February 27, 2019

PHS’ Ayres Blazing Trail in Girls’ Wrestling While Bobchin Earns 2nd Boys’ Region Title

FIRST IN HER CLASS: Princeton High wrestler Chloe Ayres, top, takes control in a bout this January against Nottingham High’s Stalin Arpi, which she won by a pin. This week, sophomore Ayres will be competing in the first-ever NJSIAA girls’ state championships in Atlantic City after winning the 105-pound title at the South Jersey girls’ wrestling region tournament. Joining Ayres in Atlantic City will be senior Alec Bobchin, who won the boys’ Region 5 title and became the first PHS wrestler to win two region crowns. He will be looking to improve on his eighth-place finish in last year’s state championships. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Chloe Ayres couldn’t hold it in after winning the 105-pound title at the South Jersey girls’ wrestling region tournament earlier this month.

“I started crying tears of joy,” said Princeton High sophomore Ayres. “I was trying to keep it together. I’m really excited to wrestle in Atlantic City.”

Ayres was blown away not just by the chance to wrestle in the girls’ state championships that begin this week in Atlantic City, but by the significance of even having a region meet. It wasn’t just that she won, or even that she was named Most Outstanding Wrestler (MOW) after winning twice by pin and shutting out Trenton’s Johnae Drumright, 9-0, in the final match. It was that it all came in the first-ever girls’ region tournament.

“Going into the tournament, I was honestly just excited to be there,” Ayres said. “I didn’t ever expect to experience it in my high school career. I was content with whatever happens. To compete with just other girls, I’ve never experienced anything like it in high school.”

To prevail was the icing on the cake, something she won’t ever forget. “It was definitely one of the top moments of my life,” said Ayres. “It was really, really cool. I’m super excited to be competing with my team at Atlantic City.”

Ayres had the support at regions of the PHS coaching staff, her parents Chris (Princeton University wrestling head coach Chris Ayres) and Lori who were instrumental in helping to start the girls state tournament, and two of her teammates, Alec Bobchin and Chris Sockler, as she won gold.

“She was tough,” said PHS head coach Rashone Johnson. “She went and she competed. She’s wrestled in plenty of other bigger tournaments than that before, but the nerves with it being the first state tournament in your own state and it’s for real, it’s a real qualifier for the state tournament, it was good. She handled herself well. She wrestled with poise, like she’s a veteran.”

One week later, it was senior star and Rider-bound Bobchin’s chance to shine. Bobchin won the 138-pound class with a 3-1 victory over previously unbeaten Alex Baran of Manalapan in the Region V tournament Saturday. He repeated as a region champion — the first in PHS history — and this year added the Most Outstanding Wrestler honor as well.

“Alec got it this year,” said Johnson. “He was solid. He tech-falled and majored his way through the tournament into the finals and he won, 3-1, against another state competitor, another state level kid that was 41-0.”

Bobchin advances to Atlantic City for the second straight year and will try to better his eighth-place finish of a year ago. He had hoped to have more company on the boys side as the Tigers advanced three others into the quarterfinals.

“That’s the most kids Princeton has ever had in the quarterfinals of the region tournament,” said Johnson.

“Princeton High has never had four guys place top eight in the regions. It was still a remarkable year for those guys and they were close.”

Two of them will be back next year — sophomore James Romaine and junior Dominic Riendeau-Krause — after placing in the top eight. Senior Daniel Monahan fought back from a couple of tough losses to end his career with a win for fifth at regions.

“He had every reason to quit and every reason walk away, every reason to not answer the call and go out and wrestle, but he gathered himself and went out and pinned that kid for that fifth-place match and walked off the mat with his head up,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t ask for a guy to do more than that.”

Ayres lived up to her No. 1 seeding at the region even though she didn’t put much stock in the seedings. She felt more nervous than usual going into the first-place match against Drumright, an opponent she’d seen recently.

“My hand was shaking before the match,” said Ayres. “Once I got out in the match, I was so excited. I love it.”

That excitement nearly turned to sadness as Ayres came close to being put on her back by Drumright early but rallied to dominate the remainder of the match

“The girl from Trenton, she’s very, very strong,” said Ayres. “When I was going into the match, I was having a whole rush of emotions. I was trying to relax and shake it out. Maybe I wasn’t at the top of my game in the first period. Once I relaxed I was wrestling better.”

