As the only high school wrestling team participating in Saturday’s quad not ranked in the Home News Tribune Top 10, host Piscataway used the meet as an opportunity to measure its distance from a return to prominence.
Second-year head coach Bill Pavlak, who took over the Chiefs after helping transform South Plainfield into a perennial state power, inherited a program that had more region champions (three) than dual meet victories (two).
Despite holes at three weight classes, Piscataway finished with an encouraging 7-14 record last season.
Three region qualifiers — Jordan Cooke (145), Javier White (152) and Eti-Ini Udott (182) — have returned along with 220-pounder Alan Cruz (back after a one-year-hiatus) to provide a solid nucleus.
The Chiefs defeated 10th-ranked Carteret 33-32 on 195-pounder Matt Oliva’s technical fall in the final bout, but lost to second-ranked Monroe (40-27) and fifth-ranked Edison (50-15) on Saturday.
Monroe and Edison, which defeated Carteret 52-19 and 52-17, respectively, did not wrestle one another Saturday, waiting instead for a Jan. 29 Greater Middlesex Conference White Division-finale showdown that, barring an enormous upset along the way, will determine the division crown.
Carteret used Saturday’s quad to prepare for Tuesday’s battle with Spotswood which, depending on how many strides Middlesex has made this season, could determine the Blue Division title.
“I explained to the kids this is where we sharpen our claws,” said Carteret coach Dan Farrar, whose Ramblers are the defending division champions. “The best way to get better is to wrestle better competition. Even if you lose, you come off the mat a better wrestler.”
Piscataway employed the same philosophy on Saturday. The Chiefs hope to move a step closer this winter toward returning to their 2009 District 19 Tournament championship form, but must likely wait another year or two for a promising feeder system to take root.
Piscataway’s recreation and middle school programs have quantity and quality with three state place-winners (including a state champion) at the latter.
“The lower levels have got good numbers there but that really hasn’t translated yet to the high school,” Pavlak said. “We’ve always had good individuals. Our goal is trying to improve the dual meet season. We’ve got a decent lineup this year. We don’t have the numbers.”
Pavlak only needed to look across the mat at Monroe in the quad opener to see the direction in which he wants his own program to head. The rapidly rising Falcons flexed their newfound depth, sitting half their starting lineup against the Chiefs out of concern for match limits.
“It’s something we are trying to build toward,” Monroe coach Billy Jacoutot said of his expanding roster. “We have a long way to go. We want to be a program that always can put someone out that’s decent at every weight class and has more kids that are struggling to make the lineup. We are starting to get there.”
Pavlak, whose team won five bouts against the Falcons, said “that’s where we want to be where we have at least six or seven backups for the entire varsity where you know you can move guys around.
“We are in a situation where if a kid misses for any reason, the team is really going to suffer.”
Piscataway, which hosts the GMC Tournament and has a spacious wrestling room, christened its brand new mat on Saturday.
The infrastructure is in place for success. Pavlak, who compiled a 110-14-3 dual meet record at South Plainfield from 1994-2001 with six GMC and eight district tournament titles, simply needs more bodies with which to work.
“I feel like Coach Pavalak’s resume speaks for itself,” Jacoutot said of the two-time Region III Coach of the Year. “So it’s no surprise to me that he’s got Piscataway on the rise here. It’s an athletic town and I think that if they have a nice coach like him in place, the sky is the limit.”
“There is a lot of potential here,” Pavlak said. “With the facilities we have, we can accommodate (80) wrestlers in our room. We just need the numbers.”
Similarly undermanned Carteret forfeited three weight classes on Saturday and awaits the return of promising 195-pound newcomer Charles Faulkner, a first-team All-Area football selection at linebacker who opened the season winning two invitational tournaments.
“We are trying to get him back as soon as possible,” Farrar said of Faulkner, who has a skin infection but may return in time for Tuesday’s showdown with Spotswood. “We are kind of a skeleton crew right now.”
The Ramblers, who also forfeited at 113 and 120 pounds, are solid through the middle of the order (Elias Vega is a returning district champion at 160 and Javier Gonzalez also qualified for regions at 145), where they won their only three bouts against Edison, which is the GMC’s most improved team.
Farrar said he believes Mike Nowak (132) is “a dark horse” with “all the tools” and that the Ramblers “are just waiting for him to put everything together.” Tyler Pitchford (152) is already wrestling at a different level.
Freshman Farhan Khan, a middle school state champion for Carteret, is a promising 170-pounder that opponents must respect.