The long high school wrestling season is set to begin Saturday.
Ocean City will begin it with a new head coach in Dan Calhoun.
All three Cape May County teams will open their seasons in tournaments. Lower Cape May and Ocean City will go to Gateway for the Gator Invitational, while Middle Township goes to Haddon Heights for the George Maier Tournament.
The following is a look at the three Cape May County high school wrestling teams:
LOWER CAPE MAY
Lower Cape May went 10-13 last season, a rather respectable finish considering how inexperienced the team was at the start of the season.
Now a year older and with more experience and depth, the Caper Tigers should show some improvement.
“We’re shooting to be above .500,” second-year head coach Bill Damiana said.
Lower still has a relatively young lineup, with seven freshmen and sophomores projected to feature when the team takes the mat for the first time Saturday at the Gator Tournament at Gateway Regional High School.
Some of the top returning wrestlers include sophomore Wesley Tosto (120), sophomore David Tosto (126), junior Cameron Leslie (132), senior Jake Baxter (152), junior Jonas Lumbruno (170) and sophomore Matt Craig (220). Wesley Tosto was a Region 8 qualifier after placing third at the District 30 Tournament at 106 pounds last year.
Among the newcomers, freshman Braydon Castillo (145) has shown tremendous promise.
Others in the varsity lineup at the season’s outset include sophomore Christian Douglas (106), freshman Matt Harris (113), senior Taren Caraveu (138), senior Frank Casper (160), senior Paul Gilbert (182), sophomore Sean Connelly (195) and junior Kenny Coloma (Hwt.).
“We went into last season with a lot of unknowns because we had so many first-year guys,” Damiana said. “Now we have a lot of kids in their second year in the program and we have a little more experience. We have a lot of athletes out from football.”
Lower has 37 wrestlers out for the program.
Damiana’s assistant coaches include his father, Bill; Josh Dickinson; Dennis Elia; A.J. Fischer; and Mark Mallett.
— Brian Cunniff
Middle Township enjoyed the best season in program history in 2017-18, winning a program-record 18 matches against just six losses. The Panthers also produced three district champions and seven region qualifiers for the first time ever.
District champs Gary Nagle and Austin Cominsky have graduated, along with a few other successful wrestlers, but Middle expects to remain competitive.
“We joke with the kids that we’re not rebuilding, we’re reloading,” Middle coach Matt Wolf said. “But we only have four returning starters. But all four of them were region qualifiers, so that’s a plus.”
Senior Romeo Rodriguez (126) is the returning district champion. He went 38-4 last season and is primed for another strong run. Other returning region qualifiers include seniors Carson Haas (145) and Kyle Matthews (182) and junior Karl Giulian (182).
“A lot of things can happen and there’s a lot of work to do,” Wolf said, “but all four of those guys have their eyes on Atlantic City,” the site of the state tournament.
Other wrestlers in the mix for varsity slots include freshman Parker Smart (106), freshman Alick Killian (120), freshman Evan Dugan (120), freshman Connor Shute (132), junior Cole Miller (138), sophomore Matt Gariano (152), freshman David Giulian (160), senior Dawson Tallant (195), sophomore Brandon Rosensteel (220), sophomore Jayden Matthews (220), junior Doug Watkins (Hwt.) and junior Dom Galati (Hwt.).
“We don’t want to put expectations on anybody right now. Individually we just want them to get better every day,” Wolf said. “It’s important that at the end of the year they’re all where they need to be.”
Middle’s numbers are up this season, allowing the team to fill just about every weight class.
“We had some matches last year where we were forfeiting four weight classes,” Wolf said. “Right now we might only being giving up one and eventually we might be filling all of them. That’ll be a big difference.”
Wolf’s assistants are Oliver Barry, Tommy Bisset, Erik Kelly and Mike Wilson.
— Brian Cunniff
Ocean City is starting the season with a new head coach.
Dave Castellini, whose teams were 148-95 in 10 years, including seven winning seasons, stepped down. He has been replaced by Dan Calhoun, who was an assistant on Castellini’s staff. Calhoun was a great wrestler at Washington Township High School and the University of North Carolina and is a member of the South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Two of last season’s top wrestlers are back – junior Nick Sannino at 285 pounds and senior Bill Kroeger at 182. Sannino was a district runner-up last year and finished the season 22-7 with 19 pins. He has won 35 matches over the past two years. Kroeger, who seems to be a key athlete on an OCHS team in all three sports seasons, was 21-6 a year ago with 12 pins. He has 38 career wins.
Two others bring experience to the mat – junior Lou Williams at 132 pounds has won 19 matches the last two seasons and junior Tom Oves at 138 has 22 wins the last two seasons.
Calhoun also expects junior Brian Foulke, sophomore Jesus Sarabia, senior Arturo Sarabia and freshman Charley Cossaboone to fill the four lightest weights. But a lot of lineup spots are wide open.
The Raiders open the season Saturday in the Gator Tournament at Gateway Regional High School. They have Millville (Wednesday) and Middle Township (Friday) at home next week and will wrestle in the Art Marinelli Tournament at Egg Harbor Township on Dec. 27. Non-CAL matches will be with Hammonton, Schalick, Cumberland, Clayton, Gloucester, Westampton Tech, Moorestown, Sterling, Lindenwold, Winslow Township and Palmyra.
— Tom Williams