March 6, 2019

PHS Wrestling Star Bobchin Takes 4th at States While Ayres Wins Title in 1st Girls’ Tournament

HISTORIC FINISH: Princeton High wrestler Alec Bobchin, top, dominates a foe on his way to winning the Region 5 title at 138 pounds on February 23. Last weekend, senior star Bobchin placed fourth at 138 in the NJSIAA State Wrestling Championships at Atlantic City. PHS sophomore Chloe Ayres joined Bobchin in Atlantic City and made history, winning the title at 105 pounds in the first-ever girls’ N.J. state wrestling tourney. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Alec Bobchin made a strong argument for being Princeton High School’s best wrestler ever.

Chloe Ayres made history.

The two representatives that PHS sent to the NJSIAA State Wrestling Championships in Atlantic City made their program proud Saturday.

Bobchin continued his annual climb up the ladder when he finished fourth at 138 pounds at the boys’ state championships in Atlantic City. The senior had gone 2-2 as a sophomore in states and took home a medal in eighth last year. It’s the highest finish for a PHS wrestler since Ian Reddy also took fourth in 1993.

“I think it’s pretty special,” Bobchin said. “It was a pretty cool moment that I got to share with my family, friends, teammates, and especially my coach.”

Seeded fourth, Bobchin took care of Delsea’s Tim Spatola, the 13th seed, with a 7-2 win last Thursday. He stopped Camden Catholic’s Anthony Croce, the No. 5 seed, in the quarterfinals Friday, 8-5. The win put him into the semifinals against Pope John’s Joseph Aragona, the top seed who was unbeaten and the consensus top scholastic wrestler in the country at 138. Bobchin lost, 6-1, but rallied in wrestlebacks. He beat seventh-seeded Billy Talmadge of High Point, 11-3, before falling to Lyndhurst’s Dylan Weaver in the consolation final.

“This weekend was definitely a lot of mixed emotions for me,” said the Rider University-bound Bobchin.

“I definitely felt like I could have wrestled and placed higher than I was seeded. I’m really happy with how I finished my wrestling career. I really can’t complain. I know I worked hard to get where I am and I deserve everything I got.”

Sophomore Ayres, for her part, continued to make history in a landmark year for girls’ wrestling in New Jersey. In the state’s first Girls’ Wrestling Championships,  Ayres, who won the South region, added the state title in the 105-pound weight class with a 13-2 win over High Point’s Randi Miley, the North region champion. Ayres is the first wrestling state champion ever from PHS.

“I’m really excited about it,” Ayres said. “It’s not a big thing in school but hopefully it’ll become that. I was happy to get it for our coach. He works hard. I think our program is growing.”

Having a pair of medalists this year certainly could help. Bobchin has been instrumental in bringing attention to the Tigers, and Ayres has helped to pioneer a whole new division in the state.

“It’s huge,” said PHS head coach Rashone Johnson. “Any time Princeton High gets a kid not just to states, but to medal at states, that’s huge. There’s been only two guys to medal ever. The fact that you have two Princeton High wrestlers qualify for states and not only that, but being the first time in history with there being a female state tournament, you have a qualifier not just win the region but now she’s a state champ too.”

Bobchin finishes his career with a mark of 140-20, the second most wins in Mercer County history. He trails only Robbinsville’s Garrett Bilgrav by two, though Bobchin finished higher at states this year than Bilgrav, who was seventh at 170 pounds.

“If I’m being honest, it’s great and all, but it really wasn’t the goal coming into high school,” said Bobchin. “The goal always was place at states. But it’s a pretty cool thing to be able to look back on and see I was one of the best.”

He may be the best PHS wrestler in history. He’s up against Reddy, and they had comparable careers.

“He and Ian Reddy are twinning right now,” said Johnson. “Ian Reddy took 7/8th as a junior. They didn’t wrestle the 7/8 match. He took fourth as a senior. The difference is Alec won a lot more matches, but the match count was different. You couldn’t wrestle as many matches back then. Alec is a four-time county champion and we don’t know what Ian is because they never wrestled in counties. It’ll make for a good argument at our alumni barbecue.”

One thing that can’t be disputed is how much Bobchin impacted the program while developing into a two-time state medalist.

