"This team has been getting better and better over the past couple of years. This was the next step."
Haddonfield relied on its depth, as all 14 wrestlers placed in the top five, enabling the Bulldogs to squeak out a half-point victory over Delran for the team title.
"We're a balanced team," said Haddonfield coach Chuck Klaus, who is in his seventh year at the helm. "In a tournament like Overbrook's, everybody needed to score points, and that's what they did."
The Bulldogs accomplished the feat in extraordinary fashion.
When junior 125-pounder Joe Bernetich could not make the tournament because of family reasons, Haddonfield juggled its lineup.
Senior Christian Scannell dropped to 125. Tom Hessert (130) and Reid Hurley (135) also bumped down. Scannell won, 10-1, against Pennsville's Pat McCaffery. Hessert lost to Overbrook's Gary DeBrielle (a four-time champion) in the final, and Hurley placed third.
Those moves did not create a major problem, but they did open a hole at 140.
Junior Brian Harkins, who had never wrestled a varsity match, stepped up and captured the title with an 8-2 victory over Delran's Will DeYoung in the final.
Walt Hessert provided a pin at 145, while Jack DelDuca (112), Kyle Graeber (171), and Sean O'Mara (heavyweight) locked up second-place finishes.
Revenge was also on Haddonfield's mind.
The Bulldogs had opened the season with a silver medal at the Haddonfield Tournament before dropping a 33-30 decision to Sterling in the season-opening dual meet. In that match, Haddonfield held an 8-6 advantage in bouts won.
"It was a very quiet bus ride home [from Sterling]," Klaus said. "A couple of years ago, the kids would have been excited about holding their own against [a two-time defending sectional champion].
"They don't think like that now. They feel like they can win every time they go out there."
That kind of attitude has Haddonfield thinking playoffs, its first legitimate shot since 1981.
If the Bulldogs are going to make a run at the postseason, they must put together a strong showing against West Deptford tonight before traveling to Moorestown for a crucial quad-meet on Saturday with the host Quakers, Audubon and Cinnaminson.
Klaus remembers the last team title that Haddonfield captured, when the Bulldogs nipped Haddon Township by half a point to win the District 28 championship in 1980. It was not exactly a fond memory for Klaus, who was wrestling for Haddon Township.
Ready to go. Sterling's Mark Manchio will hit the mat next Wednesday, according to coach Mike Ahern, when the Silver Knights travel to Haddon Township at 7:30.
The two-time defending state champion, who carries a state-best 70-match winning streak, has been sidelined since the beginning of the season because of disciplinary reasons by the school. That action stems from Manchio's conduct at a school function last spring.
According to a ruling by the Sterling School Board in July, Manchio is eligible to start practice this week.
"Mark is hungry, he's ready to go," Ahern said. Ahern said Manchio had been working out with a wrestling club, the Wrecking Crew, and fellow wrestlers Sean Cunningham of Cherry Hill West, Dave Miller of Lenape, and Clearview alumnus Billy Gibbs.
Manchio, who is the all-time victories leader at Sterling with 102, has verbally committed to Northern Iowa.
Big week. The new millennium will start with a bang for wrestling fans, as the heart of the dual-meet season begins tonight with four prime-time matchups.
Two Olympic Conference American Division foes will face off when Washington Township travels to Eastern at 7. The Minutemen dropped a 31-29 decision in the regular season before routing the Vikings, 41-24, in the sectional final last season.
Lenape was 17-1 in the regular season last year, and the lone loss (45-21) came to Camden Catholic. The Indians will seek revenge when they host the Irish at 7:30.
In the Colonial, Sterling will wrestle at Audubon at 7. In the Tri-County Conference, Penns Grove will take on Pitman at 7:30 in a critical Classic Division meet.
On Saturday, Absecon will be rocking when top-ranked Paulsboro invades No. 3 Absegami at 5:30. The Braves were the last team to beat Paulsboro - in a 34-30 decision on Jan. 10, 1998. The Red Raiders will put their 58-match winning streak on the line.
Tom McGurk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org