Emphasis on defense delivered Bombers

By Warren Rappleyea

Staff Writer

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ext winter the Sayreville War Memorial High School boys basketball team will be in a new position, that of defending Greater Middlesex Conference champs.

Although the Bombers ended the campaign with a disappointing loss to East Brunswick in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey Group IV semifinals, the Sayreville boys went 20-7 on the season and captured the GMC title for the first time.

After struggling a bit in midseason, Coach Gus Jaworski’s team reeled off 10 straight victories prior to the GMC tourney. In the semifinals, Sayreville edged East Brunswick 56-54, thanks to a swarming defense, and went on to meet Carteret in the finals. The Bombers had a battle on their hands against the Ramblers before finally pulling away in the last two minutes for a 50-45 triumph.

In Group IV action, Sayreville downed Woodbridge in the opening round. They pulled off an upset against Trenton in second-round action before bowing to East Brunswick.

Known in past seasons for its explosive offense, Sayreville was not, however, known for playing defense. First-year Coach Jaworski set about changing that and the results speak for themselves. Liberally substituting to keep fresh players on the floor, Jaworski’s team defended some teams into defeat.

"I’m a defensive coach," Jaworski acknowledged. "At the beginning of the year I told the guys that if we can play strong defense we’d be in every game. That’s what happened."

The coach noted that several of his players sacrificed their statistics to play what turned out to be a winning style. Senior forward Keith Beasley, a co-captain who at one point was averaging 14 points per game, made a concerted effort to hit the boards and get more of his teammates into the offense. Although Beasley’s average dropped to 11.5 ppg, his efforts made Sayreville a better team, the coach noted. Down the stretch Beasley averaged five rebounds and three assists.

Point guard Dwayne Thomas also curtailed his scoring and became what Jaworski termed, "a true point guard." A talented sophomore, he averaged 10 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds, but more importantly worked hard to improve his defense.

Forward Chris Rucks and guards Bobby Brown and Yazid Jackson, all seniors, helped contribute to making Jaworski’s defensive strategy a success.

Rucks, who could have started for many teams, came off the bench to provide rebounding and defense while still contributing 6.5 ppg. Brown was a defensive spark plug who averaged six points and Jackson became something of an on-call defensive specialist off the bench.

"Many of our guys didn’t get the playing time they would have liked, or had the chance to score as many points as they would have liked," Jaworski said. "But they put personal goals aside and played like a team. That was one of the keys to our success."

The Bombers also received solid efforts from junior co-captain Ryan Charzewski, who averaged 8 ppg. He had a season high of 20 points against Woodbridge in the state tourney, to go with nine rebounds.

Fellow forward Samir Sanu, a sophomore, averaged eight points and eight rebounds and will be an important player in the future.

Keith Naylor, another junior forward, showed tenacity on defense and a nice touch around the hoop, averaging four points.

"This was an important year because of the foundation we want to build for Sayreville basketball," Jaworski said. "These guys wanted to make their mark. After we beat East Brunswick in the GMC semifinals, I thought the guys would be celebrating. The bus ride back to school was very quiet. They were still hungry and knew they needed to win one more game. I was particularly pleased to see them so focused."

Jaworski added that Sayreville’s fans served as the proverbial "sixth man."

"The school spirit here is great," he said. "Our fans were so supportive and they wanted us to win so badly that it helped the players. That definitely helped us in the GMC."

Next season the Bombers have a strong foundation to build upon with Charzewski, Thomas and Naylor returning. Two hard-working guards, junior Tom Cassidy and sophomore Steve Gitlin, also will play larger roles, Jaworski said.

"We’re going to lose five seniors, but we have people to step in," the coach noted.

Bears get chance to defend CJ IV title

By lindsey siegle

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t may not have seemed likely back in December, but the East Brunswick High School girls basketball team found itself back in the Central Jersey Group IV final last night.

