February 1, 2023

Highlighted by 2nd Straight Title from Sophomore Rose, PHS Wrestling Takes 2nd at MCT in Historic Performance

COLE POWER: Princeton High wrestler Cole Rose, bottom, battles a foe in a match last season. Last Saturday, sophomore Rose placed first at 120 pounds at the Mercer County Tournament at Robbinsville High. Rose’s heroics helped PHS finish second in the team standings at the MCT behind champion Hopewell Valley. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Cole Rose would like to become the second Princeton High wrestler to win four Mercer County Tournament titles.

The sophomore took a step in that direction when he captured his second county crown in as many years. Rose followed up his 106 title from a year ago with a 5-0 win over Luke Caldwell of Hopewell Valley in the 120-pound final Saturday at the championships hosted by Robbinsville.

“I think it’s really great because in middle school when I wrestled I lost to a lot of kids that I wrestle now and I beat,” said Rose, who also beat Caldwell last year at 106 for his first title. “It’s just been a change. I really like it. My goal is to win four in a row. I think Alec Bobchin did it before. I’m trying to compete with him and tie his record.”

Rose was one of two individual champions for PHS. Blasé Mele, who missed last year’s county meet due to injury, earned his first MCT title when the PHS sophomore pinned Steinert’s Devin Liriano in 1:09 for the 132-pound championship. Mele reached the state championships as a freshman last year.

“To come back this year and be healthy and to get that title means a little bit to him,” said PHS head coach Jess Monzo, whose team placed second in the MCT team standings with 164.5 points behind champion Hopewell Valley (216 points) and just ahead of third place Robbinsville (163), giving the Tigers their highest-ever finish in the competition.

“But with what he did last year and how the season ended, there’s definitely other things on his mind. Not saying the counties are obsolete but we’re looking towards districts and regions titles, state medals, state titles.”

PHS also scored big with another pair of finalists. Marty Brophy took second at 138 in his senior season. The top seed had wanted to go out with a crown, but can refocus for districts on a title.

“We felt he was wrestling really well,” said Monzo of Brophy. “He looked really good in his first couple matches going in. We’re in the finals and he took two really good shots and got the legs and just wasn’t able to finish. The second finish the kid hit a nice cutback and caught us on our back. It’s a little devastating. I’m a little heartbroken for Marty because I think that title eluded him.”

Chase Hamerschlag gave the Tigers another budding star as the freshman earned a second-place finish at 165 pounds.

“Chase Hamerschlag wrestled terrific,” said Monzo. “He’s starting to really come out of his shell. He was a little heartbroken in the finals, I don’t think that was the match we were looking for. It just got away from him a bit early and we couldn’t come back.”

Atticus Ayres placed third at 113 pounds, Christian Paul was third at 157 pounds and Jordy Paredes came away with fourth at 175 pounds. Tyler Ehee was sixth at 126 pounds. Every point mattered for the Tigers as they eked out the runner-up spot over Robbinsville.

“I thought it was great,” said Rose. “We beat Robbinsville and we haven’t beaten them in a long, long time. Our team has grown throughout the years. With our middle weights and pretty good wrestlers that are outside of that little circle, I think our team is built pretty well. We dominated a couple teams, but we’ve also had some times where we could have done better. As a team, we’ve definitely improved a lot but we still have things to perfect.”

Rose was happy to be able to contribute winning points to the Princeton total. He has been working hard to adjust to the challenges of a new weight class. He has bumped up to 120 pounds, though he’s still light enough to consider wrestling at 113 pounds by the end of the season.

“The weight difference has been a lot,” said Rose. “Wrestling kids at 106, there were a lot of kids smaller than me. The weight difference was a lot bigger. There are kids that are more my weight in this one. A lot of kids are cutting down from 126 or some kids went down to 113 from 120. At 106, I would be wrestling kids that were 100 pounds. It’s just different.”

The effect of the move up is that Rose will have more competition. He has to approach matches a little differently than a year ago.

“My coach was telling me I can’t use pure muscle like I did before,” said Rose. “I had to work on my form. It’s definitely a lot different. When I was at 106 and the kids would be smaller than me, I would just barrel through them and I would just use my strength against them. This year it’s different and I have to use more technique than I did before. I have to get in the room and keep drilling things that will help me and perfect my technique.”

Rose has some strong evidence to back up his moves. He has put together a 22-5 start to the season that continues Saturday as PHS looks to lock up its Colonial Valley Conference division title in a quad with Ewing, Lawrence, and Hamilton while its wrestlers look to build on their county success.

“I feel pretty good,” said Rose. “My record is OK how it is right now. I think for districts it’ll be tough, but once I make it out of districts, making it to states is a good possibility for me. My goal is just to make it to states and do well.”

Rose has been able to build on last year’s success and the challenge of wrestling more evenly matched opponents has driven him to keep developing his technique. Moving up is not something that every wrestler handles well, but Rose has remained as successful in his heavier class.

“He was big. He was strong. Now coming up two weight classes and putting on 14-15 pounds, and still being able to perform at that level is terrific,” said Monzo. “We wrestled the kid in the finals earlier in the season. We beat the kid up and ended up pinning him in the first period. So we knew we were better, but we knew also that we can’t rely on past results and we can’t rely on paper to say we were going to win. That kid came out there knowing he had to change up his game plan a bit. And he did. He wrestled Cole to a 5-0 match, so kudos to Luke Caldwell from Hopewell, he wrestled a great match. He tried to keep it close and we were just able to finish on a couple shots and solidify the win.”

Rose never felt overly threatened in the final. His familiarity with his opponent helped, and he did everything that he had to for his second county title.

“I controlled the whole match pretty easily,” said Rose. “He didn’t score any points on me. I just controlled the whole match. On bottom, I escaped pretty easily and then I took him back down. On bottom, he just knew how to defend what I did. He knew when he was on his belly, I couldn’t tilt or anything. I think I practiced more on bottom and how to defend my stuff rather than how to escape and score points.”

Rose’s strength has helped him regardless of whom he competes against. Having last year’s experiences has given him confidence as well. The combination has made him tough to beat.

“It’s really Cole’s strength,” said Monzo. “He’s got leverage. He’s a little lanky at times. He has that height and that length leverage that really helps. He is incredibly strong for his size and weight. He lifts all the time. He lifts when he’s in school. He’s not afraid to touch the weights and it really shows.”

Rose and his PHS teammates now focus on improving more as they head into the most important part of the season. The county meet kicks off the championship portion with districts looming ahead after they finish off the CVC season.

“We have to take everything one day at a time and keep moving forward,” said Monzo, whose team has a 14-4 overall record in dual meet competition. “We have a couple teams from Mercer County still left on our schedule. Saturday we wrestle Ewing and Lawrence, and both teams had some bright spots over the weekend. Chase wrestled a guy from Lawrence in the finals so it’ll be nice to get a crack at that kid and hopefully get a better match. And then we have one more weekend and it’s districts. It’s time to start buckling down and maybe using a little bit of unfortunate mishaps as motivational tools for the future.”

The Tigers have plenty to build on after coming in second in the county meet and earning a pair of individual titles. They can’t rest on those accomplishments with big goals ahead.

“Do well in our last couple meets, keep our record good,” said Rose. “I think we’re CVC champs. As a team we’re looking to keep wrestling with the same aggressiveness that we have been and stay strong.”