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Braves’ wrestlers shift focus to District 21 tournament

By Jeff Appelblatt

Manalapan High School wrestling coach Scott Pressman was disappointed to see his team lose in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V semifinals Feb. 8 at Monroe Township High School.

Even though Monroe was ranked higher in the bracket, Pressman could only anticipate his team pulling out a win.

“We had planned on winning, but it wasn’t in the cards,” the 10-year coach said. “We were shorthanded. A couple of guys had the flu. A couple of guys got hurt.”

But no coach wants to sound like he’s making excuses.

“They’re very good. They wrestled better than us,” Pressman said, giving credit to Monroe.

When the season is still in progress, all coaches need to be ready to continue.

“We’ll get a workout in today,” the coach said while preparing for practice Feb. 10. “Then we have a match this weekend.”

It was a quad meet that Manalapan had Feb. 11. They traveled to Basking Ridge to face Ridge High School, West Milford High School and Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest.

The Braves won the event with ease, sinking Ridge, 58-15, West Milford, 53-18, and Demarest, 52-12. It was clear that no one on the Manalapan roster lost focus after the state tournament loss.

Pressman only hopes the focus and determination continues over to the District 21 Tournament Feb. 18, which is back home in Manalapan.

“Nine schools are coming. The top three guys that place in that go to the regions,” the coach said. “After that, 12 guys will go into the regional tournament, and the top four get to compete in the state tournament the following weekend.”

As the season nears the finish, Pressman knows that it will be his seniors that have the most to compete for. While Michael Goebel has already agreed to continue his wrestling career at East Stroudsburg University, Manalapan has a few more seniors waiting until the season is complete to see what’s best for them.

“We’re in a bit of a holding pattern with them,” Manalapan’s coach said about seniors Jake Staklinski, Justin Obermeyer, Matt Mustillo, Ronny Ghaida and Steve Byrne. “We’re going to see where they’re at after the season. We’ll see how far they go into the districts, regions [and] states, and we’ll see if more doors open up.

“Unless you’re a blue-chip kid, the recruiting process doesn’t really start until after the season concludes. Sometimes guys blossom late.”

If one wrestler stood out over the years for Manalapan, it’s been Ghaida. As a junior last season, Ghaida won the 152-pound weight class in District 21. This year, Ghaida (27-3) has even more motivation than last season.

“If he ends up a state winner, more guys will give him a hard look,” Pressman said.

The Braves’ coach can’t help but look forward to the final team effort of the season first.

“There’s a team title at stake for districts. That’s our new focus,” Pressman said. “We set the school record for wins this season [with 27] dual-meet wise, and we’re trying to tack onto that.”

Then it could be about the individual wrestlers.

“We’re just trying to get as many guys to the next stage, and once on to the next stage, to the next stage,” Pressman said. “Once they’re on the final stage, we’ll try to get them on the podium. Hopefully we can have a couple of guys do that.”

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