“He’ll definitely be missed and it’s great that he helped put Princeton wrestling to the next level and on the map again, and he wrestled well at states and every tournament he went to,” said Johnson.

“At Beast of the East, he was able to bring Princeton wrestling there and be on that national stage and [Daniel] Monahan [another PHS senior] was right there with him. For the underclassmen to live that and go through that and see his work ethic and the stuff he did to get there, it’s good. It makes the program better.

Each year Bobchin took the experience he gained from the previous season and built upon it and it paid off this year with his highest finish yet at states.

“Last year’s trip definitely helped,” said Bobchin. “I learned a really valuable lesson last year and that was not to settle. Last year I took eighth place and I looked up at everyone else on the podium and I felt guilty. I wanted more out of it. It pushed to train harder.”

Bobchin put more time and effort into his preparation for this season than any before. He worked out twice a day, woke up early before school to work out, went to the gym whenever possible, went on hard four-mile training runs, all with the idea that he was working toward a spot on the state podium. That background of training laid a foundation for when he returned to Atlantic City.

“He’s always been a solid wrestler,” said Johnson. “It’s a matter of you believing in yourself and you knowing that you really are that good. It’s almost coming to self-actualization. You realize you can do those things. Him qualifying for states as a sophomore, and actually winning matches in that arena, it goes back to that. If you’ve never been to that arena as a wrestler, you’ll never really understand the amount of pressure and how tough it is to actually compete in that room. I was talking with coaches down there and you’d be amazed how many people went 0-2 in that gym and went on to become college All-Americans and national champs.”

Displaying that self-belief and drawing on that experience, Bobchin wasn’t fazed when he was pitted against the nation’s top wrestler in the semifinals.

“Going into that match, I told myself I’m too good to wrestle him scared,” Bobchin said. “I need to wrestle to win, not to not lose. I may not have gotten the results I wanted, but I definitely left that match knowing I wrestled as hard as I could.”

That experience really kicked in after the loss, helping Bobchin to stay composed and fight back the next day to assure he’d finish higher than a year ago.

“After I lost the semifinal match, I knew I needed to prove to myself that I’m too good to not place this year, I’m too good to not place as high as I can this year,” said Bobchin.

“And after what happened last year, I can’t settle and I can’t slide all the way down to sixth from the semis, I need to wrestle back for third and give it everything I had. I only had two more matches after that and I needed to wrestle both of them as hard as I could.”

His fourth-place finish ended his high school career, but he still has a lot of wrestling ahead of him as Bobchin is excited about continuing his career close to home at Rider.

“I’m definitely looking forward to being a part of the family over at Rider,” said Bobchin. “(Head coach John) Hangey and Nic (Bedelyon) have been family to me for years. I know if I train as hard as I can, I believe in them to get me to where I want to be and reach the goals I want to achieve.”

Bobchin will leave a high standard behind for PHS as he is an example of how far dedication can take a wrestler.

“Alec also had the ‘it’ factor too,” said Johnson. “When he walked into the room, at tournaments or weigh-ins, you know he’s there. He has a presence about him. He helped bring that swagger to Princeton wrestling. No matter who we wrestled in dual meets, we always knew we had this guy. Even going into Jackson in the sectionals, we know they’re top seed and fantastic, but we’ve got this guy who can beat your good guy. I can say the same for the most part with Monahan. No matter who we wrestled, I’ve got two good guys who are going to beat your two guys.”

In addition, Bobchin valued his time with the team. He will take with him fond memories of his four-year career that finished with his place in history firmly established.

“It’s not even the wrestling part,” Bobchin said. “It’s the friends and the family and the bonds I’ve made with everybody from my teammates to my coaches.”

Ayres is among those teammates and she still has two years of high school, and potentially two more state titles.

“Obviously that’s my next goal,” said Ayres, who is preparing for the freestyle World Team Trials next. “That’s what I’m working for. The finals match, it was an amazing experience to get my hand raised at the end. It’s what I’m working for next year and hopefully the year after. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Having this year’s experience will help. She knows better what to expect when she travels to Atlantic City, although first trip was a big success.

It was very overwhelming,” said Ayres. “My first match, it was a little like a deer in headlights. It’s a lot to take in. The crowd was really into it, even the girls matches. It’s a lot to take it. Once I got in the later periods of my matches, I was able to let go. It was intimidating at first. It took a little to get used to.”