This year’s Bears are very different from last year’s sectional and state group champions, and they have suffered some uncharacteristic lopsided losses, but they had more than enough going for them to defeat Middletown North High School in the semifinal on Friday.

Coach Reggie Carney’s squad posted a 70-46 win in a hard-fought game that saw the Lions stay within striking distance right into the fourth quarter.

"A lot of teams, we come out in our press and they just fall apart," East Brunswick senior Jess Olszewski said. "This team, give them a lot of credit, they broke our press, they knew exactly where to put the ball."

Some timely baskets by Olszewski, who finished with 20 points, helped the Bears stay out of serious trouble. But Middletown North, led by senior Jen Daly who scored 15 points, had a 23-22 lead midway through the second quarter before East Brunswick ended the half with a 13-2 run to go into the break with a 35-25 lead.

Olszewski contributed seven points in the run and added an assist on a basket by Liz Whalen. Melissa Dudra and Erin Kenny also sank baskets in the rally.

The Lions were not ready to go away in the second half, cutting the lead to 37-33 on a Daly basket with about five minutes remaining.

"All the credit in the world goes to Middletown North," Carney said. "They took advantage of every mistake we made."

However, Daly’s third-quarter basket was as close as the Lions would get, as Olszewski completed a traditional three-point play and freshman Heather O’Reilly made a steal at half court and sank a running layup. This pushed the lead back to 42-33 before the teams traded scores, leading to a 48-40 margin for the Bears at the end of three quarters.

The Lions, who were clearly getting fatigued by the East Brunswick press, succumbed two minutes into the fourth quarter. After Daly hit a pair of free throws to keep the Lions within striking distance at 52-44, the Bears closed the game with an 18-2 run.

"A lot of what happens at tournament time is what your seniors do," Carney said. "Jessie certainly played like the premiere player, but Lauren Genovese and Melissa Dudra did a terrific job off the bench with their rebounding and defense and getting some points. We needed that."

Genovese finished with seven rebounds and six points along with three steals, while Dudra contributed four points and five rebounds.

Whalen finished with 14 points, three rebounds, four assists and four steals.

The Bears Central Jersey Group IV final against Trenton Central in Sayreville last night finished too late to be included in this week’s edition of the

Suburban.

Crowther, Vander Valk valued Knights leaders

By WARREN RAPPLEYEA

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o-captains Joe Crowther and Dan Vander Valk played integral roles in making the Old Bridge High School wrestling team’s season a successful one.

Both grapplers won their respective weight classes at the District 20 competition to move on to the Region 5 competition. Crowther, 25-4 on the year, again took first place in the regional event, and he won the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament earlier this winter. Vander Valk, who is 21-7, was second in his division at the GMC but was eliminated in the regional competition.

"Joe and Dan are outstanding leaders, and I was lucky to have them," said veteran Old Bridge Coach Ken Scott. "It’s like having two extra coaches in the room. They truly set the standard for the team, not just on the mats, but in the classroom. They are excellent examples of what we want our program to be."

Sporting a career mark of 71-24, Crowther heads to the state tournament at 140 pounds. That should be no surprise to Old Bridge fans, as the senior comes from a wrestling family. His father, Harry "The Cradle" Crowther, starred for Cedar Ridge High School, as did his uncle Lenny. Brothers Harry and Cliff also made their mark at Old Bridge. Paul Fredericks, an uncle on his mother’s side, is also a former wrestler. And they all come to watch Joe compete.

Naturally, one of Joe Crowther’s strengths is the cradle; he also excels from the bottom. Of course, he has been wrestling since the third grade and has had some fine tutors along the way.

"Joe is a finisher, a hardworking kid who will work at a task and do it well until it’s complete," Scott said. "That’s how he won the District; he refused to quit, and in the end he won. He just has a lot of heart."

Coming off of a 20-win season, expectations were high for Crowther. "I didn’t really think about it that much," he said. "I just tried to work hard and take things one match at a time."

