St. Joseph wrestler CJ LaFragola, 15 of Little Egg Harbor works out during a scrimmage against Egg Harbor Township at Egg Harbor Township High School Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012.

Edward Lea

Cape-Atlantic League

American Conference

Egg Harbor Township (18-6 last season) is the defending Cape-Atlantic League American Conference champion and will again be among the favorites. Nigel Toussaint (220 pounds) will look to build on his run to the state tournament a season ago. Senior Shawn Bryant (132-138) and junior Jamie Ingersol (152) each finished third in District 32 last season. Seniors Angelo Algeri (160) and Alex Torres (220), junior Eric Wollerman (182) and Mainland transfer Marcus Zamot (132-138) give the Eagles plenty of depth.

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St. Augustine Prep (21-9) has a new coach this season. Bill Ward (father of Buena standout Billy Ward and a former state placewinner himself) takes over for Joe Melchiore. The Hermits will be among the top teams in the conference despite the loss of the school’s all-time wins leader with 134, Joe Esposito (now wrestling at Kutztown). Two-time District 32 champ and two-time state qualifier Tom Gattinella leads the way down low at 120. Junior Ed Donahue (126) and sophomore Jarred Hodges (132) give the Hermits a nice run in the lower weights. Tyler Sentman (170) and James Bennett (182) anchor the upper weights.

Millville (15-9) will again be tough but could lack the depth to compete with the conference’s top teams. The Thunderbolts will look to junior Ed Shockley for bonus points. Shockley won 27 matches last season and makes the jump from 152 last season to 195 this time around. Obi Kali (220) will also be tough. Zach Goranson (113-120) and Chad Kahn (126-132) lead the lower weights with senior Rico Rivera coming off an 18-win season at 152 this season.

Vineland (12-9) may be the most improved team in the area. The Fighting Clan return 10 letterwinners and five wrestlers who reached the Region 8 tournament last season. District 31 champ Steffen Rodriguez and Tiawahn Cosby each have the talent to make a run late into the postseason. The Fighting Clan’s real strength, however, is in the lower weights. Josh Pineda (106), Jor-El Cartagena (113), Zach Nealis (120), Dan DeTetta (126) and Josh Rizzo (132) give the team as good a run as there is in the area. The Fighting Clan will get an added boost in the lower weights 30 days into the season when sophomore Steven Bergamo becomes eligible. Bergamo won 24 matches at 106 pounds as a freshman at St. Augustine last season before transferring to Vineland.

Oakcrest (10-10) hopes to gain experience throughout the season. Senior John Bernard leads a young team. Bernard (180) went 28-7 last season and finished second in District 32. Senior 132-pounder Conner Stabile went 18-11 last season and finished fourth in District 32. Sophomore Miles Townsend won 15 matches last season.

Absegami (9-15) has some talent throughout the lineup but the Braves are one of the area’s youngest teams and will take some lumps through a tough schedule. Senior captain and first-team Press All-Star Jack Willette (145-152) leads the team. The District 32 champ finished fourth in Region 8 and will look to reach states this time around. Seniors Alvin Mears (170) and David Blake (182) and junior heavyweight Roman Rudisill lead a talented group of upperweights.

Mainland Regional (6-18) has a solid core of lower and middleweights but will struggle to even fill the upperweights this season. Seniors Garrett Ewing (132-138), John Fitzpatrick (152), Colin O’Hara (160) and Timmy Lenzsch (170) will lead the way.

Atlantic City (5-15) returns five wrestlers with double-digit win totals from a season ago and will look to take another step forward as a team. Cesar Balmaceda (160) leads the way. Balmaceda went 22-7 last season and put in the work during the offseason to become one of the area’s best middleweights. Joe Cutugno won 11 matches last season and will wrestle at 152 this season to give the Vikings a nice one-two punch with Balmaceda at 152 and 160. Elijah Johnson (14 wins at 120) will join the team midseason.

National Conference

Hammonton (23-6) has the unenviable task of replacing one of the top senior classes in school history, but the Blue Devils still have the talent to compete in the conference thanks in part to 30-match winners Kellen Whitney (31-11 at 145) and David Williams (38-5 at 182). Brandon Beebe (170) and Robert Frederico (285) were each 20-match winners a season ago.

No surprise that Buena Regional (16-8) will again be among the contenders in the conference. Three-time District 32 and Region 8 champ Billy Ward won his 100th match last year as a junior and really has just one more goal: becoming the first state champ in Buena history. Fellow senior Dillan Berghof (145) would love to join Ward on a run to states and has the talent to do just that. Senior Sal Marandino (120), Ward at 126 and Berghof join with talented sophomores Luis Rivera (113) and Chaz Bramble (132) to give the Chiefs a strong stretch in the lower weights. A move to Group I means a possible postseason showdown with perennial state power Paulsboro.

