Brick Memorial freshman Harvey Ludington runs the gauntlet to win NJSIAA 175-pound state title
ATLANTIC CITY -- The single, center mat at Boardwalk Hall for the NJSIAA state finals, complete with thousands of curious and expecting eyes fixed upon it, can do strange things to a high school wrestler.
Countless times throughout the tournament's history in the famed building, the moment has forced wrestlers off their game, made them change what got them there, and the results have been predictable.
Brick Memorial freshman Harvey Ludington had a historic state tournament this weekend and his cool demeanor made it all the more impressive.
"Wrestling is my life, it's fun to me," Ludington said. "I don't care if you're in high school or college, I'm not afraid. Even if I get beat, I'm still going out there and trying my hardest."
On Saturday night on that center mat in Boardwalk Hall, Ludington completed a sensational state tournament by defeating Delsea junior Jared Schoppe, 5-2, to win the NJSIAA 175-pound state title. He is the first Brick Memorial freshman to win a state title.
"It feels amazing," Ludington said. "I just made Brick Memorial history."
Competing in the state finals can put a governor on an otherwise relentless offensive wrestler, but not Ludington. He pushed the pace and pressured Schoppe immediately, forcing a stalling warning against the Delsea standout 56 seconds into the bout. Less than 20 seconds later, Ludington muscled his way through the powerful Schoppe for a takedown on the edge of the circle to take a 2-0 lead. Schoppe was able to escape with 19 seconds left to make it 2-1 heading into the second period.
A second-period escape by Ludington was the only scoring in the middle period and extended his lead to 3-1. In the third, Ludington showcased his tough riding ability while also toeing the line between riding and stalling. Schoppe got to his feet a few times but Ludington was able to return him to the mat, albeit while also absorbing a stalling warning 49 seconds into the period. Schoppe eventually escaped with 25 seconds left in the bout, but as he pressed forward trying to secure a go-ahead takedown it was Ludington instead who got the takedown with four seconds left to clinch the 5-2 victory and the state title.
"He is fearless in his attacks, it's so impressive to watch," said Brick Memorial head coach Mike Kiley. "Every opportunity he gets to take a shot, he's in. And he protects nothing. Usually, guys are looking to circle and stall but he's still looking to score. It's so impressive."
Winning a state title as a freshman is one thing. Doing it in the manner Ludington did is on another level. For one, he is a freshman competing at one of the upper weights, which, for obvious reasons, is extremely difficult. Ludington was one of just three underclassmen in the 175-pound bracket and the other two, both sophomores, went a combined 1-4.
"I'm on the younger side and obviously I'm not as big as them, but what helped me was my mindset," Ludington said. "I went out there with nothing to lose and I won."
Ludington's experience in high-level national tournaments was also a factor. While he is still only a freshman, his wrestling ability and acumen are much more mature.
"When I was younger in Nevada is was wrestling with the high schoolers so that helped with my mindset," Ludington said. "I was more prepared, knew what I needed to do, what to critique, and what that level was all about."
And then consider the road Ludington traveled to win the state title. He won by technical fall over Lower Cape May standout senior Brayden Castillo in the opening round and then won by injury default over Howell standout junior DJ Henry in a bout he was leading 5-1. In the quarterfinals, Ludington scored the only points of the bout in a 2-0 victory over Red Bank Catholic junior Sabino Portella, the No. 2 seed who was last season's 170-pound state runner-up and went on to finish fourth this year. To reach the final, he dispatched St. Joseph (Montvale) junior Michael Dellagatta with an 8-5 victory, taking out the No. 3 seed who was third last year and finished third again this year. Schoppe was the No. 5 seed who beat No. 1 seed Shay Addison of Rumson-Fair Haven in the semifinals.
"Unbelievable," Kiley said. "It was loaded, especially in the bottom part of the bracket. He picked off some hammers."
"This is the Mecca, the toughest state to wrestle in," Ludington said. "All the studs are here. I had three kids ranked in the country in my weight class."
Ludington had all the right moves this past weekend and for much of the season, but in the offseason and early during the regular season he was still trying to put it all together. It was his first and only loss of the season that helped him change course and realize he could win a state title.
"It was when I finally fixed my attitude and learned I'm going to have close matches or take some losses and I have to wrestle (hard) no matter what," Ludington said. "During the summer I would get frustrated if a kid scored a takedown. I learned you can't do that."
Ludington finished third at Brick Memorial's Mustang Classic, losing 5-4 to Mount Olive's Hunter Perez in the semifinals. It wasn't the loss that bothered him so much as how it played out.
"I learned not to quit," Ludington said. "That match, I quit. If anyone watched it they know I just laid down on bottom. I don't quit anymore. There's no quitting."
Ludington went on to avenge that loss with a 5-1 victory over Perez during the NJSIAA Group 4 final.
"I had never really seen Harvey wrestle that much and that was the opening tournament," Kiley said of his loss at the Mustang Classic. "Harvey's dad came up to me after and said, 'That's not Harvey'. Tonight, that was Harvey that we just saw."
"I think at the beginning of the year he wanted to get his feet wet a little and test the waters and once he realized he's still doing to high school kids what he did to middle school kids, it started to click for him and it never ended."
Saturday night's bout at Boardwalk Hall certainly looked like the start of a historic career for Ludington. It's wild to realize he is still fairly raw in his technique and has a sky-high ceiling.
"That is the scary part," Kiley said. "He is still going to keep improving. He has a lot to work on, which is crazy that I'm saying that after he just won a state title as a freshman. He can clean some things up and then he's going to be an even bigger problem."
Brick Memorial knew what it had when Ludington joined the program this year, and now the rest of New Jersey knows, too. Harvey is here, and he's just getting started.