Young Bloomfield High School wrestling team looks to make progress this season

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photos by Jerry Simon: Bloomfield vs. West Orange, Dec. 20, at BHS.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ – At Bloomfield High, excellence in sports is a school tradition. Bengal fans still talk about the exploits of such people as Frank Tripucka in football, and his son, Kelly, in basketball.

One of those sports with a great tradition at BHS is wrestling. When Sam Fusaro was at the helm, Bengal mat fans always expected the very best.

Ryan Smircich, the new Bengal head wrestling coach, expects to continue the BHS mat tradition. But Smircich, who was a top grappler at Hopatcong High, admits that the 2017-18 campaign could be a difficult one for the squad.

“We have a very young and inexperienced team,” said Smircich, who vied on the mats for Hopatcong in the late 1990s. “Of the 35 kids we have in our program, 29 of them are either freshmen or sophomores. But on the positive side, I guess that bodes well for the future.”

During the 2016-17 campaign, the stars for Bloomfield were Barak Pipkins at 170 pounds and Adam Lutick at 220. Angel Mercado at 113 pounds and David Broderick at 195 were also effective for the Bengals.

This winter, the top two grapplers in the Bloomfield lineup could be sophomore Jacob Febo at 113 pounds and junior Xavier Gulley in the challenging heavyweight class.

“Jacob is a strong kid for his size, and he’s really dedicated to the sport,” said Smircich. “Xavier is also a very strong kid, and I like his agility. He shows great footwork out there on the mats.”

A big test for Febo, Gulley and the rest of the team will come tomorrow evening, Dec. 22, at Caldwell. Teams like Caldwell, Cedar Grove and Seton Hall Prep are always among the best in Essex County.

“Wrestling the best gets you ready for competition like the ECT, Districts and Regions,” said Smircich, who says he learned “an awful lot about coaching” from Fusaro. “Hey, at the end of the month we’ll be competing in the Roselle Park Tournament, and that will be a great test for our kids.”

Bloomfield, which will host archrival Nutley on Jan. 31, knows it won’t be easy replacing 11 graduated seniors. But the youngsters in the program show a lot of enthusiasm.

“The kids just have to work as hard as they can,” said Smircich, who in his senior year in high school in 1999, was one of the state’s top wrestlers at 160 pounds. “Working hard is what Coach Fusaro always stressed.”

What Smircich is particularly looking forward to, is the Districts at Phillipsburg on Feb. 17. The atmosphere for the mat sport in P’burg is always electric.

In 2017, Pipkins sparkled for the Bengals in that competition. For the year as a whole, Lutick was the Bengal leader.

“Those guys are gone, so now it’s time for other kids to step up,” said Smircich. “We have a good rec program going, so I’m very optimistic about the future of our program.”

MAT NOTES – Another old rival, Belleville, will face BHS in a quad match at BHS on Jan. 13… Bloomfield will face Cedar Grove on the road on Jan. 12, and and travel to SHP on Jan. 23… In the Kearny Tournament last weekend to start the season, Gulley and senior Danel Felix (132) had second-place finishes…

The Bengals gave a good effort but fell to West Orange HS, 43-35, on Wednesday, Dec. 20, at BHS in their first dual meet of the season.