Stafford Leader Winter Sports Previews

Southern Wrestlers Still Solid Despite Graduation Losses

By David Biggy | Dec 13, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy CONTAINED: Southern senior J.T. Cornelius leads the way for the wrestling team this winter, as the Rams seek to maintain their place among the best in NJSIAA Group V.

Stafford Township — As the Dan Roy coaching era officially begins this season, the expectations for the Southern Regional wrestling team are nothing new. The Rams are looking to be competitive among the best teams in the state and deliver a bunch of their top wrestlers to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall for the NJSIAA State Championships.

“We have several state qualifiers back and a couple of good transfers who came into our program,” Roy said. “The expectation is to repeat as Group V champions.”

No doubt, the Rams always have such lofty goals. The difference this season, compared to last winter, is they’re without five of the team’s most prominent wrestlers during the previous few years – wrestlers with 25 or more victories who graduated following last season, including state runner-up Nick O’Connell, who won 40 bouts, and state qualifiers John Stout, who won 42 matches, and Nick Pepe, who totaled 34 wins.

Still, Southern is not in terrible shape. Throughout the lineup, Roy has plenty of guys in the tank from last season, wrestlers who not only have vast experience but should also be ready to take the next step in competing for district, regional and possibly state crowns.

Leading the way this winter will be several seniors – J.T. Cornelius, Jayson Scerbo, Robert Woodcock and Ben LoParo, specifically. Cornelius (220 pounds) went 38-6, won the District 29 title and finished in Atlantic City after taking second in Region VIII. Woodcock (160) also ended the season in Boardwalk Hall, 33-6, with district and region crowns. Scerbo (120) had a great final month to last season, ending in A.C., after taking second in the district and region, before finishing 28-12. LoParo (182) won some big matches in February before ending 26-13.

Senior heavyweight Jayden Smith, who went 16-8, also is back in action after a knee injury ended his season in the district tournament last year. Seniors Jason Sari (145, 6-7 in 2019), Colin Boero (170) and Gabe Murray (220, 7-6 in 2019) likely will see increased roles this winter.

The junior crew should be a solid bunch this season, with 132-pounder Matt Brielmeier, 21-15 in 2019, helping to lead the way among lower weights. But it may be a month or so before the real strength of the class emerges. Eddie Hummel, who transferred from Roselle Park, went 38-8, took second in Region IV and finished sixth in the state at 126 pounds a year ago. Stephen Jennings, who transferred from neighboring Barnegat, was 19-16 last season.

Nate Bischoff (126), who went 8-7 in a limited role last season, leads the sophomore class for the Rams, while Pat Iacoves (106, 3-9 in 2019), Chris Lubeski (113, 6-11 in 2019) and Nik Lawson (145, 8-14 in 2019) should see increased mat time this winter.

The rest of the squad includes juniors Pat Fulginetti (285), Evan Graczyk (138) and Christian Rivera (126); sophomores Brock Lefkus (170) and Kellen Bischoff (120); and freshmen Conor Collins (106) and Cole Velardi (152).

Girls, Boys Track Teams

Speaking of prominent talent losses, the Southern Regional girls indoor track squad sustained several when sprinter Caitlin Hambor graduated in June alongside distance runner Gianna Citarella. Also, Brookelle Kline and Ali English are sidelined for the winter.

However, coach Jason Church probably has enough in the lineup to field a competitive team within Ocean County and the Shore Conference again this winter, with some of the big guns from the past few seasons back in action.

“I still expect we will contend for and hopefully defend our two county titles from last winter and, should the opportunity present itself, the Shore title as well,” he said. “South Jersey will be very tough to win. We have a tremendous junior/sophomore group that’s ready to take another step forward, and solid senior leadership led by Karagan Bulger, who I believe is as good a track athlete as there is in the Shore Conference.”

It’s going to be Bulger who leads the way, primarily in her role as a middle-distance specialist. Behind Bulger are several classmates who should score points, including distance runners Jaelyn D’Amelio and Emily Furling, along with thrower Lauren Bakker.

Otherwise, the juniors will be tasked with adding points in key events. Among returning juniors who should help are hurdler and jumper Tiffany Ortner, hurdler and pole-vaulter Maria Mezzo, and hurdler and jumper Gianna Crawford.

Distance runners Rachel Short and Olivia Horton, as well as middle-distance runners Shannon Flaherty, Hailey Hockstrasser and Sarah Perry, thrower Kelly Enterline, sprinter Gabby Bates, and multiple-event specialist Abby Gallacher lead a solid sophomore squad.

Freshman Gianna Simon, who emerged as one of the better players for the girls soccer team this fall, should help out in the sprints.

As for Scott Baker’s boys team, all eyes will be on junior distance runner Jackson Braddock after his spectacular cross-country season. Of course, several of the guys who ran behind Braddock this fall should have better indoor seasons in the distance events, including juniors Tim Sincavage and Nick Guzewicz.

The graduations of multi-faceted David Springstead and throwers Joe Guglielmo and Liam Andersen hurts the Rams’ depth this winter as they look to younger athletes to rise up.

— David Biggy

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