Before this winter, Ian McCabe had never won a regional wrestling title or reached the state tournament in Atlantic City.
The Monroe Township High School junior wanted to do both in 2019, and he did.
On Feb. 23 at Jackson Liberty High School, McCabe won the Region 6 championship in the 152-pound bracket. As the No. 4 seed, McCabe shocked the field. He actually controlled it, too.
After a first round bye and a close round-two victory, McCabe pinned his last two opponents. In the region title bout, the junior topped a higher seed, third-seeded Jerry Andaluz of Nottingham High School, pinning him in 2:54.
It’s a surprise when a fourth-seeded wrestler wins a region title. But McCabe’s coach at Monroe, Joe Eurell, was not surprised.
“He always had the tools to be successful,” Eurell said. “And this offseason he really put the time in.”
McCabe lost in the first round of the Region 5 tournament last winter. It was a disappointing finish for a talented wrestler.
“I was mad,” he said. “I wanted to train as much as I could to come back better.”
Each offseason, Eurell enters Monroe in spring, summer and fall leagues. The point is to develop wrestlers by giving them reps.
But a lot of wrestlers just focus on club matches in the offseason. McCabe, though, focused on the high school meets as well. He got about 60 extra reps between the spring and summer of 2018.
The experience improved McCabe’s conditioning and composure. By the end of the summer, he could maintain energy for a full match. He also wasn’t quitting when opponents knocked him down.
“He was in every situation you can imagine,” Eurell said. “And now he has a gas tank like no other.”
McCabe entered the winter with a stronger mental approach. But he still needed to get more aggressive.
Eurell lovingly described him as “the nicest, most respectful kid you’ll ever meet.”
“He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” the coach added.
Those are strong character traits off the mat. But in wrestling, McCabe had to get meaner.
Most high school wrestlers have training partners in practice. Before this season, Eurell decided to pair McCabe up with Monroe’s meanest wrestler: senior Nick Weikel.
“He’s just in your face,” Eurell said of Weikel.
Weikel attacked McCabe all year. They would beat each other up for six minutes and continue brawling after the whistle. The coaches always let them go.
“It was fun to watch,” Eurell said.
The senior transformed the junior into a mean, aggressive wrestler. By the end of the season, McCabe was “going out there and seeing red,” Eurell said.
In the regional tournament, McCabe didn’t even need the full six minutes to finish off his opponents. He barely needed three. The junior pinned his semifinal opponent in 3:04.
The championship capped a breakout season for the 152-pounder. He also won the District 24 title on Feb. 16 at Delran High School. McCabe earned the district championship by a major decision, 12-2.
The junior won 40 matches in his first two high school seasons combined. He triumphed 38 times this winter alone.
“Everything came together,” McCabe said.
But in the state tournament at Boardwalk Hall, McCabe lost in the first round. That will serve as motivation for next winter.
“My goal is to place,” McCabe said before this year’s tournament. “I want to make an impact.”