On Feb. 16 at Hillsborough High School, Ray O’Callaghan jostled Vincent Romaniello to the wrestling mat and held him down.
The referee counted out the seconds and blew his whistle. O’Callaghan popped up and the ref held up his arm.
The Hillsborough senior pinned the Hunterdon Central Regional High School senior in the 152-pound championship of the District 18 wrestling tournament.
O’Callaghan, in his last high school season, earned the first district title of his career.
“Ray did same thing he’s been doing all year,” said Hillsborough coach Roy Dragon. “Went out there and went after kids.”
O’Callaghan achieved the biggest milestone of his career by preparing in a unique way. In the week leading up to District 18, the senior invited two former Hillsborough wrestlers, Kevin Faulkner, a 2018 graduate, and Rhys Weinberger, a 2013 grad, to school for practice.
The senior wanted to wrestle against them because they were standouts at the Somerset County school. Faulkner and Weinberger each placed eighth in the state tournament and earned more than 100 career victories.
“I figured if I was ready to go with them, I’d be ready for anyone,” he said. “They are bigger and stronger.”
Faulkner is taking a year off from school before enrolling at Johnson & Wales University, in Providence, RI., next fall. He is planning on wrestling in college.
Weinberger, who graduated from Rutgers University in 2017, where he wrestled for the club team, is now an engineer at Church & Dwight, a home goods company based in Ewing. But he also coaches wrestling on the side, and has been helping at Hillsborough practices throughout the winter.
Both former Raiders were happy to help the current standout.
“We’ve always been pretty close, and he had a chance to do really good,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner and Weinberger beat their protege in practice. Both guys still work out and are in good shape.
But O’Callaghan held his own and gained confidence.
“I got into the scoring positions that I wanted to get into,” he said.
After challenging himself in practice, O’Callaghan was ready for the real competition. In three victorious matches, he completed a technical fall and two pins.
“Normally in tournaments I am nervous, but I wasn’t nervous at all,” O’Callaghan said.
By winning the district title, O’Callaghan qualified for the Region 5 tournament at Franklin Township High School that started on Feb. 20 and will run until Feb. 23, when the championships for all of the state’s eight regions will be contested.
Region 5 contains wrestlers from Districts 17 through 20.
O’Callaghan is the No. 2 seed. Since he has a first round bye, due to his district championship, he will need to win three matches to clinch his first region title and head to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
The top finishers in each weight class from each of the eight regions advance to the state tournament that will run from Feb. 28 through March 2 in Atlantic City.
Naturally, in the days leading up to the tournament, he called in Faulkner and Weinberger to beat him up again.
“I’m hoping it pays off like it did at districts,” O’Callaghan said.
O’Callaghan hopes to enter Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City as both a district and region champion.
Faulkner and O’Callaghan’s coach, Dragon, think he can.
“He’s a lot better on his feet and just more aggressive than he used to be,” Faulkner said.
“If he wrestles the way he’s been wrestling, there’s no reason he can’t achieve his goal,” Dragon said.