He also credited Vander Valk and teammates Omar Munoz and Kevin Quinlan with helping sharpen his skills in their practice matches.

"I try to be smart out there," Crowther explained. "I have an in-between style; I’m not too aggressive and I’m not too defensive. I try to take what my opponent gives me."

What Crowther, who has 10 pins, will do more often than not is provide an opponent with six torturous minutes of give and take. Ranked in the top 10 percent of his class, Crowther uses his mind as much as his formidable athletic skills to succeed.

On the other hand, Vander Valk came into the season not knowing his role. He was 11-11 last season and at one point he ended up in a reserve role.

"I pulled him out of the lineup last year," Scott said. "He never said a word, and I never heard from his parents. That’s the kind of kid he is. He took that as a marching order to work harder. And did he ever work. I wanted to make him a captain, but I wasn’t sure where he would fit in, so I hesitated. He was not going to b denied. He did his talking through his actions."

The day after football season ended, Vander Valk, ranked eighth academically in a class of 640, was in the wrestling room getting ready. He was much improved on his feet, and when wrestle-offs began he made his mark quickly and became the starter at 152 pounds.

"The most important thing for me was maturing," he said. "I didn’t have mat sense. I’d just try to score, and that’s how I’d get caught. Now I can manage a match and pick my spots."

A few-early season wins built Vander Valk’s confidence — and he was off and running. His excellent senior campaign has improved his career record to 42-28.

Something of a throwback, Vander Valk is a three-sport man, mixing football and baseball with wrestling. He admits that in an era when many athletes concentrate on one sport, it’s increasingly difficult to play three.

"I would probably be a better wrestler, for example, if I concentrated on it year-round and were able to put everything into it," he said. "But I’m very glad I’ve had the opportunity to play three sports at the varsity level. That’s been a great experience, too."

Despite their successes on the mats, neither Crowther nor Vander Valk is certain if he will continue in college. Both have been accepted to Rutgers University but are weighing their options.

Not to fear, though; the Crowther and Vander Valk names are not likely to go away from Old Bridge wrestling. Crowther’s cousins Len and Keith are now competing at Sandberg Middle School, while Vander Valk has three younger brothers. Nick, a sophomore, competed for the Old Bridge junior varsity; Mike competes for Salk Middle School; and Steve, a first-grader, is about to enter the Mat Rat program.

"Kids like Joe and Dan are part of the reason I stay in coaching," Scott said. "And it goes way beyond wrestling. They’re good people."

Crowther was joined at yesterday’s Super Regions in Red Bank by teammates Justin Smigelsky, Mike Carro and Sal Iodaci.

Smigelsky is also a Region 5 champion and is guaranteed a spot at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Wrestling Tournament, to be held this weekend at the Meadowlands Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford.

Smigelsky powered his way to the 103-pound title on Saturday at Hunterdon Central High School. Previously, Smigelsky had won the District 20 event and finished second in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) tourney. The junior’s record stands at 25-3 on the season.

"Justin’s a battler," Coach Scott said. "He has a lot of experience and he’s been there before, taking second in the Region and District last year."

Iodaci, 20-6, took second place in his weight class in Region 5, losing a 9-7 decision to East Brunswick’s Tom Corio. He also finished second in the District 20 competition to Corio.

As with Iodaci, Carro was a finalist at Region 5 and took second in the 119-pound weight class.

Ritchings, Corio capture Region 5 titles for Bears

By Richard Jerome

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he East Brunswick High School wrestling team may have compiled an unspectacular 7-8 record, but Coach Glenn Pazinko’s Bears have plenty to be proud of. To begin with, their ledger is a significant improvement over last season’s 4-8 mark, and most recently two winners in the NJSIAA Region 5 tournament.

Sophomore 112-pounder Keith Ritchings won a 5-4 decision over Bridgewater’s Josh Shearer, while at 171 pounds senior Tom Corio came back from a 5-4 deficit with a reversal and a takedown posting a 9-7 triumph over Sal Iodaci of Old Bridge, whom he’d defeated four times previously.

