The secret to North Hunterdon’s NJSIAA Group 4 wrestling championship may be found in one word.
That was the word senior 182-pounder Nate Fossett used to describe how the Lions produced a 23-0 season and their first state title since 2002.
And there would be no better example of grinding that what North did on Saturday.
Remember, on Friday the Lions had battled past a rugged Phillipsburg team 37-12 in the North 2 Group 4 final. On Sunday, North Hunterdon faced a long bus ride to Toms River North and two tough duals to win a state championship. Those group finals days are very, very long, as we can attest, having sat through a bunch of them — the wrestlers often bring pillows, which are put to good use.
So Saturday made for an obvious day for a team in the Lions’ situation to take it easy, have a light workout, maybe a team lunch or the like?
Not for North Hunterdon.
“(Saturday) we had one of the hardest practices we have ever had,” Fossett said.
Not just a “hard” practice. Nor just one of the “hardest of the year.” No.
Remember, this a is a sport well-known for killer, almost brutal workouts to start with. A routine wrestling practice’s demands can scare off even the most eager recruits. For an athlete such as Fossett, a football player and no stranger to working hard, to say “hardest ever” is really saying something about how hard the Lions work, every day.
And it may have been the only way North Hunterdon could have won a state championship.
The Lions certainly did not win it due to brilliant individual talent. There cannot have been many NJSIAA team champions with zero wrestlers ranked in the top 8 in the state by any of the services, the situation North faces.
In the lehighvalleylive regional rankings (top 5 in each), North Hunterdon is reasonably well-represented with six ranked wrestlers, but the highest is at No. 4.
This is, perhaps, more the rankers’ problem than the Lions’, but even longtime wrestling observers friendly to North Hunterdon have trouble picking out a sure-thing state medalist on this team.
So where did the state title come from?
Grinding. A work ethic second to none. A terrific youth program that saw the Lions win youth titles in sixth and eighth grades. Superb coaching by head coach Chris Hrunka and what may be the most experienced staff of assistants in the state that kept North Hunterdon focused on the ultimate prize. A commitment from the school to multi-sport athletes — many Lions play football, lacrosse, or other sports.
In some ways, the region’s two wrestling team champions from this season are very similar. Nazareth, like the Lions, doesn’t have a sure-thing state champion on its roster (though we bet the Blue Eagles win at least one).
While Nazareth does have an array of likely state medalists and is overall more talented than North (though it’d be fun to see a dual between them), the Blue Eagles, like North Hunterdon, are just so solid from top to bottom that opponents seeking a place to score bonus points, or even reverse momentum in a dual, are likely to be disappointed.
But where Nazareth and North Hunterdon are identical is their passion for “team” and each other. Don’t tell the Blue Eagles or Lions wrestling is mostly an individual sport.
“We are less of a team and more of a family,” said junior 132-ponder Connor Quinn, who may have provided the key moment in the state final against Kingsway with a third-period fall. “We’re there for each other. You go out and wrestle for the guys sitting next to you. You do it for your brothers.”
Grinding, passion, family — a title-winning formula for North Hunterdon.
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