Southern Wrestlers Becoming Battle-Tested Before Big Segment of Season Arrives
At this stage of the season, a lot of wrestlers are beginning to hit their peaks, first for their teams’ benefit as they embark on the NJSIAA team tournament and secondly for what often is considered the “third season,” when the individual state tournament gets under way.
And that’s why some coaches look to test their squads against really tough competition later in January, to gear up their wrestlers for what’s coming in February. Southern coach John Stout is one of those who seeks to sharpen the iron in his arsenal.
“You can be the best guy on your block, but what’s the point? That doesn’t get you anything,” Stout said following the Rams’ 38-16 loss to perennial powerhouse South Plainfield on Saturday, Jan. 21. “To me, it’s never a good idea to run from really good competition. In this sport, it’s all about learning how to wrestle against better guys and gaining the experience that comes with wrestling them. The only way to get better is to wrestle against better guys.”
And Stout is hoping that is the case with the Rams’ latest loss – only their second of the season – and the lessons they can learn from wrestling the more experienced Tigers.
“We lost a couple of matches that could have gone either way, but for the most part I wasn’t expecting much different of an outcome,” he said. “South Plainfield has a couple more bullets in the gun than we do, but I’m not disappointed in our effort. We just have to clean up some mistakes and go forward. It’s part of a process.”
The contest was close nine bouts into the contest, with the Tigers holding just a three-point lead, but a three-bout stretch from 220 pounds through 106 was the tipping point.
After South Plainfield’s Jake Giordano scored a major decision at 126, Southern’s Nick Pepe tallied a takedown in each of the first two periods en route to a 4-0 decision to trim the lead to a point, 4-3. Following a decision at 138 in favor of the Tigers’ Joe Sacco, the Rams’ Nick O’Connell got a pair of takedowns during the final 1:15 to score a huge victory over Kyle Bythell at 145 pounds, keeping South Plainfield’s lead to a point.
The Tigers pushed their lead to 13-6 with a pair of decisions by Jake Hoffman (152) and Ben Lundy (160), before young John Stout broke a 1-1 tie with a takedown 13 seconds into the third period and held on for a 3-1 decision. But after Ryan Marston won a 3-2, three-overtime contest at 182, South Plainfield seemed to be in control.
Southern senior Seon Bowker cruised to an 11-2 major decision over Joseph Nardacci, but the Rams didn’t have enough steam in the engine during the next three bouts, as South Plainfield’s Luke Neimeyer registered a pin in 4:54, power guy Zach DelVecchio recorded a 13-4 major at heavyweight and Thomas Fierro pinned in 46 seconds at 106 pounds to take a 32-13 lead.
Southern’s Owen Kretschmer stopped the bleeding with a 6-2 decision over Alex Amato at 113, but the damage was done and Stout elected to forfeit the final bout.
“We had a couple of setbacks early in the season, when a couple of guys we thought were going to be with us decided they weren’t going to be,” Stout said. “So we asked some new kids to step into those roles and it’s taken them some time to get up to speed. But I think we’re on the right track. I’m happy with how everybody’s progressing at this point of the season.”
Earlier in the day, the Rams (9-2) smashed Shore Conference Class A South foe Brick, 42-9, to remain undefeated in the division.
Jayson Scerbo pinned in 2:40 at 106, while Kretschmer scored an 11-6 decision at 113 and Sebastian Delligatti won a 6-2 contest at 120 before Pepe was awarded a forfeit. After Ryan Thorn won a 7-1 decision at 132, Matt Barnett scored a 9-7 win at 138 and O’Connell won an 8-0 bout at 145. Dan Gorman won, 6-2, at 152, while Bowker won a big, 3-2 clash with Brick stud Dean Helstowski, and Vin Miele scored a 3-2 win at 195. Dan Lynch capped the Rams’ scoring with a 2-1 win at 220.
Southern’s last divisional contest will be Tuesday, Jan. 31, against Toms River North (9-5). However, expect some fireworks in the Southern gym on Saturday, Jan. 28, when perennial power Phillipsburg comes to town. The Stateliners are 8-1 and are coming off a 40-27 victory over Pennsylvania rival Easton. Beyond North, Southern is slated to meet Haddonfield and Buena in a tri-match on Feb. 4, with the state team tournament to follow.
“Right now, it’s about getting our guys better for all the big stuff coming up,” Stout said. “But we need a lot of our guys to do more on the attack. They need to score points by being a bit more aggressive on offense. The bottom line is that you win by scoring more points than the other guy, and some of guys have to start chasing after points instead of sitting back and waiting for points to happen.”
— David Biggy