Cranford gets ready for wrestling team state finals

Cranford High School wrestlers win North 2, Group 3 for the first time since 2017 last week with a thrilling come-from-behind 27-24 triumph at top-seeded West Essex High School.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — While Jordan Chapman wants to realize what it’s like to win a state championship, there are other matches that come along during the season that can be just as satisfying.

Case in point was the North 2, Group 3 final at top-seeded West Essex High School on Wednesday night, Feb. 7. In a matchup that went back and forth scoreboard wise, Cranford High School trailed 15-1 host West Essex, 24-21, going into the final bout at 175 pounds. It was then that Chapman made easy work of Doug Taylor in just 49 seconds to give Cranford a 27-24 triumph in North Caldwell.

Cranford’s only pin of the night gave the Cougars their first sectional title since 2017. The Cougars improved to 18-2 with the come-from-behind, three-point triumph.

Cranford won eight of the 14 bouts and Cougar grapplers that won by decision included Marcus Nock at 165 pounds, Louis Kruk at heavyweight, Michael Daly at 113 pounds, Joey Tona at 120 pounds, Luke Scholz at 132 pounds, Eoghan O’Hara at 150 pounds and Dylan Jones at 157 pounds. The match commenced at 165 pounds.

Last year, Cranford lost the North 2, Group 3 final at top-seeded Warren Hills Regional High School, 41-21. The Cougars this time won at second-seeded Warren Hills, 41-32, in the semifinals.

When Cranford won its last sectional title in 2017, capturing North 2, Group 3 with a 33-22 championship match win at home against Warren Hills, its only loss was in its next match, a 39-25 decision to Delsea Regional High School in the Group 3 semifinals.

Cranford went 21-1, winning its first 21 matches, and was the only team to defeat Group 4 state champion Phillipsburg High School, topping the Stateliners, 36-32, that season on a Friday night in January in Cranford.

Also during the season of 2016-2017, the districts and regions were realigned for the first time in a long time. Cranford finished third in District 11 at Westfield High School in 2013 and then won the championship there in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Last year, Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights won North 2, Group 2 and then won in the Group 2 semifinals before falling in the Group 2 final. Cranford lost the North 2, Group 3 final.

This year was the reverse. Governor Livingston lost the North 2, Group 2 final, to the team it had beaten last year, Caldwell, and Cranford won North 2, Group 3 and then won in the Group 3 semifinals before falling in the Group 3 final.

Cranford, as the third seed, won at second-seeded Hopewell Valley Central High School, 41-21, in the Group 3 semifinal there on Friday night, Feb. 9. Then in the Group 3 final at Rutgers on Sunday, Feb. 11, Cranford was defeated by top-seeded and two-time defending champion Delsea, 45-25.

Cranford, which edged Governor Livingston for its ninth straight Union County Tournament championship last month at Union High School, closed a very impressive 2023-2024 campaign with an overall record of 19-3. Cranford’s only other two setbacks were at Phillipsburg, 53-16, on Saturday, Jan. 6, and at Southern Regional High School, 56-10, on Saturday, Jan. 27. The Cougars won the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division title at 6-0.

Governor Livingston, with the guidance of first-year head coach Matthew Liberato, went 22-5 overall. Its five losses were at home to Hunterdon Central Regional High School, 45-33, on Saturday, Dec. 23; to Paulsboro High School, 36-34, in the Boresch Duals semifinals on Saturday, Jan. 6; at home against Ridge High School, 48-25, on Saturday, Jan. 27; at home against Cranford, 49-27, on Wednesday, Jan. 31; and then in last week’s North 2, Group 2 sectional final, at home against James Caldwell High School, 37-26. The Highlanders finished second in the Watchung Division at 5-1, with their only in-county loss of the season coming to Cranford.

Districts this weekend the first step toward
trying to reach Atlantic City

District competition for Union County wrestlers takes place on Saturday, Feb. 17, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s website.

Wrestlers from Districts 13, 14, 15 and 16 will seek to advance to Region 4 at Union High School on Friday, Feb. 23, and Saturday, Feb. 24. Seeding for districts is scheduled to take place Thursday, Feb. 15. Seeding for regions is set for Monday, Feb. 19, or Tuesday, Feb. 20, according to the NJSIAA.

Here are the schools in Districts 13, 14, 15 and 16 for this weekend, including all of those from Union County:

• District 13 at Millburn, 10 schools: Arthur L. Johnson, David Brearley-Jonathan Dayton, Millburn, New Providence, Paramus Catholic, Ridge, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Summit-Chatham, Union, Westfield.

• District 14 at Hunterdon Central, nine schools: Bernards, Bridgewater-Raritan, Hunterdon Central, Middlesex/Dunellen, North Hunterdon, North Plainfield, Pingry, Somerville, Voorhees.

• District 15 at South Plainfield, 10 schools: Carteret, Colonia, Iselin Kennedy, J.P. Stevens, Linden, Plainfield, Rahway, St. Joe’s Metuchen, South Plainfield, Weequahic.

• District 16 at Watchung Hills, 10 schools: Abraham Clark at Roselle, Bayonne, Cranford, Newark East Side, Elizabeth, Gov. Livingston, Hillside, Immaculata, Roselle Park, Watchung Hills.
Cranford captured the District 13 championship at Cranford last year, with Chapman earning the Outstanding Wrestler award for repeating as the 157-pound champion. He pinned all three opponents.

In Region 4 at Union, Chapman was second at 157 pounds his freshman year and won at 157 pounds last year as a sophomore.

North 2, Group 3

Seeds: 1-West Essex. 2-Warren Hills. 3-Cranford. 4-Passaic Valley.
5-West Morris. 6-Morris Hills. 7-Parsippany Hills. 8-Roxbury.

Monday, Feb. 5

At West Essex

West Essex 72, Roxbury 0
Passaic Valley 52, West Morris 30

At Warren Hills

Cranford 39, Morris Hills 36
Warren Hills 54, Parsippany Hills 18

Monday, Feb. 5

At West Essex

West Essex 40, Passaic Valley 34

At Warren Hills

Cranford 41, Warren Hills 32

Wednesday, Feb. 7

At West Essex

Cranford 27, West Essex 24

Group 3 Semifinals
Friday, Feb. 9

At Delsea

Delsea 56, Wayne Valley 8
At Hopewell Valley
Cranford 41, Hopewell Valley 21

Group 3 Final
Sunday, Feb. 11

At Rutgers

Delsea 45, Cranford 25

North 2, Group 2

Seeds: 1-Governor Livingston. 2-Caldwell. 3-Bernards. 4-Voorhees.
5-Arthur L. Johnson. 6-Hackettstown. 7-Rutherford. 8-Madison.

Monday, Feb. 5

At Governor Livingston

Governor Livingston 56, Madison 15
Arthur L. Johnson 45, Voorhees 36

At Caldwell

Bernards 48, Hackettstown 26
Caldwell 69, Rutherford 0

Monday, Feb. 5

At Governor Livingston

Governor Livingston 42, Arthur L. Johnson 32

At Caldwell

Caldwell 60, Bernards 18

Wednesday, Feb. 7

At Governor Livingston
Caldwell 37, Governor Livingston 26

Photo Courtesy of John Connors