A competitive showing against state-ranked competition at the Region V Duals over the weekend prepared the Monroe High School wrestling team for its first NJSIAA Tournament home meet in five years.
Now, the fourth-seeded Falcons, who advanced to Wednesday’s Central Group IV semis against top-seeded Howell with a 44-10 quarterfinal drubbing of fifth-seeded Hillsborough on Monday night, will get a chance to see how much they have improved since losing a 31-point decision to the Rebels a month ago.
“It’s a tall order,” Monroe coach Billy Jacoutot said of facing Howell, ranked No. 9 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20 poll, on the heels of his school posting its first sectional tournament win since 2008.
“For us, representing our abilities and going in there and closing that gap a little bit would be something that would be an accomplishment, in a way, so that’s kind of what we are looking to do.”
After dropping three of the first four bouts in a dual that began at 145 pounds Monday night, the Falcons reeled off 10 consecutive wins to pull away.
However, there was still plenty of drama to unfold at the end of the meet with Sal Profaci, the reigning Greater Middlesex Conference 126-pound champion, bumping up to face Hillsborough standout Jack Donnadio at 132 pounds.
Profaci, whose lone loss was a decision to undefeated Billy Povolac of Edison at 138 pounds, scored a dramatic 5-3 decision with a takedown just before the buzzer. Until Monday night, Donnadio’s only losses were to incumbent state champion Mike Magaldo of Watchung Hills and once-beaten Dylan Nace of Hunterdon Central.
In their bout, Profaci pushed the pace, while Donnadio, who was twice hit for stalling, once with nine seconds remaining, worked the edge of the mat.
“I knew he was physical and I knew I had to be physical right back,” Profaci said. “I knew the whole match was just going to be pushing pace, trying to break him and get that two. But he was a very tough opponent and a good wrestler; nothing but good things to say. It was a hectic match but you’ve got to love it. It was a grind. It was a battle.”
At the Region V Duals, where Profaci did not wrestle Ryan Pomrinca, one of the state’s other top 126-pounders, Monroe won eight bouts but mustered just one bonus point in a 26-25 loss to 19th-ranked North Hunterdon. The Falcons then split bouts in a 32-26 loss to Delaware Valley, which fell out of the statewide rankings for the first time this season last week. Monroe ended the Region V Duals with a loss to host Hunterdon Central, which had been ranked in the Top 20 earlier this year.
“We had three hammers — one after the other after the other,” Jacoutot said of the competition at the Region V Duals. “I feel like our kids did not fold like a card table. They actually hung in there and battled. I feel like we were a little flat (Monday night) at the beginning and I started kicking myself. Did I wear them out by taking them up there on Saturday? I started to get a little concerned (after dropping three of the first four bouts to Hillsborough). The battles can only make you tougher when you figure out how to fight through them — because you are going to get that natural fatigue (following the Region V Duals) — but when you break through, the momentum starts to carry you through and we did realize that we are tougher as a result.”
The Raiders took a short-lived 10-4 lead before the reigning Greater Middlesex Conference White Division champions’ upper weights ignited a landslide beginning with Jesse Bennett’s decision at 182 pounds.
Monroe outscored the Raiders 21-0 at 182 through 285 pounds (including a forfeit to heavily favored Pat Dressel at 195 pounds). Nick Fromhold, yielding more than 50 pounds to his heavyweight opponent, capped the upper weights run with Monroe’s second consecutive pin (Nick Goff also had a fall). The Falcons mustered just one more bonus point the rest of the way.
Hosting its first NJSIAA Tournament dual since 2008, Monroe paid great attention to detail, from the musical selections introducing wrestlers at each weight class to dimming the house lights for the entire meet.
Monroe’s township recreation program practiced in the wrestling room for the first 45 minutes of the dual. The youth grapplers then joined the crowd, adding some extra noise to an already boisterous gymnasium, and getting a glimpse of what their future could hold.
After Chris Muce concluded the victory with a decision at 138 pounds, the house lights were turned back on for the postgame handshake while Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared across the public address system.
The song was a fitting conclusion for a team whose head coach — Jacoutot is a New York native — is on the verge of turning Monroe into a Top 20 program.