A disappointing performance in a quad on Jan. 27, the last day before the cutoff for state tournament, left the Lyndhurst-North Arlington wrestling team in a bit of limbo as it had to wait three days to find out whether it had done enough during the regular season.
On Tuesday, Lyndhurst-North Arlington got the news it had hoped for and few had expected before the season, the Golden Bears were state tournament bound, accumulating enough power points to earn the eighth and final spot in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 bracket.
As a result, Lyndhurst-North Arlington was once again on the bus on Monday, Feb. 5 for a first round matchup at top-seeded and three-time defending sectional champion Mount Olive. The match, set to start at 5 p.m., after The Observer’s deadlines. The winner will go on to face the Fair Lawn-Teaneck winner later that night.
“Once we got back on the bus (Saturday), I just explained to ’em, I said, Hey, I understand we left it out. It’s out of our hands now, but hey, whatever happens, happens. And then when we did find out the news later in the week, they were happy. They deserve this,” said first year head coach Matt DeMarco. “They’ve really, really grown as men and wrestlers. A lot of them are first year varsity wrestlers. So coming into the season, to be honest, we really didn’t have many expectations because it wasn’t fair to them because we didn’t know how they would be on the varsity level and they’ve blown through the roof on expectations and we couldn’t just be more proud of them.”
While most of the team is young and short on experience, DeMarco’s group does have three stellar wrestlers in the lower weight classes in Kieran McNeil, Evan McNeil and Nate Boyd. All three were champions at the East Brunswick Bear Invitational during the Christmas break.
Kieran McNeil, a senior, entered the year with by far the strongest resume, one that included a trip to the state tournament in Atlantic City. Despite the pressure that comes with having made it to AC as well as being a senior leader, McNeil has gone 20-3 this season while competing primarily at 132 pounds.
Last month, McNeil finished fifth at the BCCA George Jockish Bergen County Wrestling Tournament.
“He hasn’t been putting that self-pressure on himself, and we’ve had multiple conversations and he just keeps saying, coach, it’s my senior year. I don’t know if I’ll be wrestling next year, and I just want to enjoy it. It’s a sport and I just want to make it memorable,” DeMarco said. So I think that’s helping him not only as a wrestler, but also as a leader, which is giving these kids so much help and experience and guidance.”
Kieran’s younger brother, Evan wrestles at 113 pounds. The junior has gone 19-4 this season and is wrestling his best heading into tournament time.
“On the mat, he came into the season a little slow. He was battling with some sickness that put him out. So he was a little bit behind the eight ball to his standards,” DeMarco said. “But he’s been picking it up and he’s getting high at the right time.”
The breakout star of the lineup has been Boyd, a sophomore, at 120 pounds. Boyd is 19-7 on the season, highlighted by a sixth place finish in the Bergen County Wrestling Tournament.
“He’s a sophomore, but he acts like a senior,” said DeMarco. “Going into the postseason, we’re excited because he’s way ahead of schedule.
“He has a good balance of using that physicality and that nastiness, but he also has a touch of flash and confidence.”
At 106 pounds, sophomore Chase Paglio has held his own with a 10-6 record despite having to cut weight earlier in the season.
Junior Viktor Kanjuk and freshman Lukas Gallo have been splitting time at 126, with occasionally one of them moving to 132, moving Kieran McNeil at 138.
Freshman Dean Silva is at 144 pounds for Lyndhurst and older brother Kevin Silva is at 150. Kevin, a senior, is 13-4 and has come on of late after missing all of last year due to a torn bicep.
Junior Abraham Martinez is at 157 pounds after competing at 190 a season ago. A pair of football players, junior Anthony Amaro and sophomore Matthew Jarvis share the 165 and 175 pound spots.
Luis Baitan, a junior, has been effective at both 190 and 215 pounds this season. Baitan, a junior, moved up in weight to 215 when Logan Stitzer was sidelined due to injury with junior Giovanni Scalo filling in at 190.
The return of Stitzer, a junior who is 4-2 in limited action, has bolstered the upper weights.
Junior Darius Cruz, another first-year wrestler, is at 285 pounds.
When Lyndhurst-North Arlington comes off the bus, it will arrive as a massive underdog with little to no outside expectations. While they are used to that, they know the experience will prove beneficial not just in the upcoming district tournament, but in future seasons.
“On the bus ride home, I think they’ll realize that in the future, this is a huge learning experience,” said DeMarco. “This is a huge experience in general because it’s preparing them for those bigger matches and those matches that really matter down the road.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)