The South River High School wrestling team, which was favored to win the Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division two of the past three years, entered this season as a contender.
The Rams, however, put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the division title with consecutive victories over defending division champion Middlesex and Carteret earlier this week.
Narrow losses to Middlesex three years ago and to Carteret the following season cost the favored Rams the division crown those seasons.
South River, which forfeited at four weight classes last winter, still has three holes in the lineup, but has been able to overcome with a stellar senior class and the addition of some talented newcomers.
The Rams graduated just two key wrestlers from a young squad that finished with a 4-15 record and won just two division duals a year ago.
“Last year, it was a rebuilding year,” South River coach Bobby Young said. “We have everybody back. We were looking forward to this year.”
South River is particularly solid at 126 through 152 pounds. The Rams have much depth and maneuverability in that stretch of the lineup. Several promising freshmen, including John Ramos (132) and Kyle Baszak (152), have been integral to South River’s 5-1 start.
The return of Richie Leogrande, who is competing at heavyweight after spending last season on the hardwood, and of Doug Ryan, the defending GMC Tournament 195-pound champion, from a broken leg suffered during the 2014 football campaign, has solidified the upper weights.
Tyler Burgess (126) is one of seven senior starters from whom Young is looking for leadership. Others include Brandon Pacheco (138), Jared Smith (145), Quinn Ciesielski (152) and Aldo Posas (170).
After defeating Middlesex 46-30, South River edged Carteret 39-36. The Rams have division duals remaining against Highland Park, Spotswood and New Brunswick.
A program on the rise, New Brunswick is expected to give South River its toughest challenge.
Monroe has two huge duals next week, wrestling at No. 3 Edison on Wednesday and against No. 1 South Plainfield at the Rutgers Athletics Center on Friday.
The latter will take place before Rutgers’ showdown with Penn State.
Should Monroe defeat Edison, which it edged for the White Division title a year ago, the Red Division championship will be decided against perennial state power South Plainfield.
The Tigers have won a division title 10 of the past 11 years, failing to win a championship in 2008.
GMC Wrestling Top 10
(records through Thursday)
1. South Plainfield 10-1
2. Monroe 3-2
3. Edison 2-0
4. Old Bridge 4-1
5. Sayreville 5-0
6. Bishop Ahr 4-3
7. J.F. Kennedy 5-1
8. East Brunswick 1-1
9. South Brunswick 4-6
10. South River 5-1