.

“I felt really good,” Safforld said. “It was the best I ever wrestled. I took some clean shots. Honestly, you would think it would be nerve wracking, being there with all the fans. But when you’re wrestling, you don’t even notice the people that are there.”

Safforld said that being at Boardwalk Hall as a competitor for a second straight year helped her tremendously.

“It gave me a taste of different wrestlers,” Safforld said. “So I was ready. I’m really excited about next year already. It’s going to be a good senior year. I think I did Belleville proud, at least, I hope I did. It was a pretty good season.”

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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.”