Wrestling: Top storylines, takeaways from Day 2 of 2023 GMC tournament
St. Joseph (Met.) stole the show at the 2023 GMC tournament, running away with the team race and crowning six champions.
But it wasn’t just Mike Carbone’s team that did well. Old Bridge finished second in the team race and crowned three champions, while Saint Thomas Aquinas finished third and crowned two of their own champions.
Then there was William Wilson of North Brunswick, who won the 175-pound title and North Brunswick’s first GMC title.
So there were clearly storylines that stretched beyond St. Joe’s’ newfound dominance. Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest notes and storylines from Day 2 of the action at the 2023 GMC Tournament.
Edison’s Dawson continues unbeaten season and wins MOW
As the season gets later and later, the number of undefeated wrestlers continues to decrease. And while some have recently suffered their first or second defeat, Edison’s Julian Dawson has not suffered the same fate.
Dawson won the 126-pound GMC title, pinning Old Bridge’s Jesse Koczon in the final and finishing the tournament 4-0 with two pins and two decisions. He also received the award for Most Outstanding Wrestler Amongst the Lighter Weights.
The title comes after Dawson finished third last year and failed to qualify for the States by finishing sixth in his region.
Still, sooner or later his coach Scott Gerba knew the wins were coming
“Julian has won all his games so far, so we knew he could win this one,” said Edison coach Scott Gerba. “He did well last year but he was sixth in the region. He does a lot of wrestling in the off-season and we saw those results coming – they’re not unexpected.”
After admitting that he’s on a bit of a revenge spree this year and that maybe he wasn’t all in mentally last year, anything Dawson is doing this year is working as he’s 27-0 and already has the attention of one of the top wrestlers made its mark in American history in Olympic gold medalist and current Morgan State head coach Kenny Monday.
Dawson announced Sunday that he plans to wrestle at Morgan State, an HBCU that will resume its wrestling program next year.
“My dad went to HBCU and graduated from law school there, and he told me how great they were and that HBCUs were something to go to,” Dawson said. “When they said they were going to put out a program, I thought it was perfect.”
If Dawson is doing enough to put himself on the radar as one of the best homegrown wrestlers of all time, then Gerba thinks it’s only right that he deserves to be on the radar of the people of the Garden State as well.
“I think he just proved it out there. It was a pretty convincing win against a pretty good opponent, so it looks like he’s ready for the next jump,” said Gerba. “His matches are more convincing. Talking about a pin in the final is a really good sign for him.”
It bodes well for the program, too, as Dawson stressed that Edison is about a lot more than just him.
“They come to me for advice and it’s more of a family thing. It’s not like anyone necessarily looks up to me,” Dawson said. “We’re all family and we’re all trying to get better.”
Old Bridge is a statement in more ways than one
In his fourth year at the helm of the Knights program, coach John Post wants people to know that the GMC is no longer just a two-horse race between South Plainfield and St. Joseph (Met.).
Now, Old Bridge, #18 in this week’s NJ.com Top 20, is firmly in the mix.
The Knights crowned three individual GMC champions, including the tournament’s standout wrestler in the heavyweight division, Tyler Sagi, and finished second in the team race.
Additionally, 11 of Old Bridge’s 12 wrestlers starting Saturday placed in various capacities, which Post hopes is a sign of things to come and not the culmination of what his team is accomplishing.
“With us and the team that we have, we’re just trying to assess how we’re doing against the public at the moment,” Post said. “A lot of kids used to focus on the GMC as the big scale and the be-all and end-all, and one of the things I’ve preached to them is that it’s tougher than districts but not as tough as regions. It’s a tune for the off-season. Win or lose, it’s good to learn how to fight through adversity, and when you find yourself in wrestlebacks, you treat it like a new tournament.”
Post also emphasized that Old Bridge is a public school with native talent. He was the idea behind the jerseys worn by Old Bridge’s parents and fans, which read “One Team, One City, Unrecruited,” and he wasn’t afraid to give a special challenge to a rival.
“We know that St. Joe is in our department and in our district, they can choose some of their children themselves. We’ve built a lot of ours from the ground up and that’s what makes this group so special,” Post said. “We’ve done a lot to bridge the gap between our feeder and our high school team. So the whole “one team, one city” is something we’ve been preaching for four years and we’re going to keep preaching. We want to make sure the Old Bridge kids want to represent Old Bridge, and that’s special when you have a public school that stands out.”
Piscataway sends three to the finals
In a day dominated by traditional Middlesex County powerhouses Old Bridge and South Plainfield and rising power St. Joseph (Met.), Piscataway found a way to stage an impressive tournament of his own.
The Chiefs were solid in fifth place and had three finalists on the way in Brian Butler (138), Richard Boateng Baah (215) and Malachi Wyatt (285).
And although his team struggled out of the gate, they’ve bounced back nicely with five straight double wins and now success at the GMC tournament.
“It was huge for us. We had a difficult start to the season, but now our team is picking up steam. It’s obviously great for them as individuals, but it’s also a great example they set for our team where we have a lot of new and upcoming wrestlers,” said Piscataway coach Dan Smith. “In addition to all the daily examples they set, it was great for them to see that wrestling-specific type of example and see what you can achieve when you’re a good leader, work hard, trust the process and trying to get better every day. ”
While they are thriving now and have a strong foundation to build on after this weekend’s show, Smith’s program, like most, goes through periods where it isn’t as successful as they would like.
That’s why the morale boost that comes with a performance like Saturday’s is just as important as the result.
“Any little morale boost you can get when the team is down, whether it’s a few little things you’re trying to focus on, that kind of thing is huge. For the group we have this year, morale is usually pretty high because a lot of the kids are friends on the team and work very well together and have a lot of support for each other,” Smith said. “Just keeping the morale up – we’re trying to focus on that as best we can in case there’s a slump in success that every team goes through every now and then.”
The NJ High School Sports Newsletter now hits inboxes 5 days a week. Sign up now and be among the first to get all the boys and girls sports that matter to you, straight to your inbox every weekday. To add your name, Click here.
Thank you for relying on us to provide journalism you can trust. Please consider sponsoring NJ.com with subscription.
Jake Aferiat covers the SEC, Skyland and UCC. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Aferiat.