By Jeff Appelblatt
Giving their all but finishing as the runner-up at the annual Union City wrestling tournament could have worn out the wrestlers from John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial High School.
Fortunately for the Mustangs, that wasn’t the case. They immediately showed that second place in an 11-team competition is nothing to mourn.
Behind the team’s lone winner that day, Victor Torres, JFK Memorial followed up the event at Union City High School on a rampage. The team kept it close in its win over Sayreville War Memorial High School Jan. 15, 37-36, but then it smothered Steinert High School and Lawrence High School by 42 and 46 points, respectively, during a quad meet Jan. 16.
The 132-pound Torres kept his season perfect with a 45-second pin and a 9-3 decision during the quad meet.
And his teammates were with him every step of the way, starting with Aaron Coleman, David Lee, George Kirvalidze, Giovanni Magee, Guiessepi Castanza and Johnny Valdez. Each of the six student-athletes won multiple battles to help put away the victories for JFK Memorial.
Monroe Township High School was able to outdo JFK Memorial in the final duel of the quad meet. After bashing Steinert, 58-12, and Lawrence, 67-6, the wrestlers from Monroe defeated the host Mustangs, 39-18.
JFK Memorial finished second of the four teams competing. Torres found himself on the lower end of a 3:59 pin against Monroe’s Nick Lombard, handing him his first loss of the season.
The Mustangs had a dual meet scheduled against Westfield High School Jan. 20. They will make a short trip to Colonia High School Jan. 23 for a tri meet against local rivals Colonia and Woodbridge High School. The athletes will hit the mats starting at 10 a.m.
Colonia High School
The Patriots will enter the Jan. 23 meet looking better than they have in years. They lost to Piscataway Township High School Jan. 16, but Colonia will enter the rivalry meet having won five of its last six.
The team’s top wrestler, Luke Pero, will face some of his toughest competition of the season. To keep his perfect record in tact, he’ll have to get by Torres from Colonia and Jack Quinn from Woodbridge
Woodbridge High School
As a whole, the Barrons are projected to perform the best at the rival competition — even if they’re coming off their second loss of the season. Old Bridge High School was able to handle Woodbridge, 37-25, at a Jan. 16 quad team meet in Woodbridge.
Woodbridge coach Mike Carbone won’t use it as an excuse, but the bulk of his lineup is still trying to get over being sick.
“Whatever hit us, it got us pretty good,” the coach said. “We had a touch of the flu, head colds, stomach flu — the kids end up in my face, but I haven’t gotten sick. I would have taken [sicknesses] from my starters.”
But part of the reason Carbone couldn’t use his ailing athletes as an excuse is because they’ve still been performing well.
For instance, sophomore Nick Nyers got into a recent match to fill in for one of the sick regulars. Little did Woodbridge’s coach know Nyers was sick, too.
The Barrons enter the competition in Colonia with only two losses in 16 contests.
Carbone will only take his team’s start to the season with a grain of salt.
“Right now we’ve exceeded [my expectations],” the coach said. “But we haven’t won anything yet. We haven’t won a division title since 2005. We haven’t won a county title since 2005. I’ve been grinding that into [their] heads to make sure they keep working harder.”
That’s a way to make sure a team doesn’t get overconfident — or even cocky. Coach Carbone hates the idea of being cocky.
“There’s a point where you’re confident and a point you’re cocky,” the coach said, thinking about his team’s demeanor in a recent win. “We could have won 77-0, but [being cocky], that’s embarrassing.”
Woodbridge’s coach is confident he won’t have to explain that to his team again, or at any point this year.
Ask junior Marquan Payne — he knows his coach won’t hesitate to penalize guys for things they do wrong, on or off the mat.
“When [Payne] was a freshman, I threw him off the team,” Carbone said, thinking about the struggles Payne was having with his classes and at practices. “But he’s straightened himself out. He made a 180-degree change. His raw talent was always there, but he’s now getting a chance to show it.”
The 160-pound wrestler will look to show the crowds at Colonia he’s the real deal while hoping to improve his 15-3 record.
The majority of Woodbridge’s boys basketball losses were to Colonia. But since the Dec. 30, 47-38 loss to the Patriots, the Barrons have been impeccable. They’ve won six straight to start 2016, and they have won half of them with ease, defeating South Plainfield High School, Monroe and Sayreville by double figures.
“They’re getting used to playing together,” Woodbridge coach Matt Gigliello said about his athletes. “To win, you have to make shots.”
Reaching 50 points was also something the coach recognized as important earlier in the season. And his team topped that number in all but one of its latest six victories.
“Our defense is just as important as our offense,” Woodbridge’s coach said. “If we’re not scoring, we’re depending on our defense.”
It’s no question for opponents where Woodbridge is looking to get its points from. Quran Robinson, Keshaun Henry, Harry Rutkowski and Quaasim Glover combined for 77 percent of Woodbridge’s points in the team’s first 11 games.
During the streak, the Barrons solidified a fifth scorer. Hura Blane, who made only three baskets entering 2016, made at least two in each game since the calendar change.
“He’s putting the ball in the basket,” Gigliello said. “But usually we look at him for defense. We put him on the other team’s top scorer.”
Nonetheless, a chance to step up and score is motivation for anyone to do even better on the defensive end.
Woodbridge (8-3) will need help on both ends of the court in its next outing Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. in Woodbridge if the Barrons will continue its streak. They’ll face J.P. Stevens High School — the one team that beat them not from Colonia. In the Dec. 22 loss, Robinson, Henry, Rutkowski and Glover combined for 26 of Woodbridge’s season-low 29 points. The Hawks (7-3) won that game, 40-29.