By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — With approximately 80 percent of the Middle Township High School wrestling program made up of freshmen and sophomores, the Panthers appeared destined for a rebuilding season.
There was some individual success in early-season tournaments, but the Panthers lost each of the first four dual matches.
About six weeks later, however, Middle will compete in the South Jersey Group II playoff match.
With the younger wrestlers maturing quickly and the few more experienced ones in the program providing solid production and leadership, Middle has reeled off 13 straight victories to qualify for group playoffs for the first time in program history.
Middle slipped into the tournament as the No. 8 seed and will wrestle at No. 1 West Deptford Monday at 6 p.m.
“I knew we had some talented kids,” Middle coach Matt Wolf said. “Out of our 28 varsity wrestlers at the start of the season, 23 of them were freshmen and sophomores. So I knew it would take a little bit of time. I’m really proud of this group. Even though we started 0-4, they just kept working.
“It took us time to get going in the beginning but we had talent in the room and a good group of coaches with me working with them every day. The kids kept believing and they kept working hard to get things turned around and get us going here late in the season.”
On Friday, Middle posted a 42-33 victory over Holy Spirit on its Senior Night in its final varsity action ahead of Monday’s playoff match.
The Panthers feature 10 wrestlers with a winning percentage of at least .500. Leading the way are sophomores Dave Giulian (182 pounds) and Alick Killian (132 pounds), who have both topped the 30-win mark. Giulian is 31-2 and Killian is 30-3.
At 19-4, senior Karl Giulian, Dave’s older brother, also has a tremendous winning percentage. His win total is mitigated by an early-season injury that kept him out of action for close to three weeks.
“Alick is one of those kids who really wrestled a lot growing up,” Wolf said. “We had high expectations for him because we knew he had a chance to be really good. He’s a good athlete but he hasn’t taken anything for granted. He’s worked as hard as anyone.
“Dave started wrestling in seventh grade but he improved very, very quickly.. He and Alex work tremendously hard. They’ve followed the example set by Karl. Karl’s been a great leader for us and Dave and Alick have taken to that.”
Three other wrestlers have topped the 20-win mark. They include junior Mike Adelizzi (23-9 at 152), junior Jayden Matthews (23-10 at 170) and freshman Adrien LaBoy (21-9 at 120).
Junior Matt Gariano (19-12 at 138), sophomore Evan Dugan (18-11 at 126), freshman Matt Sgrignioli (15-15 at 113) and sophomore Jayden Farrow (12-11 at 195) have also been solid contributors.
“It’s truly been a team effort all season,” Wolf said. “Even some of the guys who aren’t wrestling much at the varsity level yet, they’re pushing guys in practice.”
Middle faces a daunting task Monday at West Deptford. But Wolf figures his program will be better for the experience both for the upcoming individual district tournament and for future seasons no matter what the result.
“On paper West Deptford’s definitely a better team than us,” Wolf said. “But like we’ve been saying to the kids, matches aren’t wrestled on paper. We’ll be ready for it. We’ll give it our best shot and see what happens. We’re excited to wrestle against that level of competition. It’ll let us know where we’re at. We’re excited about it. It’s a great opportunity.”