ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – A multitude of factors is always weighed when a high school is bringing in a new head coach. One of them almost always involves team chemistry.
When Cranford High School hired Pat Gorman as its head wrestling coach four years ago, a new mentality appeared, one that went beyond just wins and losses, but also team building.
Four years later, the Cougars have two state place winners for the first time since 1998.
“My freshman year was Coach Gorman’s first year, so me and him and Coach Bones have a close bond,” senior Gavin Murray said. “The program kind of restarted my freshman year with those two. We’ve been getting better and better every year. This is the first time since 1998 we’ve had two state place winners and we had four guys qualify. I think they’ll have more next year. This is crazy.”
Murray leads the way for Gorman’s Cougars. After finishing second in the state tournament last year, he came two points away from a repeat try, but lost in the quarterfinal. Instead, he end up in fifth for the second Top 8 finish of his career.
The 152-pounder controlled his consolation final – fifth place – for just about the entire match.
After a scoreless first period, Murray turned what could have been an easy 1-point escape from the down position into a 2-point reversal, which proved to be the match-winning points.
“I went down because I’m pretty confident,” Murray said. “I used to stink on the bottom, so now we’ve worked on it for three years since I was in eighth grade. We’ve just been getting sown on the bottom and no one has held me down since.”
Leading by one heading into the third period, Murray rode his opponent, Jake Maxwell, for the entire length of the final frame to earn his second straight medal.
Murray’s victory was the first of two for Cranford High School on Sunday, as junior 182-pounder Niko Cappello took home seventh place by forfeit.
This is Cappello’s first Top 8 placement in wrestling, but not his first go-around at the state championship level. As a member of Cranford’s football team, Cappello won a state title back in December when the Cougars defeated Parsippany at MetLife Stadium.
“Its been a good year for sports,” Cappello said, “Getting to the championship in football and placing down year. Its been exciting.”
Cappello still has one more year to go at Cranford High School, but he recognizes that there is a lot to be thankful for this year.
“I look up at the [record] boards every day and it seems like we struggle with the state placers,” Cappello said. “To get two names on their in one year for a public school is pretty good.”
With two state tournament appearances behind his back, including this year’s eighth place finish, Cappello has already set his sights on next year, where he hopes to bring back a wrestling state title to Cranford High School.
“They’ve been an exciting three years,” Cappello said. “I wish I made it down here my freshman year. Making it down here last year was a good accomplishment. I did pretty good. This year, placing, the pressure is off and now I can come back next year and try to win a state title.”