It is a different time for the fabled Jackson Memorial High School wrestling program.
“We’ve always been a team of firepower, firepower, and even where we had people who didn’t have firepower, they could still be firepower at times,” said Jackson Memorial head coach Aaron Gottesman.
The days where the Jaguars could put one star after another out on the mat are over for now.
“You look at any program anywhere in any profession, you go through ups and downs,” Gottesman said.
Most programs would kill for Jackson Memorial’s “down” cycle. The Jaguars are still putting out a more than competitive team, as their 37-21 win over Toms River South on Monday night in a Shore Conference Class A South match at Joe Perry Gymnasium attests.
“I wouldn’t consider this a down year, but obviously it’s not an up year from when we were the No. 1 team in the state of New Jersey and we had multiple state placewinners and state champs,” said Gottesman, who is in his third season as the Jaguars’ head coach. “Do I think there’s some kids on this team who can place in the state? Absolutely. Do I think there’s somebody there who could win a state title? Absolutely. Do we have as many as we have had in the past? Absolutely not.”
Gottesman compares the makeup of this Jackson Memorial team to the one the Jaguars’ biggest rival over the last decade — Southern — has had over the last several seasons.
“You look at Southern the last couple of years and they put a tough kid at every weight class,” Gottesman said. “We’re trying to put a competitive kid at every weight. Some of our kids are young and getting their first varsity experience. They’re getting better and better every week. We just hope we can keep improving.”
Toms River South (3-1, 0-1), ranked No. 5 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10, is going through a similar situation.
The Indians graduated major firepower after last season in two-time state champion B.J. Clagon and Kevin Corrigan, last year’s state runner-up at 113.
Indians coach Ron Laycock feels he has the makings of a potential contender for the NJSIAA Group III championship if his team can get all its wrestlers in the lineup.
Toms River South is currently wrestling without junior 220-pounder Mike Rutter, who has been sidelined with a back injury since early in the preseason. Senior 145-pounder Justin Lubranicki has also been sidelined with an injury since early in the preseason.
The result is a lineup that has some firepower in Owen McClave, who is currently wrestling at 120 but will eventually get back down to 113 when the two-pound allowance kicks in on Jan. 15, Brandon Murray (132) and Joe Salvato (160), but also some holes.
“Our goal is to be better at the end of the year, not right now,” Laycock said.
The rest of the week is going to be perhaps even more difficult for Toms River South. The Indians are at Southern, ranked No. 13 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20 and No. 3 in the APP Top 10, on Wednesday night and host Brick Memorial, ranked No. 9 in the NJWWA Top 20 and No. 1 in the APP Top 10 on Saturday.
“It’s a grind in A South, especially when you do it all in one week,” Laycock said. “But, North (Toms River North) and Brick aren’t going to be easy either with our lineup right now.”
Jackson Memorial (1-0, 1-0), ranked No. 7 in the APP Top 10, took control of the match quickly on a 4-2 overtime win by Hunter Reese (138) over Jason Cairns in the first bout of the match and consecutive pins by freshman Tim Hamann (145) and junior Sean Leahey (152).
Junior Connor Bohringer (182), the District 21 champion at 170 last year, defeated Quentin DeCarlo, the District 24 runner-up at 182 last year, 2-0, on a first-period takedown to improve to 7-0. It was the second time in a week Bohringer defeated DeCarlo. He pinned DeCarlo in a Walter Woods Tournament semifinal.
Sophomore Brody Graham (220) provided another key win with a 2-1 double overtime win over Richie Gonzalez.
“The testament to any program is how well you can reload vs. rebuilding,” Gottesman said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to get kids who have gotten better in the offseason and through our rec program and our middle school program so that these kids are coming to us prepared.”