by Andrew Garda
Second-year Montclair High School wrestling head coach Eugene Kline has worked hard over the course of his young tenure to build a family and team atmosphere around a sport that is often perceived as more of an individual effort.
“A lot of people say that as well, that wrestling is an individual sport,” Kline said after the team’s North I, Group V Sectional matchy against Clifton High School. “And it is to an extent, but there is a team aspect that is very important. That’s the thing I’m trying to preach to this group, that the team is important and we have to hold each other accountable, and you’ve gotta make sure that your teammates are more important that yourself.”
Kline said that he wants his wrestlers to feel they gave everything they had for their team and are able to look their teammates in the eye as they walk off the mat.
That mentality can be the difference between losing and winning a match as a team.
“The team aspect is very important in wrestling, the difference between winning and losing,” Kline explained. “If you get a major decision or if you don’t give up bonus points, maybe you don’t get pinned, but you gave up a tech and that’s one more point the other team doesn’t have. That’s the reason why that team aspect is so important. Every single point matters.”
For the second year in a row, the Mounties made the N1G5 Team Sectionals. Kline said that while getting the invite is good, after two years he now will expect more.
“I’m happy we have a decent enough team to qualify, but now we have to turn the corner so we can be competitive within the section.”
On the surface, the 56-15 loss to a top-notch Clifton team doesn’t seem competitive — even with four of MHS’ best wrestlers out — but if you look past the surface stats, there was a lot to be excited about.
Zakai Mack and Thomas Rosenthal both won their matches, Mack with a Fall at 4:40 in the 126 pound weight class, while Rosenthal won a tight 1-0 decision in the 138 pound match.
“Thomas wrestled very tough, did some things that he typically doesn’t do. Wrestled on his toes all night with a lot of forward pressure, wrestled move to move, non-stop wrestling and that’s what won him that match.”
Like Rosenthal, Mack was someone Kline expected to step up.
“He had a chance to kind of call his own match, and basically did it on his own,” Kline said. “He looked great doing it.”
Mack and Rosenthal are two wrestlers Kline thinks could make some noise in the upcoming district meets as well, along with Terrell White and Dominic Diaz. While the team will be missing Sebastien Fortune and Abdul Hamilton, there’s still a chance the team could find ways to shine.
That might include some surprise performances from younger wrestlers like
“Those two went out there and showed me something real special,” Kline said of the two ninth-graders. “And both of them are undersized. Ross is 90 pounds, wrestling [in the] 106 [category]and Jesse is 101, wrestling 113. Hats off to them, they came out and wrestled, and I’m proud of them.”
At the end of the day, though, Kline was most pleased with how the team held each other accountable. That, more than the result, was what was most important to him.
“All in all, we were a little outmatched in this one. Hats off to Clifton, they’re a very, very good team, and I wish them all the best in the section. I’m hoping this is a learning experience for our guys, and in years to come it becomes something that’s very serious and something that’s expected.”