"Keith is wrestling his best right now," Pazinko said of Ritchings, who is 24-6 and placed third in the region last year as a freshman and is making his second trip to the states.

"There are a lot of tough kids in his division," noted the coach. "Keith has worked very hard in the off-season and has turned out to be a very smart tactical wrestler."

In last night’s Super Regions meet, Ritchings was slated to face the winner of a match between Brad Galeta of Bound Brook (31-4) and Rob Jimenez of Brick Memorial, who is 28-3.

As for the 27-1 Corio, Pazinko feels he has only begun to reach his peak.

"He’s had a tremendous year, his one loss coming in the county finals," he said. "If you look at the other regional champs, he’s right there with them, and yet I don’t even think he’s wrestling as well as he can. Tom’s a tough kid who won’t back down, but I think he’ll perform even better than he has."

Corio got his next chance last night against either Rudy Medini of Woodbridge (27-3) or Jake Butler, who has a 25-7 mark for Point Pleasant Beach.

East Brunswick had some other fine efforts by its grapplers. Junior heavyweight Dennis Bruno placed fourth in the regions and has run up an excellent 17-8 record.

At 189, junior James Gagnon was second in the districts, while 215-pound junior Adam Fleischhauer was second.

Two other 11th-graders, Nick Yannazzo (130) and Mark Blackborow (119), were third in district competition, as was freshman John Clay, who grapples at the 152-pound level.

The Bears have another freshman, Brian Ackerman, who has shown solid potential.

"He’s wrestled well in a tough weight class," said Pazinko, who is assisted by Joe Csatari, Andy Scanlon, freshman coach Mike Vinella and eighth-grade boss Jay Adochio.

sport shorts

The Monroe Junior Falcons fell to Piscataway 54 to 24. A pin by Ryan Worden highlighted the effort for Monroe.

Against South Brunswick the Falcons fell 62 to 17 and saw their record drop to 5-7 for the season. Pins by Worden, Grant Herring and a technical fall by Kyle Patton led the Falcons effort. Grant Herring and Kyle Patton finished the regular season undefeated and earned top seeds in the league tournament in South River on March 5. Herring also placed in a qualifying tournament for the State Championships and will wrestle March 18.

Monmouth Power, an Amateur Athletic Union basketball club, is seeking talented players for its boys 17-year-old team based in Marlboro. Tryouts will be held in March. For information, please call Chris at 566-3697.

The Sayreville Leprechauns Pop Warner football program will be conducting a registration session for football players and cheerleaders on March 18 at the Civic Center on Dolan Street between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Those registering are asked to bring a copy of the registrant’s birth certificate, a recent wallet size photo (no uniform pictures) and two checks, a $40 registration fee and a $75 refundable workbond. A recent physical is also required. For more information, call at 727-5580.

The Middlesex County Over-50 Softball League is accepting applications from individuals wishing to play in 2000. The organization runs a slow-pitch arch league where recreation and safety come first. All games are played on Saturday mornings and the season begins on April 15 and ends in late August. To be eligible, players must reach their 50th birthday by Dec. 31. For more information, call Rich Nadler at 329-8595, or e-mail him at rnadler22@aol.com.

South River Parks and Recreation will be conducting a registration session for all youth baseball and softball leagues today and Friday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the South River elementary/middle school auxiliary gym. The leagues are open to resident children ages 4 (if registered for kindergarten) through 15. The registration fee is $20 per child. For more information or information on men’s and women’s softball leagues, call 254-4412.

Raritan Bay Cougars football and cheerleading sign-ups will be held Friday, March 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. and March 25 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Raritan Bay Cougars Field House, located on Cheesequake Road, Madison Park section of Old Bridge. For more information, call 721-4375 or visit the organization’s Web site at: http://sport.nj.com/sport/cougars.