In his first few years as a coach in Shore Regional’s wrestling program, Dave Porta remembers going to a rec team practice and seeing a group of kids he knew would have a chance to do special things at the high school level.

Fast forward a half dozen years and that time had arrived. The Blue Devils entered the 2018-2019 season with both firepower and depth, a unicorn of sorts in the world of small-small-school athletics. The goal was clear: make history.

“About seven years ago when we saw all these kids in the rec program we knew what the future could bring,” Porta said. “Now they were all here and we knew what we were capable of this year. There are no excuses.”

It was an unforgettable season in West Long Branch as Shore turned in its best season in program history, and for leading his team to new heights, Porta has been selected as the 2019 Shore Sports Network Wrestling Coach of the Year.

Shore Regional's Dave Porta is the 2019 Shore Sports Network Wrestling Coach of the Year. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell; artwork by Steve Meyer).

The Blue Devils won the Class B Central division title for the eighth time in program history and first since 2016. They won the team title at the Holmdel Holiday Tournament, finished fourth in the team standings at the Shore Conference Tournament and placed third at the District 20 Tournament behind a pair of Group 5 schools. They had a record four district champions and nine medal winners and then sent a record three wrestlers to the NJSIAA Tournament. Sophomore Jack Maida finished sixth in the state at 106 pounds to become the program’s second-ever state medalist and first since 2002.

There was one accomplishment that stood head and shoulders above the rest, however, and that was bringing home the program’s first state sectional title.

Inside a jam-packed home gymnasium and in front of a raucous crowd on Friday, Feb. 8, Shore defeated archrival Point Beach, 45-19, to win the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 1 championship. Fans stormed the mat, wrestlers were hoisted and Porta held high a trophy that had eluded the Blue Devils for the previous 39 years.

“I’ve seen these kids wrestle since they are six, seven years old and it’s special to see them accomplish something nobody at this school has done,” Porta said. “I told them whether they win 10 more or none, you never forget the first one.”

Photo from @ShoreAthletics on Twitter.

As most championship teams do, Shore has its share of hammers. Maida finished the season 41-5 with a district title, a runner-up finish at the Shore Conference Tournament and a second-place finish at the Region 5 Tournament before finishing sixth in the state at 106 pounds. He was the first Blue Devils wrestler to reach the state semifinals and the program’s first medalist since Chris Gornik finished third at heavyweight in 2002. Gornik, Shore’s only other state medalist, lost in the quarterfinals that season before wrestling back for third.

Junior 132-pounder Al DeSantis has already altered the program’s record book as a three-time state qualifier and a two-time district champion, joining Luke Bush (2010-11) as the only multiple-time district champs. DeSantis went 36-7 with a District 20 title and a fourth-place finish in Region 5, and was also a runner-up at the SCT. He reached the second round of wrestlebacks at the NJSIAA Tournament.

Sophomore Mike McGhee had a breakout season by going 41-4 at 145 pounds, placing fourth at the SCT, winning a district title, finishing third in Region 5 and reaching the third round of wrestlebacks at the state tournament.

Those types of wrestlers alone do not make championship programs, however. They require wrestlers like senior Taylor Sousa, whose first sport is soccer but played a key role at 195 pounds, winning a district title and finishing 25-5. Wrestlers like senior Jack McCrae, a three-sport standout who also excels at football and lacrosse. McCrae was injured and missed his entire junior season and could have easily decided to step away from the mat and focus on the field. Instead, he returned to help his teammates make history.

Senior Matt Klemser was 32-7 at 113 pounds and a district runner-up and senior Ian Smith was 24-12 and a region qualifier at 152. Senior Brendon Denovaes provided stability at 182 pounds and sophomore Cade Torres put up 27 wins at 220 pounds. A pair of freshman also burst onto the scene with Gabe Scalise at 120 and Jamie Mazzacco at 170. Scalise went 26-12 and was a district runner-up while Mazzacco, who is also a standout football and lacrosse players, was 30-4 and a district runner-up.

“We know what Jack Maida, Mikey McGhee and Al DeSantis are capable of so I can’t take credit for the high-end guys,” Porta said. “They are self-made men who put everything into this sport. Maybe I help keep them on the path but it’s really on them.”

Where Porta shines is with the ‘program kids’, mostly because he was once one himself. A 2001 graduate of Jackson Memorial High School, Porta was a football player first who had plenty of friends on the wrestling team. They convinced him to come out as a freshman and he ended up helping the Jaguars win a Shore Conference Tournament title in 2000.

“I wasn’t always the best wrestler so I had to be a harder worker than some other guys to close the gap,” Porta said. “I think that’s helped me a lot more with the run of the mill guys, those guys you get out of the hallway who don’t really have any experience. I know how to really motivate them. As a wrestling coach, I don’t consider myself one of the best in the area, but I try to make up for it with the intangibles.”

Porta was also quick to credit his coaching staff of longtime assistant Rich Santangelo along with former Central Regional and Rutgers wrestler Sean DeDeyn and former Shore Regional rec coach Jason Colavita. For a while, it was just Porta and Santangelo before DeDeyn and Colavita joined the staff the last two years.

“One thing I’ve learned is that the key is having a good staff, especially with a team having so many different personalities and styles,” Porta said. “It used to be just a staff of two and we were able to expand on that with Sean DeDeyn and Jason Colavita, and they’ve been great.”

In 2019, the bar of expectations was set. Now the goal is to keep raising it.

“Winning breeds more winning and hopefully this helps us get even more guys out for the team,” Porta said. “Our mentality is now we know what we’re capable of. We know what our high-end goals are.”

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. 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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