By Josh Lashley
Fans can witness many great attributes brought on by student-athletes who compete in the grueling, yet great sport of wrestling if they choose to attend a Hackettstown High School match this winter.
They’ll have the opportunity to see well focused, highly conditioned athletes who give their all regardless of whether or not they get their hand raised when the bout is complete. The Tigers face off with some of the toughest opponents to be found anywhere in the entire state and therefore the entire country.
New Jersey is widely and rightly recognized by followers of wrestling across the USA as showcasing some of the best talent year after year and decade after decade.
This season, the Tigers are quite fortunate in that they have not only a veteran and knowledgeable coaching staff, but four wrestlers on the roster who have demonstrated the skill, competence, dependability and work ethic necessary to be named as team captains.
Hackettstown’s captains for the 2016-2017 season are seniors Justin Bennett, Kyle Connelly and Anthony Gonzalez; and junior Alex Carida.
Frank Rodgers, the head coach for the Tigers, notes some of the many reasons Bennett, Connelly, Gonzalez and Carida have earned their all-important leadership roles.
“Justin has come a long way since he was a freshman and won 20 matches last year,’’ Rodgers said. “Alex leads by example, is a hard worker, year round wrestler and best wrestler in the room. Anthony is the heart of the team. Kyle has developed and matured over his career into the consummate leader.’’
Coach Rodgers noticed the ways in which each captain has worked diligently to improve themselves on the mat, while also considering what is in the best interest of their teammates.
“Justin and Alex have improved their technique from the neutral position,’’ Rodgers said. “Kyle and Anthony are improving on top and bottom.’’
There are several athletes contributing to the Tigers’ success this season.
“Joe Andes and Steven Nicotra are doing a nice job,’’ Rodgers said. “Both won the Caldwell Tournament and Joe was a runner up at the Hunterdon Central Tournament.’’
The Tigers will participate in the challenging NJSIAA District Nine Tournament along with Barringer, Bloomfield, Caldwell, Glen Ridge, Lyndhurst, Mendham, Montclair as well as the host and perennial powerhouse Phillipsburg.
Hackettstown also competes in Region Three which will be hosted by West Orange. The District Nine Tournament is scheduled to take place on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18. The Region Three Tournament is scheduled for Feb. 22, Feb. 24 and Feb. 25.
“We have an interesting mix of experience and inexperience,’’ Rodger said. “Returning starters include the captains, Nicotra, Andes, senior James Clarke and sophomore Nate Bennett. The rest are either freshmen or first year varsity like Shawn and Zeb Burke, JJ Carrara, Erick Garcia and Matt Castro. We are looking to qualify for the (NJSIAA) Sectional Team Tournament and get some wrestlers down to Atlantic City [for the State Individual Tournament].’’
Hackettstown is part of the North Two Group Two Section. The quarterfinal round of the Sectionals across the state for those teams that qualify is Feb. 8.