State wrestling sections begin in Union County this week

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UNION COUNTY, NJ — The two Union County schools that reached sectional finals last year got back to the same point this season.

On Wednesday night, Feb. 7, Cranford and Governor Livingston high schools again competed in sectional finals to advance to group semifinals, which are scheduled for this Friday, Feb. 9, at the higher seeds.

Union County teams in Wednesday, Feb. 7, sectional finals:

• North 2, Group 3: 3-Cranford (18-2) at 1-West Essex (15-1)
• North 2, Group 2: 2-Caldwell (22-1) at 1-Governor Livingston (22-4)
• Group semifinals at the higher seed: Friday, Feb. 9
• Group finals at Rutgers: Sunday, Feb. 11

As the third seed Monday night, Feb. 5, Cranford got back to the North 2, Group 3 final by first beating sixth-seeded Morris Hills High School, 39-33, and then knocking off second-seeded and defending champion Warren Hills Regional High School, 41-32, in matches that took place at Warren Hills.

Last year, Cranford was defeated at Warren Hills in the final, 41-21.

Cranford wrestled at top-seeded West Essex on Wednesday, Feb. 7, for the sectional title. West Essex was 15-1 after its two wins on Monday, Feb. 5, with its only loss coming at home to James Caldwell High School, 27-26, on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Cranford was 18-2, with its only setbacks coming to Phillipsburg and Southern Regional high schools.

As the top seed on Monday night, Feb. 5, defending champion Governor Livingston first handled eighth-seeded Madison High School, 56-15, and then halted fifth-seeded Arthur L. Johnson High School, 42-32, at home to advance to a third straight sectional final in this section. The Highlanders are led by first-year head coach Matthew Liberato.

Governor Livingston lost at Hanover Park Regional High School, 44-27, in the 2022 final and finished 17-3 and last year won at Caldwell, 42-30, in the 2023 final and eventually finished 17-4 after winning in the Group 2 semifinals and falling in the Group 2 final.

Wednesday, as opposed to the last two years, Governor Livingston was hosting the sectional final in North 2, Group 2.

Union County opening states results from Monday, Feb. 5:

• North 2, Group 5 at Bridgewater-Raritan: Westfield 48, Elizabeth 27
• North 2, Group 5 at Bridgewater-Raritan: B-Raritan 66, Westfield 3
• North 2, Group 5 at Phillipsburg: Bayonne 38, Union 27
• North 2, Group 4 at North Hunterdon: North Hunterdon 61, Scotch Plains-Fanwood 18
• North 2, Group 3 at Warren Hills: Cranford 39, West Morris 33
• North 2, Group 3 at Warren Hills: Cranford 41, Warren Hills 32
• Central Jersey, Group 3 at Hopewell Valley: Allentown 42, Rahway 27
• North 2, Group 2 at Gov. Livingston: Governor Livingston 56, Madison 15
• North 2, Group 2 at Gov. Livingston: Arthur L. Johnson over Voorhees
• North 2, Group 2 at Gov. Livingston: Governor Livingston 42, Arthur L. Johnson 32
• Central Jersey, Group 1 at Delaware Valley: Manville 35, New Providence 33
The public school sectional finals were scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 7.
The public school state semifinals at the higher seeds are set for Friday, Feb. 9.
The public school and non-public school state finals will take place at Rutgers in two sessions on Sunday, Feb. 11.

Arthur L. Johnson senior Joey Ortega reaches 100 victories

Although Johnson High School was defeated at home by Middlesex county power Old Bridge High School, 55-21, on Thursday, Feb. 1, there was the bright spot of Crusader standout senior Joey Ortega winning his 100th match for first-year head coach Rick Ortega, who is also the talented grappler’s father.

Joey Ortega became just the sixth Arthur L. Johnson wrestler to reach 100 wins,

Last year was Rick Ortega’s final one as the head coach of his high school alma mater, Governor Livingston. Ortega guided the Highlanders to the North 2, Group 2 sectional state championship last season and then to the Group 2 state championship match, where the Highlanders just fell to High Point, 36-34, after beating Raritan High School, 37-30, in the Group 2 semifinals.

As one of the best wrestlers in the state when he competed at Governor Livingston in the early 1990s, Ortega was the 130-pound New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament champion his senior season of 1993. Ortega was also the Region 3 champ at 130 that same season.

Joey Ortega, who captured Union County Tournament championships his junior season last year and senior campaign this year, both at 150, defeated Old Bridge’s Aiden Roman by fall in 3:47 at 144 pounds for career victory No. 100.

Seemingly unfazed by the gravity of the moment, the three-time state qualifier went through his routine in the same manner he always does. Ortega scored a series of takedowns and near falls against his opponent, dominating the match and stretching his lead to 13 points before finally getting the pin.

The crowd erupted in celebration as Ortega’s hand was raised. Ortega was then joined on the mat by his parents, who presented him with a celebratory banner and plaque to commemorate the accomplishment.

“To be able to share tonight with my friends, my teammates and my family was really special,” Joey Ortega said. “I’ve been wrestling in the program here since I was in kindergarten, so I’ve seen a lot of other guys reach this milestone and that really inspired me to want to get here.”

Headed to Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pa., Ortega improved to 20-0 in dual matches with his win against his Old Bridge opponent. Ortega also placed first in this year’s Dover Holiday Tournament.
Arthur L. Johnson did well to rebound after the Old Bridge match to win its next three regular season matches ahead of state tournament competition in North 2, Group 2 that commenced Monday, Feb. 5.

On Saturday, Feb. 3, the Crusaders defeated Montgomery High School, 43-29; Millburn High School, 47-36; and North Warren Regional High School, 36-30, to improve to 12-11.

Against Old Bridge, senior Sean Asgaralli and sophomore Matt Marczydlo also won by fall. Fellow sophomore Keegan Parkhill fought off a late rally to win a hard-fought 8-7 decision at 126 pounds.

Arthur L. Johnson, the fifth seed in North 2, Group 2, advanced past fourth-seeded Voorhees High School and then lost at top-seeded and defending champion Governor Livingston, 42-32, in the semifinals on Monday night, Feb. 5. Arthur L. Johnson’s record moved to 13-12 after the victory and loss.

Photos Courtesy of ALJ Wrestling and Al Brown@JAB Photography