By Wayne Witkowski
Allentown High School’s wrestling team is on the threshold of a season of distinction.
Already assured of its first berth in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championships in four years — and currently seeded fifth for the competition that takes place next week — the Redbirds also had the chance to win their first Colonial Valley Conference (CVC) Patriot Division championship since 2007 Feb. 3 if they scored a victory at Robbinsville High School.
Allentown is 9-1 against CVC opponents, which is a turnaround from a 4-9 mark a year ago. A victory at the Feb. 3 meet would forge a three-way tie for first between Allentown, Robbinsville and Hopewell Valley Central High School, which handed Allentown its only division loss.
The Redbirds, who are 11-6, turned in an impressive fourth-place finish out of 15 schools entered in the Mercer County championship meet Jan. 30 in Robbinsville. Zach Turner repeated as champion in his 182-pound weight class. Liam McDermott, a sophomore, also won his weight class at 170. Both carried No. 1 seeds into the county championships.
“We’re hoping to finish strong. The kids are fighting for each other and coming together as a group,” coach Mitch Nock said. “The kids put in their time in the offseason.”
Allentown excelled despite missing two starters: unbeaten Jordan Rugo at 160 pounds, who last month won his 100th career bout, and Connor Marks at 152.
“We came together as a team and showed team character,” Nock said. “We’re like a family. It’s hard to wrestle when some are missing, but they showed they’re like family and are there for each other.”
Turner is 24-2 and McDermott, who finished third in the county meet as a freshman last year, is 20-3. Both swept all three matches.
Three other wrestlers got fourth-place finishes: senior Sebastian Rizzo, who is 16-5 at 120 pounds; freshman John Kuchar, who is 12-11 at 152; and senior heavyweight Theo Vlahos, who is 12-8.
“Kuchar as a sophomore finishing in fourth place is a pretty big accomplishment,” said Nock, as Kuchar won three bouts in the tournament by pin. “He wrestles with heart and passion.”
Sophomores Nolan Pecci at 145 pounds and Isaiah Saiz at 138 finished fifth, and junior Connor Meyers at 113 was sixth.
Last week, Allentown also beat Trenton Central High School, 51-15, behind a rousing victory by freshman Nick Campbell at 195 pounds. Trenton had beaten Allentown last season.
“That was a nice win,” Nock said.
After facing Robbinsville, Allentown has a Senior Night meet against Lawrence High School at 5 p.m. Feb. 5 and is home against Ewing High School at 5 p.m. the following day.
Allentown ran its win streak to seven games by sweeping past struggling opponents Montgomery High School, 66-40, Jan. 30 and Hamilton High School West, 58-24, Jan. 27.
The Redbirds (11-3) had a CVC Freedom Division showdown at Ewing Feb. 2 and host Robbinsville Feb. 5.
Kali Hartshorn scored 18 points and Ryan Weise and Bianca Santos added 13 and 12, respectively, against Montgomery, as Allentown led, 40-17, at halftime. The Redbirds also jumped out to a 40-8 lead at halftime against Hamilton West off a 23-0 second quarter, as Weise and Santos scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, and Sarina Campanella fired in nine.
Allentown (8-7) clinched a third straight trip to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III tournament when Tristan Millett’s 16 points and Hunter Gerling’s 14 ignited a 67-45 rout of Hamilton West Jan. 27. Nahshon Taylor and Elijah Kelly added 12 and 11 points, respectively.
State tournament qualification is based on having a .500 or better record over the first 16 games of the season.
“It feels good to get back into the state tournament, but we have goals we’d like to reach by the end of the season,” coach Jay Graber said as his team hosted Ewing (11-3) Feb. 2 and is home at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5 against a struggling Robbinsville team.
Allentown also showed some solid signs of resilience in a 49-45 loss at Eastside High School in Paterson (9-4) Jan. 30 when it erased a 15-point deficit after getting into foul trouble by going on a 17-0 run. Gerling led the way with 13 points.
“They’re a respectable program that knows about winning tight games,” Graber said of Eastside. “They made the plays they needed to make. We have to step it up on defense and offensively, we have to continue to move the ball and share it by playing selflessly.”
The Robbinsville-Allentown Ravens (10-7-1) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over Princeton High School (9-6-3) Jan. 27. John Francis, who scored twice, and Josh Rosenbaum each had a goal in the third period to snap a 1-1 tie. Shawn Camisa had two assists. Goalkeeper Joey Nolan made 29 saves.
The Ravens followed it with a 4-4 tie with Monroe Township High School (6-5-5), which rallied back for two goals — the first with 3:47 left and the game-tying score with 1:02 remaining. Camisa, Francis, Rosenbaum and Joe Pontrelli each had a goal, and Camissa had three assists. Nolan made 37 saves.