• Dan Russoman

Rough start for HHS wrestlers


Hammonton’s Vincenzo Cirillo, left, tries to control Absegami’s Aiden Zeck during their match last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Faced with many challenges on and off the mat this season, Hammonton High School’s wrestling team continued its rebuilding process last week with losses to both Absegami and St. Augustine Prep.


For the Blue Devils, the two meets were part of an ongoing growing process, as Hammonton features one of its least-experienced rosters in recent memory.


A lineup filled with underclassmen and wrestlers who have limited time on the mat at the varsity level has combined with the many changes brought about by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) to create a very new and unusual approach this season for HHS head coach Dave Mauriello.


“It’s been different and definitely challenging for us. We have a lot of new faces in the [wrestling] room this year, but they’re all adjusting and working hard,” Mauriello said.


Throughout his 16-year tenure at Hammonton, Mauriello has always held his teams to high standards, and although the Blue Devils are rebuilding this season, the expectations haven’t changed that much this year.


“The goals certainly change this year, but the deal is that I tell the kids, ‘We’re building for, hopefully, next year getting the same 20 or so kids to come out with experience and that we give ourselves a chance to compete. The objective is to get better,” Mauriello said.


Hammonton lost several wrestlers to graduation, while a few others transferred to different schools and some opted not to wrestle this season. The result is a young roster that is learning on the go.


“Look, we had some seniors for whatever reason decide not to wrestle this year, and one or two left the program. But we can’t worry about that. But everyone is down right now. Look around, there are a lot of historically strong programs that are forfeiting matches because they don’t have enough kids to put on the mat. We’re certainly not alone,” Mauriello said.


Last week against Absegami, one of the top programs in the Cape Atlantic League, Hammonton managed to put 11 wrestlers on the mat in a 54-18 loss.


Three Blue Devils earned victories, two by forfeit. Brett Stansbury (126 pounds) and Anthony Evangelista (285) each won by forfeit. At 160, Kevin Watson pinned Absegami’s Kevin Guerrero in 2:41 to account for another six Blue Devils points.


Two matches were close losses, as Justin Flood fell 6-4 at 106 pounds and at 113, Frank Italiano dropped a 2-0 decision.


“I’m very pleased with the way we competed tonight,” Mauriello said.


“It’s a definite improvement over the way we wrestled last week at Middle Twp. where we didn’t compete like that. They [Absegami] are better than us right now, so I’m happy to see us compete like we did. Listen, we had a few matches where we lost by a point or two, that’s improvement for us,” Mauriello said.


Later in the week, Hammonton lost to another top Cape Atlantic League program, St. Augustine Prep, 61-18.


All three Blue Devils wins were by forfeit, John Kane at 195 pounds, Italiano at 113 and Vincenzo Cirillo at 120.


At 285, Evangelista wrestled well in a 2-0 overtime loss.


The Devils entered this week still seeking their first victory of the season, but Mauriello is confident his team’s hard work will eventually pay off in a team win.


“The thing is the schedule is different at the end and we’ll be able to compete a little bit more. But right now, I’m pleased with everything. They’re all showing up every day and working hard, that’s all I can ask for,” Mauriello said.


On March 31, Hammonton wrestles at Lower Cape May. The Blue Devils return home on April 2 to host Vineland at 6 p.m.