There may not be any team championships up for grabs during the abbreviated 2021 wrestling season, but that fact is not deterring Coach Bryan Heller and his Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School grapplers from wanting to achieve excellence as a team and as individuals.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the Bulldogs are focused on reaching the top Shore Conference postseason pod during the final week of the regular season and proving they are the best team in the conference before seeking individual success at the regional and the state tournaments.
“There are going to be pod championships where they are going to put the top four teams in one pod and we want to be in the mix for that,” Heller said. “We have never had a Shore Conference title as a wrestling program. Other teams in the school have. It is part of our school’s culture that we want to be Shore Conference champs. That is our team’s focus.”
Heller, a Rumson-Fair Haven graduate and former NCAA Division I wrestler, is in his eighth year at the helm. A year ago, he guided the team to its first Shore Conference division title since 2003.
The Bulldogs won 15 dual meets during 2019-20 and reached the finals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 team tournament.
Rumson-Fair Haven returns all five wrestlers who advanced to the state tournament a year ago.
Junior Shay Addison (170) and seniors Jack Kelly (182) and Max Brignola (152) lead the charge. All three won medals and a spot on the podium at the 2020 state tournament. Heller said each young man is motivated to win a state title in 2021.
“Those three are definitely hungry to win a state title,” the coach said.
Senior Tyler Brignola (160) and junior Aidan Shaughnessy (120) are the remaining two 2020 state tournament qualifiers returning to the lineup.
Freshman Hudson Skove is expected to make an immediate impact at 195 pounds. He is a member of a family which has a long history of wrestling success at Long Branch High School.
Hudson’s father is Thomas Skove, who wrestled at Long Branch, and his uncles are Andrew, Luke and Jude Skove, who won state titles at Long Branch.
Heller has high regard for Skove and believes the frosh can make a run at reaching the state tournament based on his performance during off-season competition.
Sophomore Ryan Boyer will join the lineup at 160 pounds after winning three matches at the varsity level a year ago.
Heller said he believes the amount of talent his team has from 152 to 195 pounds can “rival any team in the state”.
The Bulldogs will be tested by several of the best teams in the Shore Conference, among them Brick Memorial, Christian Brothers Academy and Saint John Vianney.
District tournaments will not be contested this year. Wrestlers will be placed in a region tournament through a selection process.
New Jersey’s eight traditional regional tournaments will be combined into four regional tournaments from which wrestlers will advance to the state tournament on April 24-25.
“Ultimately, whether it’s qualifying through the district and regional tournaments to get to the state tournament, or a process like this year, you have to perform and get the job done,” Heller said.
At the end of the day, the coach just wants to see his athletes get the chance to wrestle and to “seize the opportunity” because they will never know which match could be their final match because of the COVID-19 situation.
“I hope all of them get to compete a number of times and relish every time they get to compete,” Heller said. “Just like the NCAA Tournament last year, you never know if this will be the last one for a while. You should be grateful for every chance you get to compete and seize the opportunity.”