SPARTA, NJ – It went down to the last match to determine the winner of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 3. The main gym at Sparta High School was packed with loud, enthusiastic students and family as Sparta took down Old Tappan on Friday night 29-25.
The regular season ended in unfamiliar territory for the wrestling program. It was the first time the team had earned a first seed ranking in 34 years, according to head coach Frank Battaglia. It was also the first section title since 2000.
While the sport is considered more about individual performance on the mat, Battaglia disagrees. “We preach family. We talk about having each other’s back.”
“The concept of teamwork can be a difficult one to understand,” Battaglia continued, “but after tonight it really sinks in.”
As with all teams, the real work happens off the field of play. Spartan wrestling is no different. Battaglia, still beaming after the big win, talked about sacrifices the student athletes had to make; “changing weight classes, tough practices, pushing through to overcome adversity. It’s a team effort. In the practice room, we strive to make each other better.”
“If one man falls we all pick him up, like with what happened to Sean Finnegan. Paddy Finnegan came back to get the win.” Sean had lost in a quick pin. Next to the mat was Paddy who came away with a 4-2 decision.
106 lbs Cooper Stewart took a 7-3 decision
113 lbs Marcus Bitetto lost in a 13-3 major decision
120 lbs Christopher Hwang won in a major decision 13-5
126 lbs Rocco Gigantelli lost an 8-3 decision
132 lbs Garrett Stewart took a 3-0 decision
138 lbs Carter Sheridan lost a 3-1 decision
145 lbs Kevin Berlin was blanked in a 7-0 decision
152 lbs Sean McHugh lost a 3-0 decision
160 lbs Sean Finnegan was pinned
170 lbs Paddy Finnegan took the 4-2 decision
182 lbs Mike Freeman lost a 10-4 decision
195 lbs Robert Gennat got the pin in 3 minutes
220 lbs William Loewen go the forfeit
285 lbs Zach Herbert got the 10-2 Major decision
In his sixth year as head coach Battaglia said, “I felt we had hit a plateau in the past. This puts us through. It is great for the kids.” With eleven seniors on the squad “it will be a great memory.”
Most on the team’s roster put together solid winning records. Garrett Stewart has a season record of 20 wins and four losses with 10 pins.
Senior Gennat has a season record of 15 and four with six pins. Senior McHugh put together a record of 15 wins, eight loses with four pins. Sheridan has 15 wins eight losses with eight pins.
Bitetto has a record of 13 wins and seven losses with seven pins. Stewart earned 13 wins, two losses and eight pins.
Paddy Finnegan has a season record of 12 and six with three pins. Sean Finnegan finished the regular season with 12 wins nine losses and four pins. Hwang has 12 wins and one loss with a pin.
Herbert, a senior, has had 10 wins and one loss this season. Seven wins were pins. After the emotional win he said, “It’s been a long season. It’s a great ending to a great season. The team’s just going to continue to get better and better for years to come.”
Senior Loewen has a record of nine wins and two loses with six pins. Berlin put together a record of seven wins, six losses with four pins.
Sparta goes on to the first round on NJSIAA Group 3 championships against South Plainfield in the Pine Belt Arena on Sunday, Feb 12 at 9 a.m.
In a final thought about the win Battaglia said, “It’s magical, it’s priceless.”