Iwama Helps Put Rumson Wrestling Back on the Map
TOMS RIVER – There are only two wrestlers in Rumson-Fair Haven history who know the feeling that junior 132-pounder Marcus Iwama experienced on Saturday, and one of them was right there to congratulate him after he ascended to the top of the podium at Pine Belt Arena.
When Iwama won the 132-pound title at the NJSIAA Region VI Tournament, he became just the third region champion in school history and the first since 2003. While he beamed with pride following an 8-4 decision over Howell’s Kris Lindemann in the final, the first region champion in Bulldogs history was right there grinning along with him.
Bryan Heller, who won Region VI titles in 2002 and 2003 at 130 pounds, has returned to his alma mater as a first-year head coach of the Bulldogs this season. He and former teammate Patrick Berger, who won the Region VI title at 119 in 2003, were the only ones in Rumson history to accomplish the feat until Iwama cemented his place in history on Saturday.
“I’m happy to be back in the program,’’ Heller said. “We are under the radar, and he is under the radar. I like where we’re at going to AC (Atlantic City) next weekend. He’s kind of still under the radar there, and I think he is going to surprise some people.”
Heller wrestled at NCAA power Penn State following his decorated career at Rumson. In his first year back, he can now say he is the only one in school history to win a region title and also train a region champion.
“Coach Heller can drill with me one-on-one in the room,’’ Iwama said. “Since he wrestled at Penn State, it’s nice to have someone on that level who can pretty much destroy me every day.”
Iwama (30-2) finished third in Region VI at 126 as a sophomore, and his tireless work with Heller and at Triumph Wrestling Club in Ocean Township ensured he would reach rarefied air for a Rumson wrestler this season despite being the No. 4 seed in the bracket. He also has continued a proud family tradition, as his father was a two-time district place-winner at Rumson during his career.
“It feels amazing,’’ Iwama said. “We have a lot of people who work hard in our room, so it’s nice to come out and show that even though we don’t have the most competitive team, we can represent Rumson by winning a region title.”
“He’s a super-coachable kid,’’ Heller said. “His work ethic improved drastically. That really helped his offense. Last year, I don’t want to say he was limited, but he was really heavy on the sweep single. Now he’s got a lot of good offense. His hand-fighting picked up, he feels comfortable riding on top, and on bottom he gets out. Being able to dominate – that’s what we’ve been working on.”
Iwama dominated the No. 1 seed, Southern’s Bryan Brown, with a 9-2 win in the semifinals after registering a pin in the quarterfinals. In the championship bout, he took Lindemann down four times en route to the victory.
“He has a lot of dangerous moves,’’ Iwama said about Lindemann. “If you’re in bad position, he can really score a lot of fast points on you, so I was mainly just trying to control the pace of the match, take the shots when necessary, wrestle him tough and wrestle for six minutes.”
Iwama’s emergence could be the tip of the iceberg for the Bulldogs, as Rumson’s numbers are booming at the youth level with around 90 boys participating. A place that has been a wrestling afterthought could soon become a contender in the Shore Conference scene.
While talent and coaching have certainly been crucial to the rise of the Bulldogs’ football program into the Shore Conference elite, huge participation numbers and depth have also been key factors, so the wrestling program is hoping to follow that formula. Iwama is a product of that youth program, having begun his wrestling career as a fourth-grader. Many of his teammates were at Pine Belt Arena to watch him take home the crown.
“We had no seniors this season and were mainly freshmen and sophomores,’’ Heller said. “This was great for them and for me to see Marcus succeed.”
The next frontier for Iwama is to earn a state medal at next weekend’s NJSIAA Individual Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Iwama went down there last season but did not place in the top eight.
“Last year, I was a little overwhelmed by everything,’’ he said. “This year I think I can just go out there, wrestle tough and try to bring home a medal.”
Berger and Heller are the only wrestlers in Rumson history to place in the state, with Berger’s fourth-place finish at 119 in 2003 serving as the highest finish of any wrestler in Bulldogs’ history. Iwama looks to add his name to that short list. After surviving an overtime match with Ocean’s Andrew MacNeille in the District 22 final, he has been locked in and wrestling the best he has wrestled all season.
“I just give him all positive encouragement,’’ Heller said. “He knows what to do already, so I just have to make sure he is confident in himself. He’s got the tools.”