Princeton High junior Patrick Sockler walked off the wrestling mat on Saturday with a grin on his face as he shook coach Rashone Johnson’s hand.
Sockler took third in the District 17 tournament held at Hunterdon Central High, defeating Connor Mills of Delaware Valley High 8-5 to capture third place at 126 pounds.
“I dominated the match all the way through but I think I could have done better,” said the energetic Sockler, who improved his overall record 28-6 and was the only PHS wrestler to advance to this week’s Region 5 tournament.
“He did feel a lot stronger than me, you could just look at our builds, he’s like a bull. My thing is quickness so my wrestling style worked really well against his.”
Sockler’s big effort helped the Little Tigers finish seventh in the team standings at the tournament won by host Hunterdon Central.
PHS had three other wrestlers make it through to the semifinals as junior Thomas Miers finished fourth at 132, capping a dominating 28-6 season. Junior Victor Bell took fourth at 195 to end the winter with a 20-13 mark while freshman star James Verbeyst placed fourth at 113 pounds, finishing 23-7 in his debut campaign.
Johnson was pleased with his team’s effort even though the Little Tigers fell short of their goals coming into the competition.
“The team’s performance wasn’t bad,” said Johnson. “The guys wrestled tough but we made a couple mistakes here and there and it cost us the hardware for the tournament.”
Verbeyst echoed his coach’s sentiments, maintaining that he wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“I was expecting to at least get top three (at districts),” said Verbeyst. “I was getting tired at the end of the match and wasn’t staying in good position.”
Sockler, for his part, worked hard to get himself in a good position at the district competition. After an inconsistent freshman campaign that saw him finish 11-7 followed by an injury-plagued sophomore season, Sockler made it his mission to bounce back with vengeance this year.
“I’m happy with third; I’ve been trying to place in districts for three years now,” noted Sockler, who placed fourth at the county tournament earlier this month.
“It’s a big improvement from my last two years. This is my first year wrestling the varsity season all the way through.”
For Sockler, staying healthy resulted in him exceeding his goals for the season.
“I think I’m happy with my season,” said Sockler, who battled a midseason shoulder injury last year on his way to a 12-7 record.
“I placed in the first two tournaments of the season, third and first, respectively, and then in the counties and districts. I met my expectations and probably went a little bit over them, but I may have set them low. I probably didn’t believe in myself as much as I should have.
Johnson believes good things are on the horizon for his wrestlers. “The last guys standing today, those are the guys that did the most work with me over the summer, those guys will be fine,” said Johnson.
“We have only two seniors in the lineup. All those guys are all coming back next year so there are positives in that those guys will have the experience of knowing the pressure in this round.”