The path was a little bumpier than expected but the Southern Regional High School wrestling team still managed to find its way to Toms River for state group tournaments.
The South Jersey Group IV champion Rams will wrestle North II Group IV champ Hunterdon Central today at 12:30 p.m. in the state Group IV semifinals at Pine Belt Arena on the campus of Toms River North.
“It’s a great feeling,” Southern senior 152-pounder Chris Serpico said.
“We have worked so hard every day in practice to get here.”
The Rams, No. 2 in The Press Elite 11, have battled through a string of injuries all season long.
“We’ve had a bunch of unfortunate events, but we’ve pulled through as a team,” Serpico said.
“We’re really excited to show everybody how hard we’ve been working and what we can do as a team.”
The winner of the Southern-Hunterdon Central semifinal will advance to meet the winner of the other semifinal between Central Jersey champ Brick Memorial and North I champ Hackensack in the final at 6 p.m.
Southern is No. 12 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers’ Association poll of the state’s top 20 teams. Hunterdon Central is No. 6.
The Rams are battle-tested after surviving the brutal Shore Conference A-South.
A-South produced four sectional champs this season.
Brick Township won Central Group III, Brick Memorial Central Group IV, Toms River South won South Group III and Southern South Group IV.
Southern lost a lopsided 35-13 match to Brick Memorial at home on Jan. 23.
The Rams lost seven decisions in that match, five by two points or less, and feel there is plenty of room for a big turnaround.
“We have to win those toss-up bouts this time around,” Serpico said.
“It basically comes down to toughness.
“I think we can pull through tomorrow but we have to focus on beating Hunterdon Central first.
“They are ranked sixth in the state and they’re not just going to lay down for us but I think we have a really good shot.”
Southern and Hunterdon Central are each strong in the middleweights.
Central has seven 20-match winners between 126-170 pounds.
But Southern has the firepower to matchup in the middle.
Junior Andrew Tonneson (22-9 at 126), Beast of the East placer Zach Wilhelm (24-7 at 132), Jake Campana (19-8 at 138/145), Nick Racanelli (18-11 at 138/145), Serpico (20-5 at 152) and Gerardo Jorge (21-7 at 160) anchor the team in the middle.
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