Fueled by Defeat in District Tourney Last Winter, PHS Wrestler Monahan Aiming for Run to State Finals
DAN THE MAN: Princeton High school wrestler Daniel Monahan, top, dominates a foe in bout earlier this season. Senior star Monahan, who wrestles at 126 pounds, will be competing at the District 17 tournament this weekend, looking to add another title after winning his weight class at the Mercer County Tournament in late January. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Daniel Monahan has so many wins that he doesn’t know exactly how many there are now, but he remembers exactly his losses.
The Princeton High senior wrestler says he’s lost 15 matches in his career, a number dwarfed by his more than 110 wins.
“Losses come by virtue of making mistakes,” said Monahan. “It’s the way you look at the match. You can look at a match and let it defeat you, or look at the match and fix what cost you. The one thing that makes losses better than wins is that they give you a lot of incentive and help you improve.”
Monahan has been driven this season by the way that last year ended – a loss in the first round of the District 19 tournament a year after he’d placed third and advanced to the Region 5 tournament, one step short of the state finals in Atlantic City. It marred an otherwise an incredible junior season in which he went 30-2 and won his first Mercer County Tournament title at 126 pounds.
“It definitely didn’t end the way I envisioned it to,” said Monahan. “I saw myself as a kid that could have competed down at Atlantic City and maybe could have won a couple matches at states. All it did was fuel me for this year and make me realize I have to put in a lot more work to get to states. It was a heartbreaker, but it’s made me work harder and make sure I make it down there this year.”
That heartbreaking memory has driven Monahan whenever he’s felt tired before practice, or finds himself wishing practice was over earlier.
“I kind of reach the breaking point every practice,” said Monahan. “It develops you when you go to those darker areas. When I’m panting hard and you’re so tired, I try to feel that as much as I can so I’m prepared for matches so when I reach that dark area in matches, it’s not new to me. I try to reach it every day. Last year is a constant reminder for me, but it’s been great. It was a heartbreaker at the time, but now it’s something to learn from.”
Monahan has returned to the mats this year an improved wrestler and he enters the District 17 tournament this Saturday at South Plainfield confident he can compete with anyone.
“If he goes there to compete, he can win the whole thing,” said PHS head coach Rashone Johnson. “He’s capable of winning the district tournament. It’s a tough tournament. You have to come and be on. He can very well be a district champ. The way he beat the kid from Freehold, he’s beaten regional champs. He’s one of the top guys in the state in his weight class. It’s just a matter of now you gotta go do it.”
In late January, Monahan came through in his last big tournament. He repeated as Mercer County champion at 126 pounds, but this time he had to win gold by knocking off Hopewell Valley’s Chris Lanciano. Monahan outlasted Lanciano, 5-4, in the ultimate tiebreaker.
“It was the best match of the night,” said Johnson. “I don’t know how he didn’t get most outstanding wrestler. It made zero sense. It was the only match that had two 100-plus win wrestlers competing against each other. You have two more than quality wrestlers going at it. There was no other final that had two finer wrestlers competing.”
All of that hype could have thrown off Monahan. He knew how big the moment was, but had to concentrate on his keys.
“It was important for me to keep myself calm and focus on wrestling my style and getting to my attacks and scoring points,” said Monahan, who forced overtime with a reversal with a minute to go.
“I had to look at it as an everyday match. I wrestle matches all season long and it’s no different from those. It was a big situation that I had to make smaller for myself so I could focus on doing what I need to do to get the win. In the match, it was just scoring in the next position. He scored the first points. I told myself to wrestle harder and focus on the next point. That’s a huge thing – working on my mindset.”
Monahan’s mental game has improved more than anything since last year, as he has focused to develop it since last year’s ending.
“Mindset is the biggest thing about wrestling,” said Monahan. “It’s a huge thing. If you develop your mind, it can be a weapon. I’ve been working on strengthening my mind and going at matches in a more strategic way.”
It’s paid off during an outstanding year. Monahan has lost only once since Christmas. He picked up his 100th career win on January 12 with a pin at Notre Dame.
“I think that realistically what it comes down to is he has so much more confidence and he’s been through so many battles this year,” said Johnson. “He’s mentally tougher this year than he was last year. He has the same tools, and he’s literally just mentally tougher.”
It’s helped Monahan to have another accomplished wrestler to battle every day in the training room. Fellow senior Alec Bobchin, who won his fourth straight Mercer County Tournament title at 138 pounds, has been training with Monahan since the two were in elementary school.
“It’s amazing,” said Monahan. “He’s definitely one of the best wrestlers in the state. He’s going to go on to do some awesome stuff these next couple weeks as well. It’s been us making each other better over the last four years. It’s an awesome opportunity to go through high school with a guy like him. We’ve definitely gotten each other better. We share similar goals and build off each other’s enthusiasm and expertise. Whether it’s him helping me or I’m helping him, it’s been an awesome relationship and it’s been awesome to have him a part of the team.”
The PHS team too has had its memorable moments. For the first time in 20 years, the Little Tigers competed in the team state tournament. They lost to top-seeded Jackson 56-18 on February 4 despite wins by Bobchin, Chris Sockler, Dominic Riendeau-Krause, and Monahan.
“It was fantastic,” said Johnson. “Not only did they go, but they went and competed fantastic. They competed really well. We exceeded so many people’s expectations wrestling Jackson. It was really good.”
PHS takes that momentum into the districts hoping to advance some wrestlers to regions. Their team will compete there, while sophomore Chloe Ayres prepares to compete in the girls’ region tournament Sunday. (Girls cannot compete in both the districts and girls’ regions.)
“The guys on the team have been picking it up as of late and wrestling better,” said Johnson. “I think we have a good shot to get a handful of guys out of districts this year. Our experienced wrestlers, they all have an opportunity to place well in districts. And Chloe has a shot to win girls’ states.”
Monahan is counting on his experience to benefit him at districts, looking to treat districts like he did counties.
“The county final match had the potential to be huge and be a big moment for me,” said Monahan. “I had to make it a small moment. That’s what I need to do the next couple weeks, and just focus on the first match at districts. The key is wrestling everybody the same. I’m not going to take anyone lightly. It’s going to be the same me every match. I don’t compete differently depending on who I wrestle. I wrestle everyone the same. I don’t worry about who I’m wrestling. It’s just another match and I’m excited to compete.”
These likely won’t be the final matches of Monahan’s career. He’s keeping his college wrestling options open and the district tourney is another chance to prove himself.
“I’m happy with how I wrestled this year,” said Monahan. “There’s definitely work to be done. The season’s not over. Stuff like the county tournament, getting 100 wins, those are nice achievements, but they’re just milestones to what I want to do. The next few weeks will be fun. It’s my last year of high school, so I’m excited to let it out and go compete.”