The Princeton High wrestling team made history last weekend at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
The Little Tigers celebrated their first overall state champion when sophomore Chloe Ayres captured the state title at 105 pounds in the inaugural NJSIAA girls' wrestling state tournament.
Princeton added to its achievements when senior Alec Bobchin finished fourth at 138 pounds in the boys' state tournament, a finish that gave the program two medalists for the first time in school history.
Ayres delivered Princeton's first state champion when she defeated Randi Miley of High Point, 13-2, in the championship match last Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.
Ayers, who won the South Region tournament earlier, had defeated Ilsabel Saire of Rahway, 14-6, in the semifinals.
“It was great,” said Ayres, who is the daughter of Princeton University head coach Chris Ayres. “The past three weekends were really exciting. I never expect girls wrestling to be this big. There was a great vibe and it was cool to be a pioneer and be a part of leading the way for other girls in the sport.
“It’s a great feeling to know we were starting something new and being different and trying something new. It was inspiring to see how many girls were there.”
The Ayres family played a huge role in getting the NJSIAA, which is the governing body for scholastic sports in New Jersey, to sponsor girls' wrestling as a sanctioned sport and hold the first state tournament.
To be a state champion in her weight class made the first year all the more special for Ayres.
“It far surpassed what I expected,” Ayres said. “Last year the number for girls wrestling was 130. My parents and I were having a conversation at dinner and we said other states have tournaments for girls and New Jersey is a leader for wrestling, so why not us? The fact there was a legitimate tournament with over 400 girls was staggering to me.
“Wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports and I think it will keep going. It’s an amazing sport and I think it has an opportunity to be one of the best co-ed sports. It is available to people of all sizes and weights. You can be tiny and great and you can be huge and great. It doesn’t matter.”
Ayres won 14 matches during the regular season for the Little Tigers, including a sixth-place finish at the Mercer County Tournament. She was unbeaten against girl competition.
“She proved herself on the mat during the season,” Princeton High coach Rashone Johnson said. “She won 14 matches as my varsity starter. She was undefeated against girls. But as a starter she won 14 matches against boys and she placed at the county tournament.”
Ayres performance combined with the strong effort by Bobchin made for quite a weekend for Princeton wrestling.
“It was super awesome to have that in the same year,” Johnson said. “We had our first state champ. The whole female wrestling for first year was awesome. And we get to have two state placers in the high school. How many times has a school in Mercer County had two kids place from the same school at states? I’m not sure if it has ever happened.”
Ayres was quite happy to be a part of history not just for Princeton, but girls wrestling in general.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I was so happy for the program. Johnson puts so much time into it and is so passionate about the program. This year we proved we are getting better and the program is is growing. Alec finishing fourth at states is insane. He had some great matches down there and it was awesome to have him there with me.
“I am really excited to see what else I can do and go back to that tournament next year. Hopefully the numbers will have grown. It am excited to see where it can go.”
Bobchin advanced to the semifinals before losing to Pope John’s Joseph Aragona, 6-1. The Princeton senior didn’t just lose to the top seed in the tournament, he lost to the wrestler considered the best in the country in his weight class.
“He has nothing to hang his head about,” Johnson said. “There are other years in the state tournament that he would be state champ if that kid wasn’t there. So he has nothing to hang his head about. That kid he lost to is the No. 1 kid in the country.
“His career was very impressive. He finished with 140 wins and was a four-time county champ. He was a four-time district finalist, three-time district champ, two-time region champ and three-time state qualifier. It is a hefty resume no matter where you are from. That would be great for a kid from Phillipsburg, Paulsboro or Hunterdon Central. It’s even greater that you came from Princeton and that he was able to accomplish those things.”
Bobchin, who had the highest finish at the state tournament for the Little Tigers since Ian Reddy placed fourth in 1993, came to Princeton and made an impact right from the start.
“He was good when he came in,” Johnson said. “He was a solid wrestler when he came in. There is a process that needs to happen to get to that next level. But you saw the ability and possibility for greatness was definitely there.”
The greatness is also there for Ayres, who still has two years of high school wrestling ahead of her.
“It’s very exciting,” Johnson said. “The girls tournament will only get better and bigger. The girls will get better and more will come out. They’ll need to expand to more than two regions. It was the first year so it will only get better.”