By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Three wrestlers from Lower Cape May Regional High School will experience the bright lights of the big city when they compete in the state championships this weekend in Atlantic City.
It all started earlier this afternoon at Boardwalk Hall.
Sophomores Brayden Castillo, at 160 pounds, and Marcus Hebron, at 195 pounds, are making their first trips to the state championships. Meanwhile, senior Joelle Klein is headed back there after placing third last season in the inaugural state girls championships.
“It’s such a unique experience,” said Lower coach Billy Damiana, who was twice a state qualifier as a high school wrestler at Lower. “Joelle got to experience it last year, so I think she’ll be more relaxed. And I think that’s going to help Marcus and Brayden, seeing how she handles it.”
Castillo and Hebron each qualified after losing title bouts to place second in their respective weight classes at the Region 8 Championships at Egg Harbor Township High School last weekend. Both were district champions the previous weekend.
Klein returns to Atlantic City for the girls tournament as a two-time South Region champion at 215 pounds.
For high school wrestlers, competing at Boardwalk Hall is the ultimate goal.
“It’s hard to replicate what it’s like to wrestle in front of 10,000-plus fans,” Damiana said. “The goal is to get to Atlantic City. Once you’re there, it’s whole new season, a whole new tournament, and anything can happen.”
As sophomores, Castillo and Hebron may have arrived at the state championships ahead of schedule.
“This is very transcending for them” Damiana said. “And it’s going to carry over to next year. It gives them massive criteria. If they go up there and get a couple wins, it’s going to do a lot for them and a lot for our program. We’re going to start getting invited to big tournaments.
“This weekend is important for them. But as big of a stage as it is, nobody’s really expecting anything from them and that’s when you can be the most dangerous.”
Klein enters the girls state championships unbeaten on the season against female competition. As the South Region champ, she has earnd a bye into the semifinal round and will wrestle for the first time tomorrow.
“She knows what to expect,” Damiana said. “She’ll be relaxed and ready to wrestle.”