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High School Wrestling:
East Wrestlers Use Team, Leadership to Defeat West

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

By David Benson
SJSports Special Correspondent

The Cherry Hill East wrestling team reeled off 7 straight victories en route to a 33-30 home victory against sister school Cherry Hill West on Wednesday night. And all the success was due to a team concept of sacrifice and some well timed leadership displayed by one of its leaders early in the meet.

It was the first time in Cougar head coach Scott Wright’s tenure that East was able to walk off the mat victorious. The meet had all the drama and sub plots a good rivalry has in any sport. From the coaching staff at Cherry Hill West as graduates of East, to former East coaches and West grads sitting in the stands caught between rooting interests, the atmosphere was not unlike a holiday family gathering. And there was quality team wrestling, something that had not always been there from both sides in recent years.

The meet began at 171lbs. and after West’s Jamie O’Dowd and Jordan Staub each won by fall, it was time for the Cougars to re group. Wrestlers recognize at the team level match ups often dictate the outcome. As a result, the team decided it would need many of its wrestlers to drop down a weight in order to end the Lions dual meet domination it had enjoyed for over a decade. When East lost those first two matches, it was time for junior captain 152lb. Justin Bonitatis to huddle everyone behind the bench and remind each of his teammates that the sacrifice they made during the week ought not to be wasted. Not at home. Not against West. Not tonight. The team deserved better. Whatever was said it seemed to work.

At 215, Ben Shore lost 8-7 to West’s Eddie Hernandez but managed to score a 5 point move in the closing seconds which seemed to feed into the heavyweight match. It was at that weight East began its string of 7 in a row pushing them to a 30-15 edge. Winners included Billy Kalavrouziotis, John Casey, Frank Dolan, Jessie Cohen, Matan Shumel, Jason Keesal and Mike Lussier. At 140lbs., highly regarded Lion’s wrestler Tom Cunningham received a forfeit followed by Shane Thompson’s hard fought 15-10 victory in a very entertaining and high energy match. That closed the gap to 30-24, but up came Bonitatis who had to practice what he preached earlier. His 10-5 decision of Steve Sohanchak, a possible District 27 final preview, sealed the Cougar win.

Seven matches were close decisions which provided some edge of the seat entertainment for the 500+ fans. Undoubtedly each team will benefit in some fashion from this meet, too. And it would appear that quality wrestling on both sides of Cherry Hill may be on its way back.


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