Montclair’s Damony James takes down East Orange’s Devonne Swan during their 182-pound consolation bracket bout at the Essex County Wrestling Tournament in West Orange on Jan. 19.
James finished seventh in his weight class.

by Andrew Garda

It was a disappointing weekend for the Montclair High School wrestling team, but one which was just a small part on a tremendous effort to reboot the program this season for head coach Eugene Kline. The idea was to create a special atmosphere during and before matches, to make the wrestlers feel each event was special and build a family feel to the team.

Of course, as Kline will tell you, the real success or failure comes on the mat, and while the team got off to a solid start, all too often they fell just short of their goals.

One of the goals was to get multiple wrestlers to the Regionals on Wednesday, Feb. 21, but the team only achieved part of that, with junior Damony James the lone Mountie advancing to Regionals.

Despite failing to send more than James, the junior wrestler is a good sign that the team appears headed in the right direction.

James battled hard in the 182-pound category on Saturday, Feb. 17, making it all the way to the final match.

“Damony wrestled a pretty good tournament,” Kline said via email on Tuesday. “He seemed to be pretty motivated and focused for the tournament. We had been working on a few mindset things the week leading up to the districts and all the way up the day of. I believe that work affected his performance.”

First, he met Bloomfield’s James Dameus, who he bested in a 6-2 decision to advance from the quarterfinals. While James won, Kline knew he was capable of better.

“He did not wrestle to his potential,” Kline said. “After that match, the coaching staff and Damony had another conversation about mindset. For the semifinal, he seemed to be on a mission and determined to go out and wrestle the best that he could.”

That determination resulted in a victory with a pin against Lyndhurst’s Nick Fernandez in the semifinals. The two battled back and forth for some time before the Mountie wrestler got the upper hand and pinned Fernandez at 3:55.

James’ victory had the added bonus of allowing him some revenge, Kline said.

“Earlier in the season, during the dual meet against Lyndhurst, Damony was pinned” by Fernandez, Kline said. James “went out and put together a great match. He wrestled smart, physically and determined and came out with a pin of his own.”

James was on a nice roll, but that came to a sudden stop as Phillipsburg’s Austin Roth beat him just 39 seconds into their final match.

“He wrestled a good opponent from Phillipsburg and he was a little too much for Damony,” Kline said. “Wrestling in Phillipsburg, with all eyes on you in the final, in front of the largest crowd I’m sure Damony has ever wrestled in front of, can be a little intimidating.”

This was James’ third year on the team, and his improvement is a great example of what Kline has achieved so far.

His 26-13 win-loss record, with 14 pins, represents as many wins in one season as he had the previous two years combined and an increase in pins as well.

While James was able to advance to the Regional Tournament, where he will be wrestling Kyle Winbush from Randolph High School, the rest of the team fell just short, including senior Jacy Jones.

But while Jones’ season ended earlier than he or Kline would have liked he still had an outstanding season. Jones finished his year with a 24-3 record, with 10 pins (while only being pinned once himself).