By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
While some may have deemed them upsets, Princeton High wrestling coach Rashone Johnson was not surprised to come away with two individual champions at the Mercer County Tournament last Saturday at Robbinsville High.
“It was a good weekend for us,” Johnson said. “The wrestlers performed well.”
Princeton picked up a pair of titles as freshman Alec Bobchin won at 120 pounds and junior James Verbeyst came away with the top spot at 145 pounds. The Packet area added two other champions as West Windsor-Plainsboro South’s Joe Salerno won at 126 and Nick Maher won at 138 pounds.
Verbeyst had reached the MCT finals as a freshman and a sophomore before finally getting over the hump this year for his first county crown. The junior topped Lavinsky Collins of Ewing, 6-5, in the finals.
“It is a big weight off my shoulders after two times getting second,” Verbeyst said. “To get to the top of the podium is nice. I didn’t have the match I wanted against Nick (Maher) in the finals last year. I wrestled him again two weeks later and lost by one.
“This year I was trying to stay relaxed and focused and not put too much pressure on myself. I went tin expecting to get first. Anything less would have been extremely disappointing.”
Verbeyst won his first two matches by pin before edging Collins in the final.
“That is no surprise he could do that,” Johnson said of Verbeyst taking the title. “He got it done. It could have been some finals jitters getting over the hump and finally winning. He has always been one of the best wrestlers in the county. He was second as a freshman and second as a sophomore. Now he wins it.
“He is three times a finalist and that puts him in the company of some decent people who came out of Mercer County.”
Bobchin, a freshman, upset top-seeded and defending champion Sean Thompson of WW-P South in the semis, 5-4, before posting a 7-2 win over Tariq Morton of Nottingham in the finals
“It is an upset to everyone that isn’t in my room,” Johnson said of Bobchin’s win. “We knew he could do that. We haven’t wrestled South yet so they had not faced each other. He is having really good year. He committed to the sport and trains year round for the sport.”
Bobchin was the lone freshman to win a title this year and is believed to be the first from Princeton.
“It felt pretty good being the first freshman champ from Princeton and only freshman to win this year in general,” Bobchin said. “Knowing how hard I worked to get there it felt good. I always work hard in practice and outside with the extra work after practice
“I have been wrestling year round for the past five years. I wrestle at different tournaments and attend different practices for a team called Sepa. They take me to different tournaments. The ones that really have helped me are my private coaches. During the off-season I work with them three or four times a week.”
Bobchin went into the tournament relaxed and just let his ability on the mat come through on the way to the title.
“The pressure wasn’t really on me,” Bobchin said. “I am just a freshman. The pressure is on everybody else. “After beating the first seed that gave me a lot of confidence going into the final knowing that I could get a victory and hopefully win a title.”
Bobchin will have three more chances to add to his first MCT crown. Verbeyst is happy to get his first after two near misses.
“I have been doing a lot of take downs on my feet in practice and that helped me seal the deal in the finals,” Verbeyst said. “I had two takedowns. That has been a point of emphasis. The tournament went well and is a good stepping stone to all that comes next with districts and regions. That is the post-season.”
Princeton finished seventh as a team at the MCT. In addition to the two winners, Princeton also placed with Daniel Monahan, who finished fourth at 113, David Beamer was fourth at 170, Kyle Angelucci was fifth at 182, Ethan Guerra was fourth at 195, and Noah Ziegler was sixth at 285.
“This is the first time since I have been coach we have had two champs in the same year,” Johnson said. “And of the guys that made the podium were are only losing two that graduate."
For South, which finished sixth as a team, Salerno won at 126 with a pin at 2:28 against Herbert Edwards of Trenton. Maher won at 138 with a 16-4 win over Jack Milazzo of Robbinsville. Maher has recorded first-period pins in each of his first two matches in the tournament.
Four other Pirates placed in the top six as Thompson was third at 120,Griffin Valentine was fourth at 132, Steven O’Campo was third at 152, and Duncan Kruetter was fifth at 160.
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor