By Jimmy Allinder
Despite a narrow 28-24 loss to Hunterdon Central Regional High School in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V finals, the Monroe Township High School wrestling team continues to break new ground with each passing season.
The meet was the Falcons’ second trip in three years to the sectional championship, and the 18-2 record this season calculates into a program-best 90 percent winning percentage.
No wrestler on the current roster has yet to do what 2015 graduate Sal Profaci did at Monroe. Now at the University of Michigan, Profaci amassed a 161-14 record along with fourth-place state championship medals his junior and senior years. However, no fewer than five wrestlers have a legitimate chance to qualify for the state finals.
Senior Nick Lombard (145 pounds) is 25-0 with 11 pins. He won the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) championships and has demonstrated poise by winning close matches against quality opponents. Junior Nick DePalma (113) is 22-3 with a team-leading 14 falls. Before he dropped a 2-0 decision to Hunterdon Central’s Jack Bauer, a 2016 state finals qualifier, DePalma recorded eight straight falls, including in the GMC title match when he avenged a regular-season loss to Maximus Parra of Piscataway Township High School.
Senior Donald Albach (138) is 23-4 with eight pins and placed third in the GMCs. Junior Kaylon Bradley (220) is 22-2 with 11 pins, and he placed third in the GMCs, with both defeats coming against state qualifier Luke Niemeyer of South Plainfield High School.
Senior heavyweight Lou Ceras is 23-2, and he too placed third in the GMCs and suffered both losses to the same wrestler: Alexander Grippo of Woodbridge High School.
Monroe’s rise began, not coincidentally, in 2009 when Billy Jacoutot took over an at-best average program. Jacoutot arrived from his native town of Spencerport, New York, where he was an assistant to his father, Bill, who was the head coach of the highly decorated high school wrestling team. Before that, the younger Jacoutot wrestled for his father before competing at University of Buffalo, and returned following graduation.
Much of what Jacoutot has brought to Monroe comes from the comprehensive how-to template developed by his father.
“It’s more like a curriculum,” Billy Jacoutot said. “My father took a detailed approach to implementing things like skill development, building and maintaining a culture and gaining parental support.”
Jacoutot said the first key was recognizing that wrestlers come into the program at different skill levels, and there’s no single blueprint for developing them.
“We work with each wrestler to help them reach their full potential,” he said.
When the program becomes rooted in its culture, that’s when it begins to attract athletes who may not be top contenders but nonetheless contribute in many ways.
“We call them ‘outliers’ because they want to be associated with the team and make a positive impact,” he said. “Once that’s happens, you can get on a roll.”
To his credit, Jacoutot admits Monroe wrestling has lots of room to grow within its immediate geography and points to the Falcons still being behind South Plainfield, which has not lost the GMC championship since 2009.
“They are a perennial power, not only in the conference but on the state level,” Jacoutot said. “That’s where we want to be.”
The Falcons won their first District 20 title two years ago and finished runner-up to Old Bridge High School last season. However, the state has re-shuffled the lineup in many districts and this year, different teams are in the lineup.
One will be Raritan High School when the tournament is held at South Brunswick High School Feb. 17-18. Like Monroe, the Rockets were beaten in the sectional championship (Central Jersey, Group II), and Jacoutot acknowledges they may be “a bit stronger than us.”
The very nature of a wrestler is to always think about the next move because any hesitation can end in defeat. Thus, it’s not surprising Jacoutot looks ahead, sometimes with impatience, about what it will take to get to the next step of becoming a state power.
“We have what I believe is the blueprint for achieving that, so I don’t plan any changes,” he said.