When Jerry Maietta took over the wrestling program at his high school alma mater, North Bergen High School, a place where he would eventually also become the athletic director, he wanted to bring some stability and credibility to the Bruins’ program, much like it had in the ’70s and ’80s under the Tabbachino brothers, coaches Ernie and Tony.
“There’s a long wrestling tradition here,” Maietta said. “When I graduated in 1988, we were competitive. I wanted to see the program become competitive again.”
After going 20-2 a year ago and making the school’s first trip to the NJSIAA state playoffs in 2001, Maietta wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a one-shot deal.
“I tell them that we should always want to be better than the team before it,” Maietta said.
Sure enough, last year’s team fell into line, by improving from a 10-10 team in 2004 to 20-2 a year ago. The Bruins went all the way to the sectional finals last year before losing to Randolph, coming close to attaining the school’s first sectional title since 1993.
“We’re always trying to improve on the previous year, so the guys have to work real hard this year to do better than last year,” Maietta said.
So far, so good. The Bruins have won all six matches in the new season, including a thrilling 31-29 come-from-behind victory last Thursday against Hasbrouck Heights/Wood-Ridge, needing a pin by 215-pounder Efrain Acosta on the final bout to secure the win.
“It was a wild match,” Maietta said. “It turned out the same way with Hasbrouck Heights last year as well, the same situation. We dug ourselves a hole early and had to jump out of it.”
Last year, when the Bruins faced the Aviators, the match was tied at 31-31 when the Bruins won via pin in the final bout. This year, they were trailing and came back to win.
The Bruins have also defeated Kearny, Cranford, J.P. Stevens of Edison, Cliffside Park, and Bergenfield. “But now, it’s crunch time,” Maietta said. “The next two weeks will be critical for us.”
The Bruins have dual meets against powers such as Hackensack, Fair Lawn, Passaic Valley, Ridgefield Park, Jefferson and Paramus upcoming, not to mention the annual showdown with local rival St. Peter’s Prep at North Bergen on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
“Our schedule is a lot tougher this year, because our goal every year is to reach our peak at the end of February, the right time to peak,” Maietta said. “The tougher schedule will make us better.”
The Bruins are blessed with a solid balance of youth and experience, which is essential when making a state playoff run.
One of the most talented wrestlers on the Bruin squad who is lucky enough to have both is 112-pound sophomore Bobby Dabal. A former youth national champion, Dabal won both the District 16 and Region 4 titles a year ago, winning 30 matches, before falling short of the ultimate goal, losing twice in Atlantic City at the state championships. Dabal is 10-1 this season, with the lone loss coming to highly-rated Joe Trause of Bergen Catholic in the Bergen County Coaches Association championships over the Christmas holidays.
Maietta is hopeful that the experience Dabal gained in Atlantic City last year can go a long way this year.
“I think it left a little bitter taste in his mouth, and I’m hoping that doing better this year would be a driving force for him,” Maietta said. “He was one win away from placing at the states, so it was a good year, but I think it was a learning experience. He’ll have a different approach this year. His technique is great. He’s doing well.”
Juniors Herbert Martinez and Winston Andraca are sharing time at 119 and 125 pounds. Martinez was fourth in the Bergen County tournament.
Sophomore twins John Vasquez (130 pounds) and Jiovanny Vasquez (145) anchor the middle of the lineup.
Senior Mike Restrepo returned to the Bruin wrestling program this year after competing as a freshman, then failing to come out for two years.
Senior Ricco Rodriguez is the team’s 152-pounder. Rodriguez, who was second in the District 16 last year and fourth at the Bergen County tourney this year, is potentially a force to be reckoned with.
Senior Hector Osaria is the Bruins’ 171-pounder. Osaria is the team’s captain who finished second in District 16 last year.
“I’m proud to say that Hector is our captain, because he leads by example,” Maietta said. “He’s a hard worker and a great student.”
Osaria, ranked No. 7 in the senior class, was just named by News 12 New Jersey as their Scholar/Athlete of the Week. The segment will air next week.
Junior Ralph Lopez is the 189-pounder. Lopez was the District 16 champion at the same weight class last season.
“He grew a little, so it’s been a challenge to keep the weight off,” Maietta said.
The Bruins got a little bit of help at 215 pounds right before the season started. Marquise Johnson, the two-time All-Area football standout from Hudson Catholic, and a District and Region champion at Hudson last year, has transferred to North Bergen and moves right into the Bruin lineup.
“He’s been a good addition and a nice surprise to have come here,” Maietta said. “He’s fitting in very well. He’s well liked by the other kids on the team. We’re glad to have him.”
Johnson has also enjoyed success with the Bruins, going all the way to the finals of the Bergen County tournament.
Efrain Acosta, the hero of the Hasbrouck Heights victory, is the regular heavyweight.
Maietta said that the success the Bruins have enjoyed comes from the Recreation feeder program. Many of the current Bruins are products of that program, run by Tom Cruz with input from Maietta.
“That’s the first step,” Maietta said. “A lot of our success starts with the feeder system.”
So the Bruins are undefeated and making their statement as being Hudson County’s premier wrestling program once again. The next two weeks should tell the tale.
– Jim Hague