Phil Bakuckas is the example now.

Any talented wrestler who steps into a Hammonton High School singlet will be compared with Bakuckas.

Bakuckas won District 30 and Region 8 titles this season. He became the school's all-time wins leader and the first Blue Devil to reach a state final.

Bakuckas is now the benchmark when it comes to Hammonton wrestling.

He also is The Press' Wrestler of the Year.

"I knew I could hang with the best of the best," Bakuckas said. "I knew I was right there with them, so I wanted to leave no doubt and train as hard as I can to be at the top of the podium. I was pretty close."

Bakuckas said all season long that the key to his success this season was his early exit from the 2011 state tournament at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

He rededicated himself following the loss.

Bakuckas spent much of the high school offseason traveling to camps and tournaments, where he caught the eye of a handful of NCAA Division I programs, including Rutgers University, where he accepted a scholarship to wrestle next season.

"I was right there with those kids, so I went out there with no regrets and just wrestled how I knew I could," Bakuckas said.

Bakuckas had always been a leader in the room, but Hammonton coach Dave Mauriello said he took it to a new level this season.

"He has been an absolute pleasure to watch his whole career," Mauriello said. "But this year was unique in the sense that from Day 1 he was completely focused on winning a state title."

Bakuckas' stats were impressive. He had 24 pins this season, 18 of those coming in the first period.

Mauriello said Bakuckas gave up fewer than 20 points all season and was only taken down twice, both coming at states.

"He decided about two weeks into the season that he wasn't going to let anyone score anymore," Mauriello said. "He decided that he was going to take everyone down and not let anyone up and he did that for about his next 25 matches."

"He didn't need a whole lot of prodding because he was so focused," Mauriello said. "He knew what he wanted to do when he went out there and that is a rare, rare talent to know what you want to do and be able to go out there and execute it."

Phil's older brothers, John and Mike, were also standouts at Hammonton before going on to wrestle in college.

Thanks to Phil's 41-win season and school-record 132 career wins, the Bakuckas brothers broke a state record for wins by three brothers with 350. They had 50 losses among them. The official program given out at states listed the Valenti brothers of Kittatinny - Matt, Andy and Derek - as the previous all-time leaders with a 337-46 combined record.

Phil was unaware of the record.

"That's pretty good," he said. "That will be tough to beat."

Coach of the Year

Egg Harbor Township may have had the finest season in school history this season.

The Eagles got their first win ever against state power Absegami en route to the program's first Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title.

Not bad for a team not picked by many to be among the top five in the CAL.

EHT's Mike Caiazza is The Press' Coach of the Year.

The Eagles finished 18-6 and made the state team tournament for the first time since moving to Group IV a decade ago. EHT sent four wrestlers to states.

Caiazza was voted the District 32 Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches.

Team of the Year

Southern Regional didn't have a single wrestler alive for a state title after the first night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City earlier this month and had only one (senior Steve Johns) even qualify.

That didn't slow the Rams from being one of the best in the state.

Southern finished 11-3 and won its seventh South Jersey Group IV title before falling in the state Group IV semifinals.

The Rams won their 12th District 24 team title, finished No. 1 in The Press Elite 11 and is The Press' Team of the Year.

"It just goes to show you that not everyone has to be a state champ or a state placewinner," Southern coach John Stout said. "You can still be good. You can still have success."

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