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TOMS RIVER – At this time last February, Howell’s Kyle Nase was experiencing one of the toughest moments of his athletic career. Instead of battling it out at the region tournament, Nase was at home wondering how it all went wrong.

What a difference a year makes.

On Friday night at RWJBarnabas Health Arena, Nase won by 12-3 major decision over Eastern’s Gavin Haegele to advance to the 120-pound semifinals at the NJSIAA Region 7 Tournament. Now, all that stands between the junior and a trip to the state tournament is one more victory.

“Losing in districts was the best and worst thing to happen to me,” Nase said. “It felt terrible, but I wouldn’t be where I am without hitting bottom like that.”

In 2019 Nase was seeded fourth at 113 pounds in the District 25 Tournament. He lost his quarterfinal bout and just like that his season was over. His postseason journey lasted all of one bout and it was a feeling he never wanted to experience again.

Jason Nase never put undue pressure on any of his children, instead letting them forge their own paths. Of course, he was always there for advice but he remained firmly on the dad side of the father/coach line when it would have been easy for that demarcation to become blurred. Nase was a standout at Point Boro as a three-time District 23, a two-time Region 6 champion and a two-time state runner up. He was an NCAA All-American at Rider where he is a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. He was the head coach at Brick and later Wall and prior to this season was an assistant at Rider.

Father wasn’t going to push son if it was unwanted, and until last season, Kyle never asked his father for that level of help. But then the district quarterfinal loss changed everything. The coach version of Jay Nase was in a box labeled ‘break glass in case of emergency’ and Kyle decided it was time to smash it.

“I just got sick of losing,” Kyle said. “Looking at my teammates being (at regions) and having fun, I wanted to be part of that. And I’ve always wanted to get to states.”

To test his mettle, Jay Nase woke his son up at 5 a.m. every day for two weeks straight to train.

“I wanted to make sure he was serious,” he said. “We went through hell but he kept waking up and that’s when I said, ‘ok, it’s time’.”

The result so far has been a 29-9 record and a second-place finish at District 25.

“We say it all the time, every year there’s a kid who makes huge strides and he’s our kid this year,” said Howell head coach John Gagliano. “When he lost last year in the district quarters he said right there ‘I’m going to work hard and get better’, and he has. He’s such a hard worker. You never hear anything out of that kid, he just does his thing and is an awesome kid. He’s improved so much and we’re so proud of him.”

“He was a bit of a three-sport athlete (soccer and baseball) and I think he decided that he’s not going to flirt with (wrestling) anymore, he’s going to put both feet in,” Jay said. “When he decided to do that we both made a commitment to getting better, and with that comes a 24/7 work ethic and he’s certainly done that. I couldn’t be more proud of him for his effort to get to where he is at this point. He’s certainly jumped levels and it’s been fun to be a part of.”

Spurred on by Kyle’s decision to further dedicate himself to the sport, Jay decided to leave his position at Rider after last season and come to Howell as an assistant. He helps coach Howell’s standout group of lower weights and is always in Kyle’s corner.

“It’s the coolest thing; when I’m out there I only hear his voice,” Kyle said. “Some of the loudest matches we’ve had I only hear his voice. He’s always coached me from the sidelines but it’s a lot different having him in my corner.”

“It really is special when you get to coach your kids,” Jay said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that with my oldest son (Jake) but I’m glad Kyle came to me and asked for help. It was a great decision for both of us and for our family. Like every parent, you always want the best for your kids. I always left him alone and let him do him. I wanted to be his dad, not his coach. But when he decided to turn dad into a coach we made that decision together and promised each other we weren’t going to mess up that relationship. We leave it in the wrestling room, talk about it a little in the car and then he becomes my kid again.”

The journey for Kyle Nase resumes Saturday morning against the top seed, Brick Memorial junior Vincent Santaniello. Nase understands what is in store against a two-time state medalist who was third in New Jersey at 113 pounds last year, but he hasn’t come this far to simply roll over against anybody.

“I’m just going to let it fly,” he said. “I’m going to give him six minutes of everything I have and we’ll see what happens.”


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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