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Jaguars stake claim as state’s premier girls wrestling program

The Jackson Memorial High School girls wrestling team celebrates having six wrestlers place at the state tournament on Feb. 20 in Phillipsburg.

JACKSON – For the second year in a row, the Jackson Memorial High School girls wrestling program sent six wrestlers to the NJSIAA state tournament. The 2022 edition of the tournament was held at Phillipsburg High School on Feb. 20.

All six wrestlers who went to the state tournament – Skyelar Smith (138), Abigail Stanberry (165), Chloe Lawler (126), Jordyn Katz (145), Kamila Bieszczad (132) and Brianna Fairchild (185) – returned home to Jackson proudly wearing a medal.

That result topped the five medalists Jackson Memorial produced at the 2021 state tournament.

Jackson Memorial has stood atop the team performances at the state tournament for two consecutive years, which are results that excite Coach Joe Lemke.

“It’s really special seeing all these girls wrestle and do so well,” Lemke said. “Wrestling is a tough sport. You have to put in a lot of work to be successful. I am really proud to see them all place” at the state tournament.

The past four years have been an amazing ride for the program as girls wrestling has taken hold in New Jersey.

Earlier during the 2021-22 season, Jackson Memorial won its second Shore Conference championship. The Jaguars won the inaugural conference tournament during the 2019-20 season.

Making this season more special was Smith making history as the program’s first girls state champion. Smith defeated two-time state champion Jayla Hahn of Central Regional High School, Bayville, in the 138-pound final to win the state crown.

“It felt really good,” Smith said about becoming a state champion. “I have been working very hard for this since my freshman year.”

Smith became the 11th wrestler in Jackson Memorial history to win a state title and the first since Dallas Winston achieved that milestone in 2012.

Winning a state championship was a storybook ending to a long road of adversity Smith had to face during the last few years.

After placing third in the 2020 state tournament, Smith was unable to compete in the 2021 state tournament because of COVID-19 protocols.

It was tough for Smith to have to watch the 2021 state tournament from the sidelines, but that disappointment fueled the fire inside her even more to realize her dream to become a state champion during her senior year in 2022.

“She is the epitome of Jackson Memorial girls wrestling,” Lemke said of Smith. “She has shown you have to work hard for what you want.”

Smith pinned Bayonne’s Gianna Puzyci in 3:07 in the state tournament quarterfinals and then scored a 5-1 decision over Delran’s Emma Matera in the semifinals.

Smith was confident in her abilities as she took on Hahn in the championship bout. She was ready to have some “fun” in her final high school match.

Smith led Hahn 7-2 in the final :30 when Hahn had to stop wrestling due to an injury.

Having been one of the first girls to join the Jaguars’ program when it started four years ago, bringing home the first state championship meant a lot to Smith.

“It feels great to be creating a legacy other girls can look up to. It has been great seeing the program grow so much over the past four years,” she said.

Katz concluded her impressive scholastic career by becoming a four-time state tournament medalist by placing third at 145 pounds.

In 2019, Katz placed sixth as a freshman wrestling at 185 pounds. In 2020, she placed second as a sophomore while competing at 143 pounds. In 2021, Katz placed third as a junior while wrestling at 161 pounds.

Lou Durant (1975-78) and current boys wrestling coach Doug Withstandley (1998-2001) are the only other wrestlers in Jackson Memorial history to win four medals at the state tournament.

Lemke calls Katz “Miss Tremendous” and was very proud of what she was able to accomplish during her career.

“She did a great job,” the coach said.

After winning a silver medal at the state tournament in 2021, Stanberry pinned Pennsauken’s Macenzie Hunter to earn a third place finish this season.

Lawler and Bieszczad each placed fourth at the 2022 state tournament. Lawler has won two consecutive fourth place medals at the state tournament.

Placing fourth at the state tournament concluded a terrific junior campaign for Bieszczad, who won the program’s fourth region championship at the South Region Tournament on Feb. 13. Bieszczad will attempt to become a three-time state medalist as a senior.

Fairchild, who is a freshman, rounded out the group of Jaguars who secured a state medal at the state tournament with a sixth place finish.

With the help of assistant coaches Dana Christensen, Diana Strizki and Tyisha Ramirez, Lemke is proud of the 2021-22 season the Jaguars had.

The coach believes winning the conference championship and having another strong showing at the state tournament are indications Jackson Memorial has developed one of the finest girls wrestling programs in New Jersey.

“We are excited about girls wrestling at Jackson Memorial. We want to continue to get more girls to come out each year and continue to build up our program,” Lemke said.

Jackson Memorial High School 138-pounder Skyelar Smith celebrates winning her first state championship at the NJSIAA Girls State Wrestling Tournament on Feb. 20 in Phillipsburg.
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