Young Lions wrestlers facing early-season struggles


By Wayne Witkowski

Jackson Liberty High School’s showdown against Point Pleasant Borough High School has been one of the most anticipated matches in Shore Conference wrestling in recent years, with the B South Division championship usually determined by the outcome.

This year’s matchup Dec. 21, however, lost some of its fanfare when Jackson Liberty put its most untested and youngest lineup in the team’s 12-year history.

“It’s too early,” said Mike Eddy, who has coached the team from the start with a 129-82 career record with the Lions before the season-opening showdown.

The meet with Point Pleasant Borough turned out to be the opener for Jackson Liberty when the Icebreaker Tournament at Old Bridge High School was cancelled the previous weekend because of the weather.

Point Pleasant Borough won, 52-16, although the division title might not hang entirely on that outcome this season, with Lacey Township High School moved into the division. Lacey finished well down in the standings in the fiercely competitive Shore Conference A South Division in a 17-10 season, was a state sectional qualifier and is expected to contend in B South. On Dec. 17, Lacey had three weight class champions and three other medalists in the TCNJ Pride Tournament.

Eight Jackson Liberty wrestlers graduated, including half of the starting lineup that accounted for 183 wins on last year’s 16-11 team that won its second straight division championship and three of its last four. Two of them were state qualifiers: district champion Tyler Kalmowitz, who was Region VI runner-up at 160 pounds, and Nick Pellegrino, district runner-up and third-place region finisher at 113.

Only three wrestlers return with proven winning records from last season, led by junior Josh Bollard, who was 20-14 at 106 pounds. He’s wrestling at 113 pounds. The others are juniors Shaun Plaza, who was 15-9 wrestling at 132 pounds, and Marc Palmieri, who was 18-13 and expected to wrestle primarily at 160 pounds, although he also may compete at times at 152 or wrestle up to 170.

Palmieri, with a pin at 5:29; Julio Aparicio, who pinned his opponent at 106 pounds in 1:03; and Bollard’s 10-1 major decision were Jackson Liberty’s only victories against Point Pleasant Borough.

Eddy said he likes the attitude his team has shown in the wrestling room, and he expects most of the wrestlers to improve throughout the season — some of them significantly after struggling the previous season — for when they head into the District 22 Tournament toward the end of the season. They got a good test at the Walter Woods Invitational Dec. 27 at Middletown High School South, where the Lions placed a respectable fourth last year.

“I think so because some worked in the summer and their being older,” Eddy said of the potential for progress. “Some wrestled their first year on varsity last year and wrestled [competitively] only for their second season, including Plaza. A lot will be coming back next season.”

Four seniors are in the mix, including Jair Hatch, who Eddy said shows signs of big improvement from an injury-riddled 6-18 season at 120 pounds. Gurpreet Singh (138) wrestled above his normal weight through much of last season, while Jacob Alber and Tyler Subert are vying for bouts at 195 pounds. Two other wrestlers await eligibility clearance after the holiday break at 220 pounds, and Eddy still is searching for a starter at heavyweight, as the Lions are shorthanded in the upper weights.

“That’s a big loss in matches not having a heavyweight there,” Eddy said.

Sophomores Peter Colon at 126 pounds and Evan Rankal, who makes a big jump from 113 pounds to either 132 or 138 pounds, complete the lower weights.

Juniors Eric Heitmann started most of last season and looks to improve on his five wins, and Kevin Devenney was out with an injury most of last season. Sophomore Jordan Grimes at 170 and junior Chavis Coleman, who was 10-16 at 182 pounds, round out the starters in the upper weights.

Eddy also has two freshmen who show some of the best technique on the team but are a year away from being 20-bout winners in 106-pounders Romeo Willis and Dorian Hall.