After placing ahead of teams in invitational tournaments that are currently receiving more votes than it in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20 poll, Monroe High School may have felt it deserved to be included among the state’s elite.
A 49-18 loss to 13th-ranked Howell on Saturday, however, illustrated that the up-and-coming Falcons have a little more work to do as they continue to transform from a quality team to an aspiring Top 20 program.
“I don’t want to downgrade my team, but as evidenced today, when you wrestle a team like Howell, you know where you stand,” said Monroe head coach Billy Jacoutot, whose previously undefeated squad now owns an 11-1 record.
“I feel like, for us, it was a reality check, not because we felt we were better than we were, but it’s because you see what very good is and that you know you’ve got to work. That’s good for a coach, because I have their undivided attention now.”
Jacoutot will need it as Monroe has a huge showdown looming in 10 days against Edison for the Greater Middlesex Conference White Division championship. Both teams match up well, but the balanced Eagles, like Howell, appear to have an advantage against the Falcons in the upper weights.
The meet started favorably at 220 pounds for Howell with Kyle Cocozza and heavyweight Nate Litkowski, who combined for 50 wins last year and already have 28 victories this season, recording a major decision and pin, respectively.
Howell won the first five bouts to build a 25-0 lead before Sal Profaci, widely regarded as one of the state’s best 126-pounders, ended the run with a 10-7 decision over once-beaten Anthony Gagliano. Profaci, who was working for a major, got taken to his back in the closing seconds.
“Sal was wrestling well for five minutes and 50 seconds,” Jacoutot said. “He was being a little overaggressive. It wasn’t anything like he got thrown because he wasn’t wrestling well. He was trying to dominate and score points and he got out of position. It was a headlock situation where he (yielded) two and three (points). If Sal was wrestling badly, I’d say 10-7, we are disappointed. But I feel like this is the best I’ve seen him and it was just a situation where Gagliano puts his time in, and if you get out of position for just a little tick, he (can take) advantage. But we are not worried about Sal.”
The lineup Howell (17-2) put on the mat – minus two starters – boasted a combined 145-38 record for a .792 winning percentage, and not a single wrestler entered the dual with a losing mark. Undefeated Joey Schultz, one of the state’s best 170-pounders and Howell’s lone returning state qualifier, received a forfeit.
The Rebels defeated 16th-ranked South Plainfield 33-17 earlier this month at the Boresch Duals, where they also endured a 35-31 loss to eighth-ranked Hanover Park. Howell’s only other setback was a 28-19 defeat to 11th-ranked Southern Regional.
Monroe freshman Nicky Lombard held his own against Peter Dee, one of the state’s top 106-pounders, dropping a 6-2 decision.
“We knew that Pete Dee was good on the mat and that’s where he won the match,” Jacoutot said. “But Nicky did well. He’s got to get back to work. He’s got some bigger goals here he wants to accomplish, so he can actually use (Saturday’s loss) to move forward.”
Monroe’s other wins in contested bouts came at 160 and 195 with Harrison Utter and Pat Dressel both pinning backups, and at 152 with Justin Gaffrey scoring a 2-1 decision over Anthony Pozsonyi, a .500 wrestler.
Earlier this season, Monroe finished 26.5 points ahead of 20th-ranked North Hunterdon at the Neptune Classic and nine points ahead of St. Augustine, which has received more votes than the Falcons in the weekly NJWWA Top 20 poll, at the Walter Woods Tournament.
Monroe may still very well prove to be a lower rung Top 20 team by year’s end. Against the defending District 21 and Shore Conference A North champions who reached last year’s Central Group IV final, however, the Falcons proved they are still a work in progress.
“As far as bench marks,” Jacoutot said, “if we are wrestling well, we will crack in when we can. Would we be thrilled to see our name among the top 20 in the state? Of course. But do I spend a lot of time harping on it? Not really, because I know we have so much to work on.”