Ray O’Callaghan is Hillsborough High School’s best wrestler.
But he will have to be more than that in 2018-19.
New coach Roy Dragon needs O’Callaghan to show his younger and less experienced teammates how to handle the varsity grind.
The senior is the perfect man for the role.
He already leads by example. Even in a tough, militant sport, his commitment, consistency and mental toughness stand out. O’Callaghan practices as hard as he wrestles in matches.
“In wrestling, you have to be really disciplined. He’s mentally tough and works really hard every day. He sets goals and finds ways to achieve them,” Dragon said. “Roy is a grinder. He keeps himself in great shape. Then he goes out there and wrestles for the whole six minutes hard.”
Hillsborough opens its season with a home match on Dec. 19 against the perennial state power, Phillipsburg High School, at 6 p.m. The Raiders wrestle in a tri-meet on Dec. 22 at Middletown High School North and then
During the winter break, the Raiders will compete in a holiday tournament at Roselle Park on Dec. 28.
Hillsborough will wrestle in a quad-meet on Dec. 29 at Sparta High School and then be involved in a tri-meet at Lawrence High School on Jan. 5.
The Raiders lost three NJSIAA state tournament qualifiers from their 2017-18 team. They graduated five varsity starters in total. So Dragon, in his first season, is looking for new standouts and contributors.
O’Callaghan looks like the only sure thing. As a junior last winter, he went 29-13 and fell one victory shy of advancing to the state tournament.
The senior will try to get over the hump and advance to state tournament this year, which will be held once again at the Convention Center in Atlantic City.
Dragon does not have that same expectation for the rest of the Raiders. With such a new lineup, the coach is not sure what to expect. He just wants his wrestlers to follow Dragon’s lead and improve as the season goes on.
“I don’t like to use the word rebuilding but that’s kind of what it is when you lose your three best wrestlers and five seniors that started,” Dragon said. “It could go either way. I think we’ll find some success and have a little bit of growing pains.”
Dragon himself was a standout wrestler while he competed at Bridgewater-Raritan High school where he was a state tournament qualifier.
Hillsborough has three other experienced wrestlers to complement O’Callaghan.
Sophomore Cole Psemeneki enjoyed an impressive freshman season, going 25-11 in the 106-pound weight class. He will wrestle at 113 pounds this winter.
“It’s a big jump from 106 to 113, but I’m excited to see what he can do at the new weight. I’m sure there will be an adjustment but I’m sure he’ll have a great season,” Dragon said. “He’s a naturally athletic kid. He always winds up on top in a scramble. Over the next three years, he should build on the success he had as a freshman.”
At the upper weights, Dragon is looking for junior Kevin Klein and senior Emilio Nieto-Guerrero to improve on their 2017-18 records. Klein went 8-25 and Nieto-Guerrero finished 22-17.
Klein, an offensive guard on the Raiders’ football team, has the strength to succeed as a varsity wrestler. He just needed to work on his technique, which he did during the summer club season.
“He’s putting the time in and I think it will pay off,” Dragon said. “You can tell just seeing him in practice for the first few weeks. He looks better than what his record last year indicated.”
Nieto-Guerrero also needed to work on his technique, so he practiced with Klein over the summer. They pushed each other to pursue the same goal.
“Emilio is working really hard. He is starting to get more technical with his wrestling and become more confident as he gets more success against guys in scrimmages,” Dragon said. “He’s trying to build off that and take it into the regular season.”
Hillsborough has an ambitious, disciplined captain (O’Callaghan), a rising standout (Psemeneki) and a couple improving upperclassmen (Klein and Nieto-Guerrero). It also has a bunch of young, inexperienced wrestlers trying to prove themselves on varsity.
Dragon is hoping to be competitive in 2018-19.
“As long as we stay healthy, we should put out a full lineup and have some success,” Dragon said. “I’m looking for our first year starters to get a feel for varsity wrestling and what it takes to win at this level.”