The Cape-Atlantic League's dry spell in the state individual wrestling championships is now officially a drought.
The last time a wrestler from the CAL reached the top of the podium at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City was in 2007, when Holy Spirit High School sophomore Mac Mancuso won the 189-pound state title.
St. Augustine Prep's Jack Clark and Holy Spirit's Pat D'Arcy lead a strong local contingent of 27 wrestlers looking to end the winless streak this weekend.
Clark is making his one and only appearance at states in New Jersey.
The Prep senior wrestled his first three years at the high school level for the McDonogh School in Maryland. He was a three-time Maryland Independent School champion and a two-time National Preps champ.
The Washington Township native decided to transfer to the Prep this season to be closer to his family for a year before going to the University of North Carolina on a scholarship.
Clark had three first-period technical falls on his way to the District 32 title and two pins and an injury default of previously unbeaten Ed Lenkowski of Clearview Regional for the Region 8 title.
He is ranked fourth in the country at 152 pounds by InterMat and brings a 160-15 career record into states.
"My goal is to be a state champ," Clark said. "I know that's very hard, but that was my only goal coming into New Jersey when I transferred. It's my last year in high school, so I'm really hoping I can win a title."
Clark's critics say he isn't a true "Jersey guy" since he started his high school career in Maryland.
Clark scoffs at the notion.
"My whole life I've lived in New Jersey," Clark said. "I am definitely a New Jersey native. I always was."
Clark's nickname is even "Jersey Jack."
Clark was working out at the United States Olympic Training Center a few years ago when national freestyle development coach Bill Zadick asked where everyone was from. The nickname was born when Clark responded simply, "Jersey."
Clark didn't have much state seeding criteria coming from out-of-state and was seeded third in the bottom of the 152-pound bracket.
But many consider Clark to be the wrestler to beat.
"I'm really excited because there are so many people coming," Clark said. "That's all I've been thinking about. It's been hard to focus on school."
D'Arcy finished third in the state at 106 pounds last season and is the top seed in the bottom bracket at 113 this time around.
D'Arcy was in fifth grade and weighed less than 60 pounds when Mancuso won the state title in 2007.
He remembers watching the finals that year from a computer in his living room.
"I was a big fan of Mac's," D'Arcy said. "He was exciting to watch. He was a 189-pounder, but he wrestled like he was a 145-pounder."
Mancuso is a redshirt senior on the West Virginia University wrestling team and has stopped in to Spirit's wrestling room a handful of times during breaks over the years.
"It was great any time Mac would come in the room," D'Arcy said. "He would work with me and show me some cool stuff.
"Nobody since Mac has won a state title so it would be nice for the CAL to have some better finishes this season."
D'Arcy broke into the national rankings this week at No. 18.
He is considered to be the top challenger to defending state champion Nick Suriano of Bergen Catholic, ranked No. 2 in the country.
But the Spirit junior isn't looking past anyone.
"It's a long tournament with a lot of tough wrestlers," D'Arcy said. "You have to take it one match at a time and see where that takes you."
Clark and D'Arcy were actually teammates on a number of elite youth wrestling teams and have a mutual appreciation of what each other has accomplished in high school.
"I am very impressed," Clark said. "He's only a junior and he's what, No. 2 in the state? I hope the best for him. I hope he makes the final and can give Suriano a run."
D'Arcy said that anyone with any doubts on Clark's potential doesn't know what they're looking at.
"He's really fluid on his feet," D'Arcy said. "He goes from one move to the next. He's a really good technical wrestler.
"I think he's the favorite. He's the read deal. I like his chances this weekend."
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