In prevailing, Ayres relied on the experience that she’s been building up since taking up the sport less than three years ago. She hadn’t considered seriously wrestling until she started attending more of her brother’s matches. When her mother noticed Ayres showing an interest, she asked her daughter if she wanted to wrestle.

“I was in the room the next day,” said Ayres. “I’ve been obsessed ever since.”

Although Ayres had never considered herself very athletic, she had a solid fitness background from years of running. When she turned to wrestling — something that was right in front of her given her family connection — she found her niche and her dad has been happy to help her dive into the sport.

“We have an amazing bond,” Ayres said. “I’ve been working for all these great goals. Every day he’s in my corner. He’s the first one I hugged after I won regions. We were both crying.”

As Ayres has spent more time on the mat, she has worked to make girls’ wrestling a bigger sport. She was dismayed to see just one other competitor at the girls’ freestyle state championships, but she’s encouraged by the recent growth. The state tournament is a monumental step.

“My parents played a pretty big role in getting the New Jersey girls’ tournament sanctioned,” said Ayres. “Last year, it wasn’t a thought in anyone’s mind. There weren’t many girls in the area, probably just about 100 in the state. I was competing in Fargo with Team New Jersey. We only took about seven girls, which is sort of shocking because New Jersey is a leader in wrestling for boys. It was a conversation at our dinner table. I wouldn’t think we’d get it sanctioned in just a year. That’s fast. There were a lot of factors.”

Her parents’ strong push along with NJSIAA assistant director Bill Bruno were significant contributors to the campaign to start a girls’ state tournament. Ayres still wasn’t sure how the region tournament would look once it was put together and was delighted to find it lived up to her dreams.

“I really didn’t know what to expect going into the tournament,” said Ayres. “I did not think it would be that big. There was an amazing energy in the building. Some of the girls were so excited they were jumping up and down. I’ve never seen anything like it in New Jersey.”

Ayres is hoping that PHS will ride the momentum of having the new opportunity and expand quickly. She’s the only girl on the Tigers team.

“Hopefully next year we’ll have a few more,” Ayres said. “I’m trying to recruit a few of my friends. Manalapan and Kingsway have a full lineup of girls. Last year, that was non-existent and now they have a full team. That’s what we’re trying to have at Princeton.”

While taking her lumps spending most of the season practicing with and competing against boys, the payoff came in the region and will benefit her at states.

“Those varsity matches that she wrestled against boys, it all preps her for whatever she’s going to possibly run into at states,” said Johnson. “She’s wrestling boys throughout the year. She’s going to be prepared for whatever she runs into at the end of the year.”

Competing all season in the 106-pound weight class for PHS helped steel Ayres for state competition.

“For my first couple matches, it was all boys,” she said. “I was more used to wrestling boys than girls. It’s very different. When I started competing in the offseason against high level girls, it’s a very different feeling wrestling a boy than a girl. Whether it’s a boy or girl, they’re an athlete. There’s a different style that you notice with girls. Strength is a factor. It’s harder to finish shots on boys because of their strength.”

Wrestlers all have different styles, and Ayres relied on her aggressive approach to earn the MOW award at the region.

“I just love going to my stuff, getting to my offense,” said Ayres. “I spent a lot of hours in the room. I don’t like close matches. I’m an extremely offensive wrestler; I like to get to as many attacks as I can. I think the more you get to, the more likely you are to score. It’s about focusing on what I do and not what they do.”

Having competed in regional and national events, Ayres is ready to deal with the hype in Atlantic City.

“I haven’t seen New Jersey states before,” said Ayres. “I haven’t gone to the tournament yet. I’m really excited. I’ve been to much bigger tournaments, so I’m used to competing in a big arena. That shouldn’t be too new. But I’m super excited.”

Ayres is going into the state tournament with high expectations, feeling that she is wrestling well and has a chance to make history.

“Of course, the goal is to get out there and win,” Ayres said. “I’m just looking to go and compete and I want to get out and show what I can do. My dad always says, ‘Anyone, anywhere, anytime.’ I want to show what girls can do. I want to display what I’ve been working on, what I can do and show my style. I want to go out and win the tournament and be dominant. Even if that doesn’t happen, I want to be out there wrestling.”