2022-23 honors

It was a great year for the NJIC, which saw 14 teams finish the season over .500 and 15 win double-digit matches.

Some programs made huge strides in conference competition while others stepped up and won big-time duals outside of the league.

Below, find our postseason honors for the NJIC, including Wrestler of the Year, Coach of the Year, Team of the Year, the final rankings and the top storylines throughout the season

Wrestler of the Year: Devin Ryan, New Milford, So.

It was a season to remember for Ryan

After a blood-round bid in last year’s state tournament as a 106-pounder, the sophomore made a huge leap at 113 in 2022-23 with a run to the semifinals in Atlantic City. He came into his bracket as the 12 seed and finished sixth after losing to Seton Hall Prep’s Logan Brzozowski and wrestling back.

Ryan finished the year 35-8 with a District 1 title and a Region 1 runner-up effort. It’s his second district crown and his first trip to the region final after finishing fourth as a freshman. He was also the only NJIC wrestler to medal at the state tournament.

Girls Wrestler of the Year: Leeana Mercado, Lodi, Jr.

Mercado was one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the entire state. Her head coach in Dale Fava would tell you she was the best.

The junior finished the season 19-1 and with the 107-pound state championship. She wiped out tough competition along the way.

She defeated a two-time state finalist in Bogota/Ridgefield Park senior Theresa Zeppetelli and the 100-pound champion in Sparta freshman Paige Weiss. Her lone loss came to Lakeland Highland Prep (FL) standout Mary Manis in the Girls Beast of the East 109-pound final.

Mercado stepped away from state competition as a sophomore to wrestle freestyle because she’s attempting to wrestle for the Puerto Rican national team. She has lofty goals and they’ll only get loftier in 2023-24.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Rehain, Rutherford

Head coach Jeff Rehain has been at Rutherford for a very long time – 31 years to be exact.

He has seen a lot of good, and a lot of bad. The 2022-23 campaign was a good one for the Bulldogs.

Rehain and company finished 15-7, reached the NJIC semifinals and the North 2, Group 2 semifinals. The Bulldogs went 9-10 last winter.

This was one of Rehain’s finest coaching jobs, but he tipped his cap to his experienced lineup.

“We had a great senior class,” he said. “They were around us when they were little and they practiced alongside us when they were in fifth through eighth grade. We won seven matches in those four years. They were going into a program that wasn’t good, but they stuck with us.”

Rutherford had a freshman 120-pounder in Joe Keeler who won 31 matches and almost reached the state tournament. Junior heavyweight Gavin McGill was the lone state qualifier for the Bulldogs.

McGill started wrestling in eighth grade, and late bloomers have become more of the norm for Rutherford. The town’s youth wrestling program folded during the pandemic and hasn’t recovered.

Rehain takes these years when he can get them because there’s no guarantee they come.

“There’s no secret to wrestling,” he said. “When you have a junior program, you have a high school program. We always have good individual wrestlers, but we got back to fielding a team this year. It made the year fun. It’s a positive step.”

Team of the Year: Emerson/Park Ridge

It’s tough to replace a legendary coach let alone Stan Woods – the winningest in N.J. wrestling history – but Joe Mazzeo certainly had a strong first year at the helm. Mazzeo led Emerson/Park Ridge to its 14-straight NJIC Patriot Division title, sixth-consecutive NJIC championship and a run to the North 1, Group 1 final, where the Cavos lost to Kittatinny. The Cavos ran away with the NJIC crown, barreling through Rutherford in a 42-28 final and New Milford 48-24 before toppling the Knights again 47-36 in the first round of the team tournament.

Emerson/Park Ridge sent four wrestlers to the Region 1 Tournament in senior Jake Farrington (113), junior Ryan Messick (120), senior Louden Mazzeo (144) and junior Jacob Shannon (175). Shannon punched his ticket to Boardwalk Hall as the ninth seed in the bracket. He was the second-highest seed to survive the action in West Milford.

River Dell, Pascack Valley, Pascack Hills and a North 1, Group 1 semifinals win over Newton made up some of the signature victories for the Cavos other than the ones previously mentioned.


Final NJIC rankings

1-Emerson/Park Ridge (14-8)

2-Rutherford (15-7)

3-Hasbrouck Heights (20-5)

4-Bogota/Ridgefield Park (17-7)

5-New Milford (10-8)

6-Pompton Lakes (19-8)

7-Butler (17-11)

8-Secaucus (17-13)

9-Glen Rock (14-8)

10-Becton/Wood-Ridge (14-10)