With the J.P. Stevens wrestling program climbing an uphill battle back to winning ways, head coach Vinny Gioffre views the Old Bridge Summer Duals tournament as a way to prepare his team for next season.
The last time the Hawks won a sectional title was in 2006. Since then they have experienced a downward spiral resulting in them being moved from the Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division to the White Division.
In the Red Division they were competing with the likes of South Plainfield, a perennial powerhouse which won its 31st consecutive District 12 championship last season. Since moving to the White Division the Hawks have struggled to finish with a winning record.
“When I took over the team had already been demoted and there were suggestions that it should be moved even further down because of the fact that they were unable to compete at that level,” Gioffre said.
He took over coaching the team two years ago with a mission to turn things around.
In his first season the Hawks went 1-23 and only had 18 wrestlers on the team. Last year, with a 37-man roster, the team finished 13-15.
“I think because of the wrestling community in Middlesex County, once I reintroduced it to the kids at J.P. Stevens, they realized that there is a solid and successful wrestling culture in Middlesex County, and that’s why I think we were able to kind of slowly but surely, I don’t want to say turn the program around because we certainly didn’t, but start moving forward,” Gioffre said.
J.P. Stevens was one of 18 teams to compete in the 24th annual classic. Gioffre sees the event as an opportunity to keep his wrestlers focused on their sport while working on their skills.
“I think what Old Bridge does and what Ron Mazzola (Summer Duals coordinator) does is very beneficial because we’re talking about 18 teams, and when you think about it, 180 kids are here in July to wrestle so there must be something about this,” Gioffre said. “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s just about wrestling in the off season and the kids can benefit so much just by coming.”
One of the athletes who represented J.P. Stevens was senior captain Samuel Marshall who had a 20-13 record last season. Marshall recognizes the impact that Gioffre has had on the wrestling team.
“I feel very lucky to have coach Gioffre as my coach and mentor. He’s taught me a lot of things and he never yells unnecessarily, he’s just a very fair coach,” Marshall said. “All he ever asks of anyone is that they put an honest effort in.”
Marshall hopes that after he and the other seniors on the team graduate, the Hawks will continue to improve.
“What I’d like to do is leave a solid base for when we do leave because with a senior heavy lineup you don’t want to leave and throw the younger kids into the woods unprepared,” Marshall said.
As for Gioffre, he has a plan for his team. He is setting reasonable goals and working to achieve them.
“One of our goals is to get back into the Red Division. Another one of our goals is to ultimately finish somewhere in the top five in the county tournament, and obviously one of our major goals is to finish in the top three in the district as a team,” he said.