WEST ORANGE, NJ--Belleville High crowned a tournament record 80th champion while Nutley advanced three to the title bouts at the 45th Essex County Tournament, which was held on Jan. 16 and 17, at Codey Arena, in West Orange.
Seton Hall Prep won the overall team championship for a tourney-record straight year while West Essex, the defending Group 3 champions, finished second in a field of 21 schools. Seton Hall Prep has now won eight team titles, which ties Livingston for the most championships. Livingston won its eight crowns, in a 10-year period, between 1997-2006.
In an emotional moment, the Outstanding Wrestler award was named after the late Christopher Jordan Morgan, a standout wrestler at West Orange High who died in a training accident while a student at the United States Military Academy in West Point, on June 6, 2019. Christopher's parents April and Christopher Morgan were on hand for the announcement. Alex Jones of West Essex, who won the 152-pound title, was the recipient of the award.
"I was very happy to see Alex get the award," said Christopher Morgan Sr. "Alex knew my son, CJ, and is a really nice young man. I'm happy for all the kids who competed, as well. We're very proud to be here."
Locally Nutley finished fourth overall while Belleville took eighth and Bloomfield finished tenth.
The Raiders had an excellent tournament. Peter Haverick (152 pounds), Sal Mainiero (160) and heavyweight Billy Searle all made it to their respective title bouts.
Haverick was pinned by the tourney's outstanding wrestler, Jones, Mainiero lost a close bout to Jack Wilt of Seton Hall Prep and Searle, a junior, went six solid minutes against Bardhyl Gashi of West Essex, before losing, 5-1. Gashi, a senior, was a state finalist at heavyweight last season.
"Billy did an excellent job," said Nutley coach Mike DiPiano. "Gashi is as good as they get, and for our guy to go the full six says a lot. I hope it shows Billy what he's capable of doing for the rest of the season."
Belleville had two wrestlers in the finals. Hakim Fennell won the 170-pound title, defeating Livingston's Stratos Kantanas, 5-4, in a hard-fought match. Fennell became the 80th wrestler from Belleville to win gold at the county tournament, dating back to 1975. Belleville ranks first in the county for most champions.
David Guerra, the defending 145-pound champion for Belleville, advanced to the finals before dropping a close bout, in overtime, to Seton Hall Prep's Cole Carroll.