by Andrew Garda

The lights drop in Montclair High School’s main gym, save for a single spotlight over the wrestling mat in the center of the room. The Lyndhurst wrestling team looks on as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” booms over the speakers and the Montclair Mounties wrestling team runs into the room, circling the mat several times before pairing off to warm up with some wrestling moves.

While the team is still a work in progress, one thing is for certain — coach Eugene Kline has made wrestling the event he wanted to. The atmosphere is fun and even if the larger crowds that attend football and basketball games haven’t quite discovered it yet, the fans who show up are into it. It’s clear the wrestlers are having fun as well, even if they quickly get down to business when the music is lowered. Music that, by the way, includes a walk-on song for each wrestler who heads to the mat for a match.

Kline’s efforts to create a “must see” event would make Vince McMahon proud.

Now, Kline just needs his wrestlers’ hard work to pay off.

That’s the work in progress part, as Montclair fell to Lyndhurst on Friday, 58-15, before strugglng against Hackettstown, Caldwell and Manalapan in a quad meet at Caldwell on Saturday, Feb. 3.

There is still improvement, despite the outcomes.

Jacy Jones continues to roll over opponents in the 120-pound category, winning his match on Friday against Joel Galindo, as well as all three on Saturday and his match on Monday against Livingston’s Andre Rapoport. Jones’ 18-1 record to date is one of the high points of the year. He and fellow senior Ben Baily (21-9) have been great examples of what hard work can do for the younger wrestlers on Kline’s squad.

Juniors Terrell White (20-8) and Damony James (21-10) are set up for promising senior years while sophomores Zakai Mack (14-11) and Chad Sutherland (6-8) have shown improvement during the season.

Along with Jones’ win on Friday, the Mounties also had strong showings by White, who was a winner in an 8-4 decision over Jordan DeAbreu, and Amir Hutchins, who beat Alexander Castro in a fall at 3:47.

Several Mounties also had some nice matches at Saturday’s Caldwell quad meet.

Zakai Mack beat Hackettstown’s Jameson Sheridan in a fall at 51 seconds at the 126-pound level, while in the 170-pound weight class, White beat Shawn Burke in a 6-5 decision and Jones beat Matt Castro in a 9-7 decision. Bailey beat Caldwell’s Saverio D`Angelo in a 6-3 decision that same day to win the 152-pound category, while in the 170-pound class White beat Ryan Naturale in a 21-6 technical fall and James beat Frank Mondsni in a 9-5 decision in the 195-pound category.

James also beat Manalapan’s John Montgomeie in a fall at 44 seconds.

MHS wrestler Amir Hutchins fights to break the hold of Lyndhurst's Alex Castro during Friday's match at MHS.
MHS wrestler Amir Hutchins fights to break the hold of Lyndhurst's Alex Castro during Friday's match at MHS.

Monday’s match against Livingston saw some more Mounties step up. In the 170-pound weight class, White beat Lancer wrestler Michael Wong in an 8-2 decision, while Dominic Diaz beat David Ferreira in a 10-6 decision at the 160-pound weight level. The Mounties also took the 145-pound match as Hutchins beat Charles Lee in a fall at 1:14 seconds.

Unfortunately, the Mounties couldn’t overcome several forfeits in various weight classes, but despite the final score — Montclair lost 46-24 — it’s clear that MHS has improved and can compete.

Now with the District 9 tournament, Regionals and, hopefully, the NJSIAA Championships, the Mounties can use that momentum and their experience to turn some heads as the season winds down.