DePaul made the trip down the Garden State Parkway on Saturday afternoon to face yet another top 10 team in New Jersey, this time with just days separating the Spartans from the most important time of the season.
Brick Memorial, ranked No. 9 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Power Rankings, used pins from Alec Donovan, Conner Owen, Nick Costa, Tyler Poling and Gianni Ghione to top No. 15 DePaul, 39-27, in a matchup of two potential NJSIAA group champions. The Mustangs, the defending Group IV champions, won eight of the 14 bouts.
The Mustangs head into the Central Jersey Group IV sectional tournament as the No. 3 seed. They’ll have to battle 10th-ranked Jackson Memorial in the semifinals before a likely date with No. 8 Howell in the sectional final. From there, the Mustangs will probably have to get through some combination of No. 6 Phillipsburg and No. 7 Southern Regional to repeat as state champs. It’s a daunting task, no doubt.
DePaul is on its own kind of quest starting Wednesday in the Non-Public North B semifinals. The Spartans have won the section in the last four seasons, and as the top seed this year and barring a monumental upset, they should make it five in a row. DePaul is still in search of its first group title since winning its only championship in 1993, however. For the past four years they’ve fallen to Camden Catholic in the Non-Public B final. The Irish have been a state power for many years, winning 10 consecutive state titles between Non-Public A and B, and are third in state history with 15 state titles.
DePaul will enter as the favorite this time, though. The Irish have struggled uncharacteristically this season, and will enter the state tournament with a 12-14 record. Conversely, the Spartans have turned in one of their best seasons in years. They’ve 10-6 with four of those losses coming to No. 1 Bergen Catholic, No. 3 Don Bosco Prep, No. 4 St. Peter’s Prep and No. 9 Brick Memorial. But at the same time, the Spartans know they can’t treat the postseason any different if they’re to bring home a state title.
“They are the defending state champs and we’re not, and that’s the approach we’re going to take,” said junior 145-pounder Dave McFadden. “We’re the underdogs. We’re not going to go in there thinking we’re ranked in the state and Camden Catholic has lost to teams it shouldn’t. If we do that we’re going to lose.”
DePaul won by fall at 145 pounds to give the Spartans an 18-0 lead on Brick Memorial after four bouts. The Mustangs would charge back, however, with wins in six of the next seven bouts to take the lead for good. It’s moments like those that help keep DePaul grounded, according to McFadden. As they found out earlier this season when they were stunned by Passaic Valley, bonus points can their undoing.
“Bonus points have been killing us,” McFadden said “If we just wrestle decent it’s going to be a close dual meet. But if we wrestle to our potential we should get our first state title.”
Potential is exactly what drove McFadden and others to DePaul. McFadden had a prior relationship with head coach Keith Karsen and also had the idea of building something instead of joining an existing power.
“Me and a few of my friends wanted to start something here,” McFadden said. “I grew up mowing coach Keith and he’s such a great coach I just felt like it would be the right fit.”
All great programs had their start somewhere. Maybe this is the season DePaul lays its first piece of championship foundation.
“We knew we could start something pretty special and we feel like our program keeps growing,” McFadden said. “Hopefully in two years when we’re not here it continues to grow.”