Not everybody is happy with Connor Verga’s assault on the Lawrence High wrestling record book.
“There’s a lot of angry old guys out there,” Cardinal coach Chris Lynne said with a laugh, “who are going, ‘There goes my record!’”
Then again, there are a lot of happy young guys—namely, Verga’s teammates—who appreciate what the senior has done for their revitalized team.
Verga’s junior year was a clinic in dominance on the mat as he wrestled at 170 and 182 pounds. He went 33-6 and set a school single-season record with 27 pins and also set the LHS standard with 16 sub-minute pins in a season. This year he continues to add to his Cardinal mark of 32 sub-minute pins in a career.
Entering a Jan. 15 dual meet with West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, Verga was 9-1 this season with all nine wins being via first-period pins (four by sub-minute). He had 59 career pins, which were five short of tying the school record of 64.
Asked if he gets a big charge out of planting a guy in under a minute, Verga laughed and said, “Not any more, it happens a lot. I just try to do the most I can for my team, and pinning does that.”
His efforts helped Lawrence to yet another school record last year—most wins in a season with 23.
“Our team has been phenomenal over the past few years,” Verga said. “We’ve had seniors graduate and freshmen are filling the varsity spots and doing well there. We see that and it motivates the older guys to do better.”
Verga’s motivation comes from several sources, including goals that have yet to be reached.
The two main things missing from his resume are a Mercer County Tournament championship and a trip to the states. He finished second last year in counties, and in his first regional match thought he had his opponent pinned but the call was never made, which led to the dismissal of that official for the remainder of the tournament. Verga ended up being pinned in the third period.
“I feel I could have made the states last year if that didn’t happen,” he said. “This year I hope I can win counties and make the states. Last year made me angry, and fired me up for this year.”
Connor is the third Verga to wrestle for Lynne, who also utilizes their father, Jeff, as an assistant coach.
“His brothers (Jake, Zach) were district place-winners, they were comparable to him, but not like what he’s doing now,” Lynne said. “They’re all the same though. All great kids, hard workers. You never have to tell them anything.”
Verga began wrestling at age 6 in the Robbinsville Youth League, and quickly realized there was no other sport for him.
“I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember that’s where I really started to love the sport and got into it. I’ve been wrestling basically year-round ever since,” he said. “I quit football my freshman year because I decided year-round wrestling would help me the most.”
Verga described himself as the Cardinals sacrificial lamb as a freshman, as he usually went against the opponent’s better wrestlers in strategic moves to best utilize Lawrence’s top guys. He went 8-6 that year as five of his losses were by pins while wrestling anywhere from 160 to 182 pounds.
Connor became a regular as a sophomore and finished .500 in dual meets while wrestling at 182 and 195. Years of work finally paid off last year as he exploded into one of the Colonial Valley Conference’s top grapplers.
“He’s very tough on his feet, that’s his main position,” Lynne said after Verga won by pin against Hopewell Jan. 8. “He can wrestle anywhere but he’s good on his feet. Most guys pin from the top position, he pins from his feet. Kind of like (teammate) Jake Dallarda, he’s a thrower. Connor is the same way.
“That kid tonight wanted no part of Connor. He would run away from that as much as he could. And Connor was just patient. He’s eventually gonna get his man. But now he has other takedowns in his arsenal, he’s not just a one-trick pony where he’ll use the same move every time. He’d still get it but everyone knew what was coming. Now he can hit other moves and he’s much more efficient this year.”
That patience Lynne spoke of was apparent during the Hopewell match, as Verga was happy to wear his opponent down in methodical fashion.
“I use a big move a lot of the times,” he said. “But tonight it was just something where I control his head and made it so I was bearing down on his head, making him tired and when I felt my opening I attacked right away. I didn’t hesitate; I went right for it and put him right on his back.”
It’s all part of the new Verga strategy.
“Last year he would have tried to rush everything to get the pin,” Lynne said. “This year he’s patient, he’s looking for the proper time to hit his move and it’s paying off.”
In his quest for a state berth, Verga understands that the tougher the competition gets, the longer he will have to wrestle. There won’t be those first-period pins he’s so used to.
“In practice I make sure that I wrestle six minutes every time,” he said. “I put my all into it as long as coach has us live, and my partner (Dallarda) puts his all into it.”
Looking beyond this season, Verga plans on wrestling in college at either Rider or The College of New Jersey, depending on how much he focuses on wrestling or his academic goal of being a lawyer.
“I either want to be a criminal lawyer or maybe a patent lawyer,” he said. “I’ve been interested in law since I could remember. My parents were very into (TV shows) NCIS and CSI. They always had it on, and I got really interested. I took the junior law class at my school and got voted as a lawyer in that and defended my case there. I feel that my ability to argue my point with another person is a very good skill I have.”
He’s pretty good at arguing his point on the mat as well, much to the chagrin of some former record holders at Lawrence High.