by Andrew Garda
Montclair High School’s wrestling team came hard off the top rope to start the season, building a 6-2 record on the back of six straight wins, culminating in a 54-14 dismantling of Orange High School.
“I thought it would be a little closer than [54-14].” head coach Eugene Kline said after the match. “But [Orange] had some holes that I wasn’t anticipating. So, I think that opened the score a little bit and we ended up wrestling pretty well on top of that.”
The Mounties certainly did wrestle well, with four pins and two decisions piled on to several forfeits.
Montclair’s first pin came in the second match of the evening, as junior Zakai Mack overcame Orange’s Joseph Menjivar, finishing him off at 1:46 left in the first period to take the 132 pound category.
Senior Thomas Rosenthal followed that up with a pin of Demetrius Roberts with just four seconds left in the first period to win the 138 pound match.
Rosenthal is one of the standouts on the mat for Kline this season.
“Terrell White, Dominic Diaz, Thomas Rosenthal,” Kline said. “They’ve been probably our most consistent guys.”
White has definitely been a standout, mowing down wrestlers with methodical efficiency.
He kept that going against Orange’s Ralph Clairvoyant in the 170 pound category, pinning the Tornados wrestler with 40 seconds left in the first period. After two pins a quad scrimmage against Secaucus, Clifton and Bloomfield, White had compiled an 8-1 record, six of those wins coming on pins.
White shows good patience during his matches, being just aggressive enough to catch his opponents off-guard, but not so aggressive that he gets himself into trouble. He’s going to continue to be tough to beat for his opponents.
Still, Kline is trying to keep White and his team grounded, knowing the season is still young.
“I think that we’re still learning and we we’re getting better, but we’re getting into the tougher part of the schedule and we’ll see what we’re made of.”
The quad scrimmage was the beginning of that tough stretch, and some of the Mounties inexperience showed, as they dropped matches to Bloomfield and Clifton, while beating Secaucus handily.
White was a consistent presence in all three matches, with wins by Mack, Abdul Hamilton, Sebastien Fortune and Dominic Diaz contributing to points in both losses.
Unfortunately, the Mounties were just overmatched by both Bloomfield and Clifton, though they leave with plenty of lessons to take to practice.
“I just want us to keep coming out and improving,” Kline said of his team after the Orange win. “That’s all I really care about. Us getting better in practice, and transfer that from the practice room to the mat. And I think we’ll be OK. So far, so good.”
Kline has also been happy with the depth of the team. Gone are the days where the Mounties had to forfeit a bunch of weight classes, whether due to lack of numbers or injury.
Now, Kline has the option to have a kid sit to help get over an injury while not giving up points.
“There were a couple of kids who were banged up and I said, “Well, I’ll sit you tonight and I’ll put this other guy in.” So, with us having that depth, that’s what changes a lot in the course of a match and now you’re not giving up [points].”
Another bright spot for the Mounties has been Jaala Williams.
The MHS senior is the only female wrestler on the team, but this year she is getting a chance to wrestle other girls on a more frequent basis due to the NJSIAA decision to formalize girls wrestling as a varsity sport in New Jersey.
Williams recently placed third in the 152 pound weight class at the Bloomfield Girls Wrestling Tournament, despite being the lightest in her class.
“The weight classes for girls are a bit more ranged,” Williams said after the Orange match. “For guys it’s like 126, 132,138, 145, 152 [pounds]. For girls it’s just 127, 136, then 145 and 154. And I thought they were going to put me in the 145 weight class, because I missed 136. I weighed at 139, which is closest to 136, but they skipped 145 and put me in 154 so I was wrestling up two weight classes.”
Kline feels that wrestling the boys over the last few years will only help her when she faces girls, and the confidence she is getting by hanging with the guys will convert to success on the mat overall.
The Mounties now turn their attention to single matches against Belleville and Passaic, before preparing for the Essex County Tournament Jan. 17 – 19.
“I’m trying to keep my kids humble because they haven’t seen high-level wrestling yet in my opinion. So I’m trying to keep them humble, let them know that you’re not as bad as you think you are but you’re also not as good as you think you are. So if we can practice and raise the level of intensity in the practice room and really start to internalize these techniques and use them in a match, we’ll be a lot tougher.”