CHERRY HILL – Not Nathan Taylor. No DJ DiPietro. No problem.
In one of the strangest wrestling matchups between two top-5 South Jersey teams in recent memory, an undermanned Kingsway Regional High School team slipped past an even more undermanned Camden Catholic for a 33-31 win Friday night .
There were six defeats in the much-anticipated encounter, three from each side.
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“For South Jersey wrestling, it wasn’t the dual meet we wanted with these two teams, but there’s a lesson there as well – show up, be prepared and be ready to compete,” Kingsway head coach Mike Barikian said.
“Neither of us were at full strength, but I think we both understand the bigger picture. We have some real issues that we are dealing with. You try to recover by the end of the year.”
Barikian wouldn’t go into detail about why two of the Dragons’ top producers — Taylor and DiPietro — were out of the lineup, but he expected both to return for the team’s playoff season, which begins on Feb. 6.
Despite being without two of his top guns, Kingsway (10-8) turned to another strong wrestler, Jason Meola, to get the win.
Battling some nagging injuries over the last couple of weeks, the 106-pound Meola is putting together his best fight of the season. The sophomore, last winter’s Region 8 runner-up, earned an 8-5 decision against previously undefeated Lazarus Joyce by scoring the final four points in the third period, including two defensive points.
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Meola improved to 12-9 with seven wins in his last eight fights.
“I had a rough start to the season,” Meola said. “The Cliff Escape (tournament) is where I really took it and it just snowballed from there. I had to deal with some inconsistency at the beginning of the season.”
Barikian said Meola has struggled with his injuries, as have several other Dragons in recent weeks.
“It’s a struggle, we’re at the point in the season where you’re going to get beaten. If you can go, you have to go, and that’s what (Meola) did,” the coach said. “We hoped that he would score an early point, take the pressure off a little and forget about the fact that he is sick, but everything turned out to be exactly the opposite.
“You lose 4-1, you don’t feel good, but instead of making excuses, you find a way to get some points. That’s what he did.”
Meola just came off another tough match, beating Williamstown’s Tyler Hildebrandt 4-3 on Wednesday.
When asked if anyone wearing the Dragon jersey was completely healthy, Meola said, “just lucky.”
Camden Catholic (9-4) has struggled all season with a lack of depth, often losing three weight classes in most of its dual meets.
Still, this group of young Fighting Irish isn’t losing focus despite knowing they’re down by a team-high 18 points in most games.
“I think they’re looking at it like we’ve got to maximize as many points as possible, and I’ve already heard five of them say, ‘I could have gotten more tonight,'” Camden Catholic head coach Bill Heverly said. “They’re not happy that they’re not maximizing points. They are beginning to understand it. And it’s hard to maximize points against a team like (Kingsway).”
In the highlight of the meet, Camden Catholic’s Austin Craft scored all three points en route to a 3-1 win over Ben Dryden with 165 points.
Kingsway 33, Camden Catholic 31
126: Nathan Lubonsky, K, p. Miles Mason, 0:57; 132: Jackson Young, CC, forfeit; 138: Cage Jones, CC, d. Brandon Callahan, 7-4; 144: Wayne Rold, CC, MD. Tommy DiPietro, 15-3; 150: Michael Craft, CC, d. Logan Taylor, 10-3; 157: Shawn Kirwin, K, d. Jack Bailuny, 4-0; 165: Austin Craft, CC, d. Ben Dryden, 3-1; 175: Jack Gelato, K, forfeit; 190: Ross Hare, Da, forfeit; 215: Luke Van Brill, K, forfeit; 285: Christopher San Paolo, K, d. Nicholas Dugan, 5-0; 106: Jason Meola, K, d. Lazarus Joyce, 8-5; 113: Dom Di Giacomo, loss; 120: Sammy Spaulding, CC, forfeit.
Tom McGurk is the regional sports editor for the Courier-Post, The Daily Journal and the Burlington County Times, covering South Jersey sports for more than 30 years. If you have a sports story to tell, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.