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Glory Days: Hanover Park High School 2015 Wrestling

May 24, 2022 11:26PM ● By Steve Sears

Photo courtesy of Hanover Park High School wrestling Photo: The 2014 – 15 Hanover Park wrestling Hornets celebrate their long-awaited Group II title

Austin Nash, a junior on the 2013 – 14 Hanover Park High School Hornets wrestling team, remembers the bus ride.

“Everyone was shocked,” he recalls. “We were really feeling that 2014 was going to be our year. We had a good lineup, we were looking good going into the final match, and for that to happen, it hurt really bad. I remember just coming home on the bus in complete silence. Not a single word was spoken the whole hour and a half drive back from Toms River.”

The Hornets had competed in the Group II State Finals against High Point High School, and were enjoying a 23-point lead with four matches remaining. “They (High Point) needed four pins with four matches left, and it happened,” says Michael Menditto, then in his second year as Athletic Director. The 33 -10 advantage minutes later was a 34 – 33 loss. “We lost two High Point on four straight pins. We were devastated, to say the least.”

Therefore, the Hornets had next season “UNFINISHED BUSINESS” to take care of, and wore t-shirts to prove it. More on that in a moment.

Tyler Branham, current head coach, was an assistant coach for the 2014 - 15 team under James LaValle. “Arguably, our 2013 - 14 team might have been the best team that we had,” he says. “We came up a little short for that group of seniors. The next year, the theme of the year was unfinished business. We actually made some shirts before the Group playoffs, because we felt like, although we were the best team that year (2014), we came up short of our best in the final. So, it was kind of the driving factor for them to not let it happen the next year.”

The Hanover Park High School wrestling team won the Group II state championship in 2015, and sported a 12 – 5 record.

Anthony Cefalo, who wrestled at 126 pounds, was captain for both the 2013 - 14 and 2014 - 15 seasons, and he and the other seniors had not only suffered the loss in the finals to High Point, but as freshmen and sophomores were defeated in the Group I finals by Bound Brook. “We always came up short. We did a lot of training and talking after that (High Point) match, and over the summer we did some more dual matches just to get our guys in better shape. Senior year was a big advancement for the whole team in general. We looked good, and we pretty much dominated throughout the whole county and state tournament.”

Returning to the state playoffs in 2015, Hackettstown was the first opponent and victim, 54 – 9. Parsippany, a powerhouse at that time and a terrific team that year, next fell to the Hornets, 47 – 18. Against Buena in the Group II State Semi-Final Round for the state sectional championship, Hanover Park was a 47 – 18 victor again.

The Hornets were back in familiar territory: the Group II state finals. With the bitterness of the prior year’s collapse still fresh in their minds, their opponent that day, Lenape Valley, didn’t stand a chance. The Hornets triumphed, 48-18.

Christian Bassolino, a 145-pound wrestler, was a senior that season. “I think definitely, when alumni get together, those two seasons definitely are the most talked about points,” he says. “Junior into senior year, I think it kind of just changed everyone's mindset. Everyone knew that we weren't going to  let that happen again. There was a different feel that senior year. Everyone in the program was invested to make sure we had the best chance to actually go win it that year.”

“I think for me and for most of the guys on the team - especially the ones that were there the year before - we knew we had to get it done, because we fell short so many times in those finals,” says sophomore wrestler, Lou Raimo, who also gives a lot of credit to the coaching staff. “Back then, I'd say we had - and we still do have - the best coaching staff in the state. James LaValle, the things he knows about wrestling and the way he was able to push us and got us to go 100%, I don't think there's anything like it. There are not too many words to describe that feeling. He was an intense coach, but a really good guy. The same with Tyler Branham and Matt Meyercopf. They were the assistants back then.”

And those “UNFINISHED BUSINESS” t-shirts? A group photo was taken after the title win, and someone had crossed out with a Sharpie Marker the “UN,” so the shirts now showed, “FINISHED BUSINESS.”