By Wayne Witkowski
Jackson Memorial High School wrestling coach Doug Withstandley, a four-time state place-winner himself when he wrestled for the Jaguars, had some guarded optimism about the chances of any of his wrestlers qualifying for the state championships.
Although nine Jaguars had advanced out of the district tournament to the Region 7 championships at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River last weekend, none had won a district title — the first time that happened since 1983.
But three advanced to the state finals at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall March 3-5, led by David Lemay. The junior reached the finals at 220 pounds, where he dropped a tough 4-3 decision to Pennsauken High School’s James Thompson.
Matt McGowan, a junior bidding for a return to the state championships, reached that goal when he finished third in the region tournament at 132 pounds. McGowan carries a 33-5 record and 92 career victories to Atlantic City.
Tim Hamann, a senior who was fourth in the region at 152 pounds, also advanced.
The top four finishers in each region earn a berth in the state championships. In the past, only the top three qualified.
Hamann, who is 23-10, looks to become a state place-winner like older brother, Brian, who was fourth in the state in 2010 and 2012 and fifth in 2013.
Lemay takes a 32-5 record to Atlantic City after winning his first three bouts by decision in the region tournament before the tough loss in the finals. He beat Kevin Ryan of Toms River High School North, 13-4, followed by a 7-2 victory over Andrew Halecki of Cinnaminson High School and a 3-1 triumph over Cameron Greene of Audobon High School.
“I think everyone overall wrestled a good tournament,” Withstandley said. “It was nice to see Dave Lemay win a big semifinal and once he was there in the final, I think he was disappointed he did not win it.
“Matt McGowan is wrestling well but in the close matches, he needs to be more offensive, which is what we’re working on. I like his chances if he wrestles with confidence; he’s in a position [with the No. 13 seed] where he can place. Tim Hamann has a tough draw at the bottom and opening against the No. 1 seed, but if he gets hot in the wrestlebacks, hopefully he can place. Even Lemay has it tough where the winner of his [opening] bout faces the No. 1 seed.”
Sophomore Vin Scollo, junior Nicholas Tomasiello and senior Jeremiah Nash of Jackson Memorial were each one victory away from making the state championships.
Scollo lost a 5-4 decision in the 106-pound wrestlebacks at the regions to Cody Walsh of Camden Catholic High School. Scollo dropped his quarterfinals bout to Andrew Clark of Collingswood High School.
Tomasiello dropped a 6-1 decision to John Donegan of Paul VI High School in his wrestleback bout after he was pinned at 1:27 by top-seeded Vince Delligatti of Haddon Township High School in the quarterfinals.
Nash lost a 5-2 decision at 120 pounds to Jiya Gannone of Rancocas Valley Regional High School in his wrestleback bout. He was pinned in 58 seconds in the quarterfinals by Camden Catholic’s Lucas Revano.
Josh Bollard, a junior who is 32-6 competing at 113 pounds for Jackson Liberty High School, also advanced to the state championships after finishing third in Region 6 at Brick Memorial High School. He had not gotten past the districts last year.
Four Lions competed in the region tournament. Jackson Liberty has had a state qualifier for the last seven years.
Bollard bounced back strongly after losing by technical fall in the semifinals to top-seeded Rich Koehler of Christian Brothers Academy (15-0) at 4:27. Koehler was sixth in last year’s state championships.
Bollard led all the way when he beat Christian Charache of Hightstown High School, 7-4, in the wrestlebacks and then avenged a loss to Howell High School’s Luke Rada in the final seconds of the district tournament convincingly, winning a 10-4 decision.
“He wrestled a pretty good tournament after the disappointment of not winning a district title this year, which made him a little hungrier to advance in the region tournament, and he beat [Rada] pretty soundly,” Jackson Liberty coach Mike Eddy said. “In the old style [of the tournament], the top three [region finishers] advance, so he already got his spot in the wrestlebacks. His win over Rada shows a little more that he’s a good wrestler. It also will help him get a better seed [in the state championships].”
Bollard draws the No. 22 seed.
“I can’t wait. I just have to stay confident and not worry about seeds but just wrestle who’s in front of me,” Bollard said. “In the beginning of the season, my goal was to reach the regions but once I got there, I wasn’t satisfied with just that. I wanted to keep on going to Atlantic City.”
Bollard said he has gotten better on his feet and usually gets the first takedown while staying strong for six minutes when it’s necessary.
In the pre-quarterfinals, Bollard pinned Northern Burlington County Regional High School’s Ellery Perfect at 1:19 and then pulled out a 2-1 decision over Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Ben Sabo.
Shaun Plaza, a junior wrestling at 132 pounds for Jackson Liberty, was pinned at 1:23 in the wrestlebacks. He won his pre-quarterfinals bout by major decision (13-5) over Asbury Park High School’s Tyrone Bailey, but he got pinned in 44 seconds by top-seeded Gianni Ghione of Brick Memorial, who is expected to advance far into the state championships. Plaza is 21-15.
Senior Jair Hatch at 120 pounds and junior Chavis Coleman at 182 lost their pre-quarterfinal bouts.