Southern wrestling coach John Stout does not want to jinx things, but he can sense a different vibe around the Rams than there was at times last season.
“Right now, the chemistry between all the wrestlers on the team is very, very good,” Stout said. “They’re all very good to each other. They all have the same focus. They all have a goal in mind. They’ve got each other’s backs right now, and that’s very important.”
And the Rams’ lineup appears to be more setttled than it was through much of last season.
“We have a nice balance throughout the lineup,” Stout said. “We probably don’t have anybody that anybody would consider a superstar, but they’re going to fight you every time.”
Southern, ranked No. 3 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10 and No. 13 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20, showed off its balance and depth on Wednesday night in their 54-13 romp over No. 5 Toms River South in a Shore Conference Class A South match.
The Rams (4-0, 1-0) won 11 of the 14 bouts, including three marquee bouts.
Junior Chris Crane (120) began the match by riding out Owen McClave in the second portion of the second overtime period for a 2-1 win. Crane (10-0) was the District 24 third-place finisher at 113 last year. McClave (10-1) was the Region VI runner-up and a state quarterfinalist at 106 last year. He spent the early part of the season wrestling at 113, where he will be for the post-season.
Crane, who fought off takedown attempts in both the final seconds of regulation and the first overtime period, appeared to have an advantage heading into the rideout portion because he had ridden McClave for close to a minute in the second period.
“I felt very confident during that part of the match. I knew I had it,” Crane said.
Six bouts later, senior Nick Racanelli, the District 24 runner-up to former Toms River South star B.J. Clagon at 145 last year, bumped up to 160 and knocked off unbeaten Joe Salvato, 4-2, by cradling him for three backpoints in the third period.
“That (wrestling Salvato) was the only thing on my mind for the last week, ever since my coaches said I was probably going to bump up and wrestle a bigger, top notch kid in the state,” Racanelli said. “I had to do what I had to do. It’s something I dreamed of doing.”
One bout later, senior Gerardo Jorge (170) defeated Antrez Clagon, 3-1, on a takedown with 25.4 seconds left in the third period. The bout was a rematch of last year’s District 24 160-pound championship bout, won, 2-1, by Jorge in three overtimes.
Southern, which wrestled tough on the mat, got pins where it expected to get pins. Matt Wilhelm (138), the District 24 champion at 106 in 2012 who did not wrestle much varsity last year, his older brother Zach Wilhelm (145), the state eighth-place finisher at 112 in 2011 and Joe Toci (152) recorded consecutive pins in a combined 5:52. Andrew Tonnessen (126), the District 24 runner-up at 126 last year, pinned in under a minute.
The Rams even got a dramatic pin from 195-pounder Pat Ferraro at the buzzer of the second period in a bout he was losing 2-1 and on bottom.
Southern has always geared its dual-meet season toward the NJSIAA Team Tournament. Last year, it was able to overcome the instability it had in its lineup at times to win the NJSIAA South Group IV championship for the eighth time in nine seasons. It advanced to the NJSIAA Group IV championship match for the sixth time in nine seasons.
With the lineup appearing to be more stable, Southern definitely has the look of being a contender again in Group IV. It will find out where it stands in the Group IV hiearchy Saturday night when it hosts Howell, ranked No. 2 in the APP Top 10 and No. 11 in the NJWWA Top 20.
“Last year, it was the first year on varsity for a lot of us. we kind of had to feel it out,” Racanelli said. “The only thing on our team’s mind is winning the Group IV state championship.”