Lower Cape May Regional (16-9) is one of the area’s most experienced teams with 10 starters returning this season. State qualifiers Zach Valcarce and Cory Damiana lead a senior-laden team expecting to be a challenger in the conference race. Valcarce will likely go 120 pounds this season and Damiana at 195. Jackson Sole (152) is a three-year varsity letter-winner.

Cedar Creek (13-11) would love to enjoy some of the same success its football team did with the school’s first senior class. The Pirates are improved and could be a darkhorse in the conference with 10 wrestlers returning with double-digit win totals a season ago. Patt McGinnis (126) and Eric Hanusewicz (145) give the team some pop in the lower-middle weights. Tommy Rheault (19 wins at 195), Ben Keating (12 at 220) and Chris Brown (14 at 285) each return to carry the upperweights.

Holy Spirit (13-15) is lead by sophomore Pat D’Arcy. The first-team Press All-Star burst onto the scene last season with a 35-3 record and the District 32 title at 106 despite giving up weight in almost every match. That won’t be a problem for D’Arcy this year and looks ready to make a run to the state tournament. Senior Ed Sooy went 27-6 last season and will slide between 145 and 152. Seniors Joe Treen (138) and Shawn Garry (160) also return. Ray Ellis, a key member of Spirit’s football team, wrestled at St. Augustine Prep as a freshman and could challenge for the District 32 title.

Middle Township (10-11) has a nice stretch of wrestlers in the lower and middleweights. Senior Ronray Harris (113) is a two-time Region 8 qualifier and will look to take the next step to states this season. Juniors Kenny Dale (120) and Brandon Curtis (132) and seniors Jacob Kershaw (138) and John Mallett (152) have the talent to help the Panthers surprise some teams in the conference.

Ocean City (7-16) is led by District 32 placewinners Cooper Gallagher and Josh Johnson. Gallagher went 24-8 last season and finished second at districts. Johnson went 21-8 en route to a third-place finish. Cliff Owens (132-138) won 19 matches last season as a freshman.

St. Joseph (0-28) is one of the area’s most inexperienced teams in the area but the Wildcats do feature state placewinner Roy Lucas (third at 220). C.J. LaFragola (170) transferred to the school in the middle of the football season and was a District 32 placer last season at Holy Spirit. Senior Tom Suski is much improved.

Shore Conference

Southern Regional (11-3) may not have a state champion in the room but the Rams have as much or more depth than they have ever had. Southern returns eight wrestlers that wrestled in the Region 6 tournament last season. Jake Campana (138-145) and Chris Serpico (152) each finished one win short of reaching the state tournament in Atlantic City with fourth-place finishes in Region 6. Junior Zach Wilhelm was a state placer as a freshman (132) and won 22 matches last season, as did his brother, 120-pounder Matt Wilhelm. Nick Hem (170) won 20 matches last season and is joined in the upper weights by brothers Conner and Cory Case and heavyweight Cody Smead, who returns after taking last season off.

Lacey Township (21-6) is moving from B-South to A-South within the conference, which means matches against state powers Southern Regional, Jackson Memorial and Brick Memorial. The Lions return 11 starters led by District 24 champ Pat Schinder, who went 33-4 last season. Ben Mrozinski (24-11 at 113) and sophomore Connor Garrity (14-1 at 120) are tough in the lower weights. Steve Knapp will look to score in the middle of the lineup at 145.

Barnegat (14-8) lost just one key senior from last season in state qualifier Matt Schofield but the Bengals return six wrestlers with at least 20 wins a season ago. Joe Mandara won 24 matches last season and leads the lower weights. Ryan Kirk (25-10 at 160) and Greg Moran (27-8 at 182) make the Bengals tough up top.

Pinelands Regional (10-14) returns 14 wrestlers with varsity experience. Second-year head coach Gerald Caravella helped take the team from three wins in 2011 to 10 last season. Tom Poklikuha (126) and Corey Byrne (132) were each 20-match winners last season. Poklikuha and Byrne each finished fourth in District 24 and will look to advance to regions this time around.

Tri-County Conference

Cumberland Regional (3-18) will look to improve on last year’s three-win campaign under first-year head coach Justin Miller. Miller is a former standout wrestler and coach at Schalick. The Colts could go through some growing pains this season. Sophomore Hector Marrero (106) and seniors Jesse Swope (120) and Joe Roman (138) give the team some experience in the lower weights.

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