Every wrestling season has that moment where the athletes realize the level they have to compete in if they want to extend their season past the district tournament.
For the Ocean City High School wrestling team, that came at the Arthur O. Marinelli Holiday Tournament at Egg Harbor Township in December. The Red Raiders put up a poor showing, well below the standards they hold themselves to.
“I think that was kind of a wake up call for some of them to where they are and where they want to be,” coach Dave Castellini said.
This Saturday, the Ocean City wrestlers have a chance to not only put those early-season struggles behind them but to continue their season as long as they can.
The Red Raiders are one of nine teams competing in the District 29 tournament held at Kingsway Regional. Preliminaries and quarterfinals are at 10 a.m., the consolations are at 4:30 p.m. and the finals begin at 6. The top three in each weight class advances to the Region 8 Tournament held at Egg Harbor Township the following week.
Atlantic City, Cedar Creek, Holy Spirit, Schalick, Southern Regional, Washington Township and Woodstown are also in District 29.
“We’re very excited,” said senior 126-pounder Peyton Bristol. “It’s been something we’ve looked forward to since the end of last season. It’s something you prepare for every day since November.”
Bristol is one of a handful of Red Raiders who have a chance to advance to the regional tournament. But it won’t be easy with several tough teams also in Ocean City’s district.
“It’s definitely a different mindset because it’s more of a win or go home mentality,” said Bristol, 17, of Marmora.
Bristol is 25-8 this season. Joining him in the 20-win club is 170-pounder Billy Kroeger with a 22-6 record and Nick Sannino (24-7), who wrestles at 195. Kroeger has 13 pins this season and Sannino has been on a role with 21 pins.
“They should have some of the higher seeds and I expect them to do well,” Castellini said.
Ocean City wrapped up its season on a high note, sweeping a quad meet it hosted against Deptford Township, Palmyra and Vineland. Along with a dual win over Atlantic City last Wednesday and a 2-1 day at the Winslow Township quad the weekend prior, the Red Raiders won five of their last seven duals to finish the year 12-14.
“I think we felt we could have done better, but in the last couple of weeks we won five matches and tried to win them all,” said Kroeger, 16, of Upper Township. “I felt we ended the year pretty well.”
If the Marinelli Tournament was the low point of the early portion of the season, then it was a pair of big dual meet victories in January that turned the season around.
On Jan. 17, the Red Raiders topped Millville 42-34. Bristol, Kroeger and Sannino had three of the team’s seven pins. On Jan. 30, they topped rival Mainland Regional 48-28.
“We fed off of each other’s energy,” Kroeger said of the Mainland match. “We just rallied, and after that we won more than half of our remaining matches to end the season.”
With the team portion of the season ending this past weekend for every school in the state, the focus now is on the district tournament.
There are no more bonus points to help the team. No longer are wrestlers going to take risks to aim for a major decision or play it safe to minimize a loss. It’s all or nothing.
“Instead of going for team points, you do what you can to get by and move on,” Kroeger said.
Sannino, Kroeger and Bristol will wrestle in weight classes that feature some of the toughest opponents in South Jersey.
Wrestling at 195, Sannino could go up against Holy Spirit’s Kurt Droscoll, Souther’s Ben LoParo or Kingsway’s Alieis Almanzer. The 170-pound class has Holy Spirit’s Tim Fitzpatrick, one of the best in the state, Southern’s John Stout, Robert Parkell of Woodstown and Ricky Harold of Washington Township.
Bristol doesn’t have it easy either, and could see Sebastian Delligatti of Southern, Dominic Sacco of Holy Spirit or Finnegan McFadden of Kingsway.
“Delligatti knocked me out of the first round last year,” said Bristol. "He’s going to be tough. It’s definitely going to be a fight for me again this year but I’m going to leave it all out there.”