MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The Columbia High School wrestling team hopes to build off last season’s success when the Cougars finished with a 13-9 record, placed second in the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division, and qualified for the state sectional tournament for the first time in more than 15 years.
In addition, the team advanced a wrestler – since-graduated Galileo Hetherington – to the State Finals in Atlantic City for the first time in five years.
Judging by what they did in the off-season, the Cougars showed their determination to have another great season.
“Many of our wrestlers had strong off-seasons in which they dedicated to offseason practices, to wrestling camps, off-season tournaments, and weight training,” said second-year head coach Mike Freedman.
Columbia finished fifth overall at the Kearny tournament Saturday, Dec. 15 to begin the season.
Here is a look at this year’s team:
Naquan Tory, senior, 113-pound weight class
Tory went 18-12 and took second in the District 10 tournament at Nutley. “Naquan wrestled all summer long and attended the J. Robinson 28 Intensive Wrestling Camp at the University of Wisconsin, which is considered the hardest high school wrestling camp in the country,” Freedman said. “We are expecting a huge season from Naquan.”
Lucas Barringer, freshman, 120
Barringer wrestled for the Maplewood-South Orange recreation program for a few years and will challenge for a varsity starting spot.
Zach Sukel, sophomore, 120
Sukel also wrestled for the MSO recreation program and will vie between 120 and 126.
Nate Rocha, sophomore, 126
Last season, Rocha went 18-8 as a freshman. “Nate wrestled a ton this offseason and is looking for a breakout sophomore season,” Freedman said. “He looks very good in the early season practices.”
Mekhi Jones, senior, 126
Jones has impressed the coaching staff at practice. “He wants to stay after practice and work on technique all the time,” Freedman said. “We see improvement in his wrestling every practice.”
Cahil Love, junior, 132
Last season, Love finished an impressive 24-11 and took second in the district. “CJ looks to improve on his breakthrough season from last year,” Freedman said. “Cahil wrestled all summer at various tournaments and attended most of our summer practices. We expect him to have a strong junior year.”
Devin Rocha, senior, 138
Rocha went a stellar 32-9 and was one match away from reaching the State Finals in Atlantic City. He is poised to go further this season, Freedman said. “The record for most wins in the history of Columbia is 101 by Andrew Adams. Rocha has 77 entering his senior year,” Freedman noted.
Amiri Greene, senior, 145
Greene, who went 6-10 last year, has been making fine progress. “We are very happy with Amiri’s progress from last season. He put in a lot of time this summer, including attending the Rutgers Wrestling Camp. Amiri works very hard and should have a really strong senior year.”
Alex Kelly, sophomore, 152
Kelly is a first-year wrestler, but is working towards starting varsity immediately. “He works extremely hard at practice and really enjoys getting better every day,” Freedman said.
Blake McGowan, senior, 170
Last season, McGowan finished 18-10 and took third in the district. “Blake has put on a lot of muscle since the end of last season, jumping from 145 to either 170 or 182. Blake attended the Naval Academy Intensive Wrestling Camp this summer. Blake has shown all the tools and skills necessary to wrestle at the state tournament this season.”
Tyson Carroll, freshman, 182
Carroll has also wrestled for the MSO recreation team. “I am very pleased with Tyson’s work ethic and he will be starting varsity for us right away,” Freedman said. “His skills are getting better and better everyday and we expect Tyson to win a lot of matches as a freshman.”
Bernie Mercier, junior, 182
Mercier wrestled his freshman year and returns to the team his junior year. “I am so impressed with his attitude and work ethic,” Freedman said. “He works so hard in the room. The coaches enjoy having him on the team and can’t wait to see him compete.”
Max Moore, junior, 195
Moore looks to improve from last season in which he won nine varsity matches as a first-year varsity wrestler. “Max has put on a lot of muscle since the end of last year, going from 170 to 195,” Freedman said.
Jethro Pierre Paul, junior, 220
“Jethro is a first-year wrestler for us and works everyday in the room with Max,” Freedman said. “Jethro is learning quickly and will be in the varsity lineup at 220.”
First-year wrestlers for CHS include junior Fernando Saint- Louis, and sophomores Devin Mozoul and Jamell Hayes.
The captains are Tory, Rocha, McGowan, and Love.
CHS results of the Kearny tournament
First place: Devin Rocha (138-pound weight class), Blake McGowan (170)
Second place: Naquan Tory (113)
Third place: Max Moore (195), Tyson Carroll (182), Nate Rocha (126)
Dec. 21, at Millburn, 3 p.m.
Dec. 22, at West Orange, 9 a.m.
Dec. 27, at Warren Hills tournament, 7 a.m.
Jan. 3, East Side, 5 p.m.
Jan. 5, Home quad meet vs. Orange, Passaic, Pequannock, 9 a.m.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to include the results of the Kearny tournament.