A dual meet between defending district tournament team champions on Monday night provided a microcosm of the Greater Middlesex Conference this season.
The league, which still has more than its share of individual stars, was decimated by graduation and transfer, putting most teams, including reigning District 19 champion Perth Amboy, which dropped a 49-12 decision on Monday night to reigning District 20 champion East Brunswick, in a rebuilding mode.
The Panthers and Bears lost a total of 15 starters who combined for 319 victories a year ago.
East Brunswick (3-2), led by undefeated incumbent state runner-up Jonathan Schleifer, who has pinned all 11 of his opponents, appears better equipped than the Panthers (5-4) at this juncture to deal with the cyclical nature of scholastic sports.
“I’m looking at the lineups and it just seems like we still have a lot of quality wrestlers, but it doesn’t seem like it’s as strong a team conference as it has been in the past,” East Brunswick coach Matt Pazinko said. “It seems like a lot of people lost a lot. I think it’s a rebuilding year for a lot of teams. Hopefully they can get their teams together, because I love the parity.”
Had the Glasgow brothers, Sean and Stephan, not moved out of district to Bound Brook, East Brunswick may have had an easier time trying to contend with five-time defending conference tournament champion South Plainfield and Monroe for the league title.
“Those guys are two very talented wrestlers,” Pazinko said of Sean (132/138), a favorite to medal in Atlantic City, and Stephan (120/126), a promising freshman who defeated incumbent region runner-up Gianni Calo of Bridgewater-Raritan in the Somerset County Tournament finals over the weekend.
“They are going to help any lineup which they are in, so if they are with us it would definitely fill in some spots. We would love to have them, but they are not here, so that’s what we’ve got to deal with.”
Perth Amboy, which has started as many as six freshmen in dual meets, employed four freshmen and forfeited two weight classes on Monday night. The squad is the youngest in Panthers’ coach Mike Giordano’s 32-year tenure.
The Panthers, without undefeated Noel Ortiz (220), the reigning Morris Knolls Invitational champion who is sidelined with a high-ankle sprain, won only three bouts but yielded just nine bonus points (not including the two forfeits).
A marquee meeting between Perth Amboy’s Adam Soto and Sam Kim did not take place at 160 pounds because the latter is still battling a nagging injury.
Kim’s absence forced East Brunswick to juggle its lineup, creating a domino effect that led to the Bears dropping a 32-28 decision to Sayreville last week.
“We knew they were 4-1 coming in,” Pazinko said of the Bombers. “Looking at some of their opponents, trying to see where they are strong and where they are weak, it was kind of hard to get a real good feel for them. We didn’t get the results we expected. It was disappointing, but I think our kids came back over the weekend and wrestled well (defeating Bishop Ahr and South Brunswick at a quad), and I think tonight they wrestled well, also.”
The highlight bout took place at 106 pounds, where East Brunswick’s Mark Schleifer avenged a 5-4 loss at the Bear Invitational to Noberto Torres. In the December tournament, Torres caught Schleifer with a five-point move to erase a 4-0 deficit with 30 seconds remaining. On Monday night, Schleifer wrestled a smart defensive bout en route to a 4-0 win.