Photo by Julianne Patten
The New Jersey High School State tournament begins this weekend in the state capital.
The roots of high school ultimate in New Jersey run deep for the New York Rumble. Current Rumble players Marques Brownlee, Brian Walter, Matt Weintraub, Scott Xu, Jake Price and Charlie Patten all took their turn competing at states.
However, the most successful man in New Jersey states history is Rumble Head Coach Anthony Nuñez. Nuñez began coaching at Columbia High School in Maplewood back in 2000 and went on to win 11-consecutive state championships during his tenure.
Nuñez coached a pair of Rumble players in high school in Walter and Brownlee. Walter made the varsity team his sophomore year and won three-straight state titles, including the final two years when he was a captain.
Brownlee was a bit of a different case. He didn’t make the varsity team until his junior year but in 2008 and 2009, he captained the Columbia B team to fifth place finishes at states. Brownlee joined the varsity squad in 2010 and won two championships of his own.
“Both Marques and Brian were very coachable,” said Nuñez. “They had their highlights then but you watched them knowing that one day they were going to rip teams up at the next level.”
Nuñez’s 2009 title came at the expense of then Watchung High School captain Price. Price was an integral part of the Warriors team that made its first finals appearance since before he had even made it to high school.
“It’s funny, because early in high school I kind of just hated the other guys because they were my opponents,” said Price. “I never made an attempt to humanize them in my mind. Basically, I had my goals, and they were the guys standing in the way, so I hated them.”
The following year, Brownlee won his first title, this time over Scott Xu and West Windsor Plainsboro North. Xu won first team all-state that year as West Windsor North finally vaulted themselves into the championship.
“We established some pretty intense rivalries between our schools through competing against each other year-after-year,” said Xu. “Winning the state title was a goal we tried to achieve each year, and gave us something to work for each season.”
Brownlee and Nuñez almost did not make the finals that year as they almost lost what Nuñez referred to as a “heart attack game.” Weintraub was a captain of the 2010 Westfield High School team that met Columbia in the semifinals of states that year. In a game that was tied most of the way through, Columbia won by two in a very heated affair.
None of these guys had quite the experience that Patten did though. His team at Bernards High School started with him. They went to their first state tournament ever in 2008 and returned in 2009. Bernards would make the quarterfinals during 2008 before falling to Xu and West Windsor North. In 2009, Bernards returned to the quarterfinals, but were beat by Weintraub and Westfield.
“We actually had no idea what we were really getting into and had no idea we were underdogs,” said Patten.
It goes beyond the Rumble as well. Teddy Browar-Jarus of the Whitecaps, who plays New York on Sunday, played for Princeton back in 2002. He lost the state championships to CHS on universe point.
“Teddy used to single-handedly beat teams in high school” said Nuñez. “Our mission was to just stop him.”
This year’s tournament shapes up with defending champion Westfield poised to defend their title as the number one seed. However, Columbia looks to avenge their first loss in 13 years as they enter as the second seed. Watchung will surely be in the mix as well. They will all be competing for a chance to claim a state championship. The name of the title is apparently subject to change.
“I’ve always said that the trophy should be named after me,” said Nuñez. “I’ve been lobbying for it since I left. I mean, I did win it 11 times in a row. I personally like the Anthony Nuñez Cup.”
There is no guarantee that the name will change but this will definitely be another great state tournament.