Jaguars’ wrestlers have eyes on postseason competition

Frank Galipo
Red Bank Regional High School hosted the Shore Conference Wrestling Tournament on January 30. Jackson Memorial’s Jay Epperly (left) wrestled CBA’s Chris Koutzer (right) in the 152 lb. class.

By Wayne Witkowski

Jackson Memorial High School’s wrestling team rebounded from a crucial 35-24 loss to Southern Regional High School in a Shore Conference A South Division showdown earlier this month and took it out on the teams that followed, including Jackson Liberty High School when the Jaguars delivered one of their harshest poundings in the annual crosstown rivalry by a 53-18 score.

In that quad meet Jan. 21, the Jaguars swept Central Regional High School, 69-6, and Lakewood High School, 64-15, for a combined 147-point margin over the three teams on the day.

Tim Hamann, a senior, stormed from an understated 7-6 season at 152 pounds with three more pins (in a combined 4:09) on that day to show that he can be taken seriously for the upcoming NJSIAA  state sectionals and district championships, where he sat out last season with an injury.

Heralded Matt McGowan, who is 18-2 at 132 pounds, and fellow senior Dan Bergeron, who is 19-4 wrestling at 160 and 170, are also finding great success. The core group includes junior Dave Lemay (18-2 at 220) and sophomore 106-pounder Vin Scollo, who is 17-2.

Jeremiah Nash, a senior at 120 pounds, had the trifecta in his three bouts at Jackson Memorial’s quad meet — winning by a pin, a decision and a technical fall.

What it shows is that the Jaguars, although 9-7 coming off that meet and seeing Southern Regional that day clinch A South for the second straight year after a 42-9 blowout of Brick Township High School, is a team ready to re-focus on its next goals for postseason glory.

In the Shore Conference Tournament pre-quarterfinals Jan. 26, the Jaguars earned the No. 7 seed and take on 10th-seeded Point Pleasant Borough High School (10-4), which is the Shore Conference B South Division champion, at Raritan High School. The winner of that bout goes to the quarterfinals the same day. The semifinals and finals are Jan. 28 at Jackson Liberty.

Jackson Memorial reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals last season, when it finished 15-6.

“We’re looking forward to the postseason,” said Doug Withstandley, who is back as head coach after stepping down to be an assistant the past four years under Aaron Gottesman, who has traded places and is an an assistant coach this season.

Despite its record, Jackson Memorial is seeded second in NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV and is a dangerous threat to repeat and win its ninth section title. In fact, Withstandley said the Jaguars would be awarded the top seed in the section if everything stays the same because they beat the team currently seeded ahead of them, Brick Memorial High school, by a 33-21 score Jan. 4.

Those seedings come out before the sectionals begin the second week of February, with the District 25 tournament to follow on the third week.

Withstandley agrees the state sectionals and districts are two different animals, with coaches jockeying wrestlers into weights that are most advantageous to their teams in the sectionals and wrestlers competing at their prime weights for individual glory at districts.

Withstandley said his team has the tools and the inspiring tradition of success to compete well in both, as well as in the Shore Conference, as his many new wrestlers will be well-seasoned from an up-and-down campaign. In the team competitions, Withstandley said the key for some wrestlers who may be hard-pressed to win is to avoid giving up bonus points by getting pinned or losing lopsided decisions. The longer they wrestle — staying away from technical falls and keeping matches from slipping into majority decisions — the better the Jaguars’ chances to stay in a position to win.

“We’ve been in a slow learning curve, but our guys are capable of putting together good matches,” Withstandley said. “They’ve gotten better and better at technique and positioning.

“We should do well in districts. We have individuals who should score high.”

McGowan’s reputation from coming off a trip to the state championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City last March as a Region 6 champion — the 51st by a Jackson Memorial wrestler — in a 29-5 season continues to grow off his work ethic. It has carried around the weight room to wrestlers like sophomore Carsten DiGiantomasso, who is competing one weight class down at 126 pounds, where he is 13-5. McGowan’s two losses come by a combined five points in decisions to state-caliber wrestlers Robert Garcia of Pope John XXIII Regional High School, 2-0, and Joe Sacco of South Plainfield High School, 5-2, on the first weekend of January.

“He works unbelievably hard. He’s our team leader,” Withstandley said of McGowan. “It’s his focus and his doing the extra things which he also put on the [other] guys and holds them accountable.”

Bergeron shows improvement on paper, beating Vineland High School’s Joseph Carter by a 9-0 score in a dual meet after also beating him in a tournament last month by a tighter 3-1 decision.

“He’s been better and better as the season progresses,” Withstandley said. “He’s good on his feet and gets takedowns when he’s on defense and offense and when he’s on top, he picks up points.”

Those two wrestlers along with Lemay, Scollo and Hamann will carry the weight of the team’s success, in a matter of speaking. After that, it becomes a matter of that translating over to other wrestlers’ understanding of how they should handle the challenges when the competition gets tougher, and there is an even greater emphasis on a wrestler’s mental approach.