by Andrew Garda
MORRISTOWN—Twelve Montclair High School wrestlers entered the NJSIAA District 11 individual championships Saturday, but only one emerged to qualify for the Region tournament, as Terrell White took third in the 182-pound category.
However, the Mounties had some good news in the first-ever NJSIAA girls wrestling tournament, as senior Jaala Williams took third at 136 pounds in the North Region tournament, qualifying herself for the inaugural state finals in Atlantic City March 1-3.
In order to join his teammate in AC, White (25-3) will have to navigate a difficult Region 3 bracket beginning Thursday night, Feb. 21, at West Orange. He will have to win a single-elimination match that night, and then will have to finish fourth or better in the double-elimination bracket Friday and Saturday.
Head coach Eugene Kline has said all season long that his team while hard-working is also very young, green and inexperienced.
That was clear on Saturday, as his wrestlers worked hard, but were unable to advance.
“I’ve got a lot of new kids and they’re not ready for this competition yet. That’s the bottom line.”
That said, Kline felt that his team showed a lot of potential despite the lack of wins.
“The good thing is when we wrestled guys who were in our wheelhouse, we wrestled well,” he said. “Hopefully we can build on this, and the guys see what the level of competition is here and understand what they have to do in the offseason to meet these expectations for this tournament.”
Williams has been a girl in a boys world for several years, but 2019 gave girls a chance to compete in their own tournaments and Williams excelled, winning two matches, losing in the semifinals to the eventual champion, and winning by first-period pinfall in the third-place match.
“In the girls region, Jaala just went out and competed,” he said via text on Monday. “She wasn’t overly excited or nervous. As a team, we’ve been working on the psychological part of wrestling as well, and I think that played a bit of a role in how calm she was throughout the day. She never got too high when she won, and never got too low the one time she lost. After every match we focused on making corrections and discussing what went well. She was very receptive and that was why she was successful on Sunday.”
On the boys’ side, White was one of two Mounties to advance to the District semifinals, joined by 170-pounder Dominic Diaz. Both won major decisions in their quarterfinal bouts, and both were defeated in the semifinals.
White outdueled Caldwell’s Max Ruiz in the win-or-go-home third-place bout, 12-7, while Diaz was pinned by Whippany Park’s Nicholas Graessle.
White’s victory over Ruiz saw the Caldwell grappler try to grind White down slowly and limit his ability to move.
“[White] was just more athletic than the other guy,” Kline explained. “The guy wanted to slow the pace down, kind of make [White] wrestle in a slow, methodical way. If Terrell had let him, the guy would have edged him out.”
Instead, White adapted. His coaches could see what was happening, and suggested adjustments to break Ruiz’s efforts. Kline said sometimes wrestlers will just go with the flow of a match, not adjust and not feel when an opponent is taking control. White, according to Kline, has an excellent feel for what is happening in real time, take what his coaches tell him and execute quickly.
“I think he does a pretty good job at adapting his wrestling style to who he wrestles,” Kline said. “So Terrell adapted there. He listened, did what we said to do, and he came out on top.”
MHS wrestlers went 3-0 in the preliminary round, with Brandon Simms, Josh Lozano and Ethan Agosin all advancing. But those three, and several other Mounties, were then drawn against top seeds in the quarterfinal round.
“My kids who were in that position? They weren’t ready to wrestle those guys. But I saw some competition today, and we did well. I thought our mindset was pretty good, and kids are getting mentally prepared to wrestle, which has been an ongoing thing we’ve been trying to work on, and we had a couple of weight-classes where I thought it could have gone either way, but we came up with the short end of the stick.”