March 24, 2021

Looking to Build on Last Season’s Success, PHS Wrestling Goes 2-1 in Opening Week of 2021

GETTING A GRIP: Princeton High wrestler Martin Brophy, right, controls a foe in recent action at 120 pounds. Sophomore Brophy got off to a 3-0 start as PHS went 2-1 last week in its first action of the 2021 season. The Tigers wrestle at Steinert on March 25 and at Hopewell Valley on March 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

March 1 wasn’t a holiday, but it felt like one for the Princeton High wrestling team as it got together for the first practice of the 2021 season.

“To tell you the truth, it was like Christmas morning, the level of excitement was there,” said PHS head coach Jess Monzo, reflecting on the mood in the room.

“The kids were happy to be back, wrestling gave them that sense of normalcy. Some of them were still going to their club and working out on their own but being back brought that family unity they were missing.”

There is unity of purpose to go along with that family feeling after a promising 2019-20 campaign that saw the Tigers finish fourth in the Mercer County Tournament with two champions and a runner-up. PHS ended up qualifying three wrestlers for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) state championships in Atlantic City with James Romaine making the boys’ tourney at 152 pounds and Chloe Ayres finishing first at 107 in the girls’ competition and Ava Rose taking second at 100.

“The kids were coming out of their shell last year and seeing success helped them build off of it,” said Monzo.

“When they came in the room this year, they were a year older, they were a year more mature. They get it, especially my young guys, my freshmen who became sophomores. They see that we can do this, we can hang so the young guys are really stepping up.”

A trio of seniors, Ayres, Romaine, and Chris Sockler, are setting a good example for the program’s younger wrestlers.

“They have been tremendous leaders in the room,” said Monzo. “The young guys pick up on it and follow along so that has been tremendous. Some of them like to lead by talking and being vocal, others lead by setting the pace in the room and working hard. It is really starting to show.”

With Monzo in his second season at the helm of the program, everyone is on the same page.

“There was a little learning curve for me and there was the learning curve for them to understand my expectations, my values, and my beliefs in the sport,” said Monzo.

“We have definitely fed off each other and we came to a conclusion of how things are going to work. Now the kids know exactly what is expected of them. They know what they need to get done and accomplish every day. We have got to get one percent better every day going forward and things will start to turn out.”

After starting the season by beating Notre Dame 53-16 on March 16 and Hamilton 41-30 two days later, PHS fell 42-32 to Hightstown last Saturday. The score, though, didn’t reflect how well the Tigers competed against the Rams.

“We had a great match today; only nine bouts were contested and we won seven of them,” said Monzo, noting that PHS forfeited five weight classes, thereby giving up 30 team points.

“We won the bouts on the mat so the Princeton kids really showed up well and did what they were supposed to do.”

Sophomore Rose and Ayres showed up against Hightstown, battling boy opponents as they competed at 106 and 113, respectively.

“Ava wrestled well against Hightstown, unfortunately she didn’t come out victorious,” said Monzo.

“Chloe wrestled a great match, she won by a technical fall (24-6 over Jack Kane). She did really well.”

With the state girls’ tournament slated to take place from April 3-10, Monzo believes that Rose and Ayres will be primed for another big postseason run.

“That is coming up soon, the girls’ season ends two weeks before the boys’ season,” said Monzo.

“The boys’ season is only four to six weeks long and the girls is cut in half. Being able to wrestle the boys on a daily basis and having bouts against the boys is definitely going to help them later on in the season.”

Sophomore Martin Brophy has emerged as a big help for PHS at 120 pounds.

“He has made a huge jump, he was at 113 for most of the season last year and then he cut down to 106 at the end of the season,” said Monzo of Brophy who earned a pin in the Hightstown match against Dennis Bustos as he improved to 3-0.

“He has grown into a 120-pounder. He has put a little bit of good weight on and has some good size. It is really exciting, I really love what I am seeing from him. He has had a pin, a tech fall, and a pin this year.”

Another sophomore, Harrison Ehee, has made a jump at 126. “He wrestled really well, he was on his way to a major decision and he got thrown late in the match,” said Monzo of Ehee, who prevailed 12-7 over Joseph Obst on Saturday.

“He fought off his back and came back and scored again and ended the match on a good note. I saw a lot of good things from him.”

While freshman Basil Rieger fell at 132 against the Rams, he is showing good potential. “It is tremendous to have a young guy stepping up,” said Monzo.

“He is predominately going to see juniors and seniors this year. He is going to run into these tougher kids but he is learning. He understands his role. He knows he is going to take some lumps and he is going to give them out.”

Senior star Sockler has already been giving out lumps this season. “He is wrestling great, he is going to be wrestling at 138,” said Monzo.

“He actually has three pins on the year; so far, so good. He is doing what he needs to do. He knows he has to have a good year this year in order to be part of that super region selection process that the state has this year.”

At 152, junior Aaron Munford has also gotten off to a good start. “He pinned against Hamilton and he wrestled a really tough kid from Hightstown and won 3-1 in overtime; it was a good match, so he is 3-0 as well,” said Monzo.

Senior star Romaine pinned Liam O’Donnell at 160 in his bout against the Rams as he looks to produce an historic senior campaign.

“Last year our goal was to get to AC; he had a very big win last year in the region semis against a kid from Hunterdon Central to qualify for the state tournament,” said Monzo, referring to third-seeded Romaine’s 11-10 overtime victory over second-seeded Anthony Romaniello.

“That win gave James a lot of confidence going forward. Getting that win over the kid that he beat and the pedigree that wrestler had gave James the feeling that I belong. He knows he belongs, he knows he is there. Last year, our goal may have been to get to AC. This year our goal is to get on the podium.”

Junior Matt Elsworth is showing more confidence at 170. “He has stepped up big from last year, he has made so many strides,” said Monzo.

“He had a big win against Hightstown (7-3 over Shaun Tom), it was a back and forth match against a good kid and he pulled out a decision.”

With the NJSIAA having announced a modified postseason format that will eliminate district competition with a selection committee choosing wrestlers in each district to compete in a combined regional
tournament, Monzo is looking for his athletes to battle on a daily basis.

“The end goal is to get selected and to wrestle well at the super regional,” said Monzo, whose team has matches at Steinert on March 25 and at Hopewell Valley on March 30.

“We are hoping to place high, the top 12 gets you to the states. I think overall we want to wrestle well every match. We want to get better every day, that has been our focus, that has been our goal.”

No matter what happens at the regional, though, Monzo is just thrilled to see his wrestlers on the mat.

“I am super happy that we are being given the opportunity to go this year,” said Monzo.

“I am thankful to Princeton for allowing us to have a season, giving the kids the opportunity to succeed and do something they love. At the end of the day, it is all about the kids. I am just here to give them some guidance and let them go out and succeed.”