BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - Thursday night marked the first time Bill Ward coached the St. Augustine Prep wrestling team in a dual match in 21 years.
Ward's return was a success.
The Hermits dominated from start to finish in a 53-12 win against Vineland in a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference match.
Ward took over as head coach at the Prep this season after spending two decades as an assistant at Buena Regional, where his son, senior Billy Ward, is a standout wrestler.
The elder Ward was a runner-up in the state as a wrestler at the Prep in 1985. He came back to the parochial school in 1991 as head coach for one season.
He doesn't mind joking around about it now, but Thursday's win doubled his career total. Ward said the team went 1-15 - with the lone win coming against Wildwood, which doesn't have a team anymore.
"I got lucky," Ward said recalling the win. "I made a great coaching move. … I looked like a genius, but I actually did it by accident."
Dave LaGamba, currently the athletic director at Millville, was a district and region champion and one of the program's few highlights that season.
But finding standouts on this season's Hermits team won't be as difficult as St. Augustine Prep looked impressive Thursday.
The Hermits won the first five matches to jump out to a big lead and went on to win 11-of-14 weight classes.
"It was really fun," Ward said. "The kids have been working really hard, and I thought they looked pretty good tonight. There is some stuff we need to work on, but I thought they looked pretty good."
Prep junior James Bennett's 9-5 decision against District 31 champ Steffen Rodriguez at 182 pounds was one of the night's featured matches.
"It was a great way to open up the season," Bennett said. "I went through that match so many times in my head. It was a tough win and something I worked very hard for."
Bennett wrestled Rodriguez last season and was losing 11-2 before headlocking Rodriguez to his back for a pin.
He was happy to leave no doubt this time around.
Bennett trailed 4-3 after two periods but was just getting started.
"I hit a second wind and felt great," Bennett said.
Bennett opened the third with an escape and quickly took Rodriguez down for two points and a 6-4 lead.
He put the match away with a late tilt.
"Once I scored that two I kept pushing even harder," Bennett said.
Vineland was missing four of its top lightweights, who are all region qualifiers, on Thursday - two with sprained ankles, one with a concussion and one awaiting transfer eligibility. But coach Dave Homiak made no excuses.
"We can't depend on four or five guys," Homiak said. "Everybody has got to step it up and they have to do their part if we're going to have a good season.
"We didn't do what we needed to do - it's as simple as that. We were totally outwrestled tonight."
Lorenzo Leyva (106) and Tiawahn Cosby (195) each won decisions for the Fighting Clan with Luis Andrion picking up the team's only bonus points with a late pin at 132.
Collin Donahue (113), Tom Gattinella (120), Jose Tabora (152), Tyler Sentman (170), Justin Walsh (220) and Tom Lynd (285) all earned pins for the Prep.
Sophomore Jarred Hodges (138) and freshman James Brady won major decisions.
Contact John O'Kane:
106-Lorenzo Leyva V d. Mason Bechler 11-9; 113-Collin Donahue SA p. Leonard Leyva 1:44; 120-Tom Gattinella SA p. Jor-el Cartagena 1:49; 126-Ed Donahue SA d. Daniel DeTetta 11-6; 132-Luis Andrion V p. Mike Ragusa 5:51; 138-Jarred Hodges SA md. Tayron Davis 14-4; *145-Aaron Denesevich SA d. Bryan DeJesus 7-1; 152-Jose Tabora SA p. Kevin Forcinito 1:58; 160-James Brady SA md. Jose Jimenez 12-1; 170-Tyler Sentman SA p. Joel Vazquez :40; 182-James Bennett SA d. Steffen Rodriguez 9-5; 195-Tiawahn Cosby V d. Cory Pietrzyk 5-2; 220-Justin Welsh SA p. Ben Henderson 1:11; 285-Tom Lynd SA p. Adrian Rodriguez 1:41.
Records-Vineland 0-1; St. Augustine Prep 1-0.
*Match started at 145
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