EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – The scoreboard didn’t favor Kingsway sophomore Finnegan McFadden but that mattered little.
“We weren’t worried,” Kingsway head coach Mike Barikian said. “We have confidence in all of our wrestlers and know that this group will wrestle until the last buzzer. We don’t want to be on bottom at the end of a period but that happens and I never doubted he'd get his opportunities.”
On Saturday McFadden and junior McKenzie Bell (120 pounds) won Region 8 titles for the Dragons at Egg Harbor Township High School. The two will be joined next weekend at the Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall for the NJSIAA State Individual Tournament by third place finishers in freshman Josh Palmucci (106), freshman Dakota Morris (126), senior Alieis Almanzar (195), and Sean Horner (220) at the seasons culminating event.
“Since I was five years-old, I wanted to be under that spotlight,” said McFadden, who had followed the Dragons wrestling program and knew that introductions for the Region finals come with an added flair. “This is the biggest thrill for me so far. I’m still looking to improve and I have bigger goals but this is pretty good.”
McFadden squared off against Highland senior Justin Carris, who entered the final in the 132-pound weight class undefeated and the top seed. Carris opened a 2-0 lead after the first period, but McFadden had one distinct advantage that slowly showed itself.
The Dragons, who just two weeks ago won the Group 4 team state title over Phillipsburg, have wrestled a very aggressive schedule. In fact, with several national tournaments on the docket including Beast of the East and Escape the Rock, he had competed in 37 bouts compared to Carris’ 21. That schedule prepared McFadden who clearly had more in the tank as the bout proceeded.
“I was actually pretty bummed out after that first period,” McFadden (30-8) confessed. “I thought I had a few advantages and opportunities to score but didn’t get them.
“But I did feel stronger as the match moved on and when he took that (injury timeout) I felt he was getting tired. I knew that wasn’t going to happen to me.”
It didn’t as McFadden stayed the aggressor through the final two periods and worked a 6-5 decision against Carris to win his first Region 8 title.
“It’s funny,” Barikian said. “The entire team has improved all year and some of their matches get overlooked. (McFadden) won maybe the biggest match against Phillipsburg, but because of the weight that day started at, it kind of got overlooked.
“We’re young and he’s a part of that youth but we also know we have talent. He’s a great kid to coach because he’ll take everything and use it. We’re building a culture and he’s a big part of it.”
McFadden has the added benefit of working with assistant coach Brandon Becker, who won a Beast of the East title as a sophomore and state title as a junior. Becker, who wrestled at Indiana University where he went 119-36 and was a three-time All-American, has been in McFadden’s corner since the youngster began wrestling.
“He started when he was 12 in my basement with my brother Kurtis,” Becker said. “He started slow but with time he started to figure a lot out.
“Years of repetition is starting to show. He has a lot of good stuff to work with. It doesn’t matter how high or low, he’s straight across the board. It takes an awful lot to rattle him.
“But I think that’s a byproduct of our schedule and the culture we’re building”