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PISCATAWAY -- The slow and steady build toward a once unthinkable wrestling state championship started 10 years ago when Marcus Iwama won back-to-back region titles and finished eighth at the state tournament. For a program with little championship tradition, it was a monumental achievement that sparked tremendous growth for Rumson-Fair Haven wrestling.

The Addison brothers followed with Nick and later Shay earning two state medals each between 2018 and 2020. Max Brignola also reached the podium twice along with Jack Kelly, whose third-place finish in 2021 set the highwater mark for individual success. Last season, Hudson Skove became the first individual state champion in program history.

Success on the team level proved more difficult to attain. The Bulldogs finished with a losing record every year from 2005 through 2018, including 10 seasons winning five matches or less and one winless season. In 2018, the team finished 2-20 and could not fill all 14 weight classes.

Behind the scenes, however, something special was building. Thomas Skove helmed the recreation program and helped develop a talented core that breathed life into the program. Rumson won 12 matches in 2019, including the program's first state tournament victory in 19 years. In 2020, the Bulldogs went 15-4 and reached the Central Jersey Group 2 sectional final for the first time in program history. They returned to a sectional final in 2022 and reached the semifinals in 2023.

The knocks at the door became louder with each passing winter until Sunday afternoon at Rutgers University's Jersey Mike's Arena where Rumson busted through to make program history.

Bob Badders | rpbphotography.com
Bob Badders | rpbphotography.com
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The Bulldogs won the first seven bouts with bonus points in five of those victories on their way to an overpowering 60-15 victory over Jefferson to claim the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship. Skove began the match with a technical fall at 215 pounds and junior Matt Smith followed with a pin at 285 to give Rumson a 12-0 lead that grew exponentially over the next five bouts. When the dust settled, Rumson had won 11 of 14 bouts with 10 wrestlers earning bonus points as they announced their presence as a state power with the program's first team state championship.

"This is something that we knew once we got healthy we were the best Group 2 team in the state," Skove said. "Evan (Ridgway) was out for a large portion of the season, Julian (Duque) was in and out of the lineup, Cole (Pangborn) didn't come back until the very end. We knew when those guys came back we would be at the next level."

"It's a huge step for the program," Smith said. "We knew when Eleazar (DeLuca) became the head coach we were going to set a standard that we want to win this every year. We lost in the final my freshman year, lost in the semifinals last year, but this year we knew we had something special."

Rumson had steamrolled its way through the Group 2 tournament leading up to Sunday's championship match with lopsided victories over Delran (54-21), Cinnaminson (54-21), and Point Boro (66-13) to win the Central Jersey Group 2 sectional title for the first time in program history. Caldwell entered the Group 2 semifinals on fire but was no match for the Bulldogs, who won 53-18 to punch their ticket to the state final.

"We constantly preach to these guys to take nobody lightly and go out every match and wrestle their best," DeLuca said. "That's what they did. They were consistent the whole tournament and it was cool to see."

Sunday's championship match was the exclamation point at the end of a historic run. Following Skove's technical fall and Smith's pin, Henry freshman Henry Marshall delivered a defensive pin at 106 pounds to extend RFH's lead to 17-0. Eamon Fry needed just 16 seconds to win by fall at 113 and Joaquin Duque followed with another pin at 120. Elijah Bayne's 2-1 decision over Michael VanderMuelen at 126 made it 32-0 and Julian Duque's 16-1 technical fall at 132 gave Rumson an eye-popping 37-0 lead through the first seven bouts.

Rumson-Fair Haven freshman Henry Marshall won by fall at 106 pounds when the Bulldogs defeated Jefferson, 60-15, to win the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024 at Rutgers University’s Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, NJ. (Bob Badders | rpbphotography.com).
Rumson-Fair Haven freshman Henry Marshall won by fall at 106 pounds when the Bulldogs defeated Jefferson, 60-15, to win the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024 at Rutgers University’s Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, NJ. (Bob Badders | rpbphotography.com).
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At heavyweight, Jefferson's Timothy Connolly was 26-2 and ranked in the top 10 in the state.

"I knew it was a huge win for the team but I didn't know until I came off the mat and one my buddies told me he was top 10 in the state," Smith said. "Once I got my hips on top I was looking for the fall."

"He got us going there and really sparked things," DeLuca said. "They were favored in that match so to go out and steal that one hurt them pretty bad."

Rumson needed only one more win over the final seven weights to clinch the state title, and after Jefferson's Ryan Jack delayed the celebration with a win at 138, Rumson freshman Sonny Amato won by fall in 1:17 at 144 pounds to give the Bulldogs a 43-3 lead and officially clinch the state championship.

Despite the victory in hand, Rumson did not relent. Walker Skove won by fall at 150 and Pangborn secured a first-period pin at 157. Jefferson won by fall at 165 and 175 before Rumson junior Conor Delaney won by technical fall in the final bout at 190 pounds.

Pangborn's victory was inconsequential to the outcome, but his presence over the last two weeks was huge for himself and the team. A standout defensive back on Rumson's football team, Pangborn suffered a serious collarbone injury during the Group 2 state final in December and assumed he would not make it back for wrestling season. He was able to defy the initial outlook and return on January 27 and won by fall in all five state tournament matches.

"In the beginning I counted myself out and was doubting myself, but I just trusted my work and stayed faithful," said Pangborn, who was a state qualifier last season. "Halfway through I was seeing signs I might be able to come back so I grinded and finally got cleared to get my first match a couple weeks ago."

Sunday's victory was extra special for DeLuca, who returned to his old college arena and led his high school team to its first state championship. DeLuca began his career at Northern Colorado before wrestling his final two years at Rutgers where he was an NCAA Tournament qualifier.

"I have a lot of good memories wrestling at the R.A.C. (now named Jersey Mike's Arena)," DeLuca said. "It's a pretty awesome experience to come back here and win the school's first state title and my first as a coach."

Senior Hudson Skove hoists the NJSIAA Group 2 championship trophy after Rumson-Fair Haven defeated Jefferson, 60-15, to win the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024 at Rutgers University’s Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, NJ. (Bob Badders | rpbphotography.com).
Senior Hudson Skove hoists the NJSIAA Group 2 championship trophy after Rumson-Fair Haven defeated Jefferson, 60-15, to win the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024 at Rutgers University’s Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, NJ. (Bob Badders | rpbphotography.com).
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Rumson will graduate just three senior starters in Skove, Julian Duque, and Christian Cady. And while their contributions will be missed, Rumson is set up for sustained success. This could be only the beginning of the next Shore Conference wrestling dynasty.

"When Tom Skove brought me on board we shared a similar vision of where we wanted Rumson wrestling to be and we've continued to work toward that," DeLuca said. "Our motto is that nobody is going to outwork us."

"I think it really started with the youth program and slowly building it," Skove said. "The years just before me we had some good guys coming in and my freshman year we had a good team, so I give a lot of credit to my dad for building up the youth program. That became a funnel to getting these great high school guys and building a solid team in all 14 weight classes."

"We were a young team these last couple years and we've grown and grown. We're only graduating a couple of guys so I look forward to seeing what the program has in store in the future."

 

Box Score

Rumson-Fair Haven 60, Jefferson 15

215Hudson Skove (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Alexander DaSilva (Jefferson TWP) TF 24-9
285Matt Smith (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Timothy Connolly (Jefferson TWP) Fall 1:49
106Henry Marshall (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Frank Figel (Jefferson TWP) Fall 5:56
113Eamon Fry (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Aiden Huffert (Jefferson TWP) Fall 0:16
120Joaquin Duque (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Reilly Callan (Jefferson TWP) Fall 3:37
126Elijah Bayne (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Michael VanderMeulen (Jefferson TWP) Dec 2-1
132Julian Duque (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Carson Frank (Jefferson TWP) TF 16-1
138Ryan Jack (Jefferson TWP) over Hunter Curley (Rumson-Fair Haven) Dec 8-2
144Sonny Amato (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Bryan Tilney (Jefferson TWP) Fall 1:17
150Walker Skove (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Jaden Weglinski (Jefferson TWP) Fall 1:41
157Cole Pangborn (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Christian Gould (Jefferson TWP) Fall 1:16
165Joseph Connolly (Jefferson TWP) over Evan Ridgway (Rumson-Fair Haven Regional) Fall 3:05
175Ryan Flammer (Jefferson TWP) over Luke Dougherty (Rumson-Fair Haven Regional) Fall 3:25
190Conor Delaney (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Logan Kerr (Jefferson TWP) TF 17-2

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