Here are some key matches this season in South Jersey wrestling.
Dec. 30: Haddonfield (26-6) at St. Augustine (19-7), 10 a.m. Haddonfield is much stronger than last season, when the Bulldogs finished as the South Jersey Group 1 runners-up. Led by 112-pound senior Kyle Klaus, a two-time district and region winner, Haddonfield is solid from the light weights up to 215. Meanwhile, St. Augustine returns with a strong squad led by District 32 winner and Region 8 runner-up Joe Devone (130).
Jan. 8: Absegami (23-4) at St. Augustine, 8 a.m. These two Cape-Atlantic League teams will be meeting in the Region 7-8 Duals, which include 16 teams, for a full day of wrestling. Absegami is the South Jersey Group 4 runner-up. St. Augustine is the Non-Public A runner-up. Absegami lost more than a half-dozen seniors as well as its legendary coach, Gene Barber, to retirement. But longtime assistant Shawn Scannell has a strong core group of wrestlers in the light to lower middle weights around whom he is molding a highly competitive team.
Jan. 14: Washington Township (23-3) at Timber Creek (22-4), 5 p.m. In an Olympic Conference interdivisional clash, Township, the 2010 American Division champion, meets the Patriot winner. This is also a battle between sectional champions. Township is the defending South Jersey Group 4 champ, and the Chargers are the Group 3 titlists. The Minutemen have a new coach in Ron Ippolito as well as senior leadership and balance in the lineup. Timber Creek is strong throughout the lineup except for heavyweight.
Jan. 21: Haddonfield at Paulsboro (24-1), 7 p.m. This is a Colonial Conference battle that pits two of the best teams in South Jersey. Paulsboro defeated Haddonfield, 52-12, in the South Jersey Group 1 final last season. Paulsboro went on to win its 27th state Group 1 title.
Jan. 22: Camden Catholic (21-4), Eastern (14-7) at Cherry Hill West (8-15), 3 p.m. Most of the focus will be centered on Camden Catholic vs. Eastern. Former Camden Catholic star Bobby Stinson recently took over the reins at Eastern and is looking forward to going against his alma mater. Led by two-time state champion Rob Deutsch, who wrestles at 119 pounds, Eastern is strong in the middle weights and has talent throughout the lineup. The Irish are strong in the lower and middle weights and talented in the other weights.
Jan. 31: Paulsboro at West Deptford (18-3), 7 p.m. Paulsboro and West Deptford are members of the Colonial Conference, which means that the Red Raiders and the Eagles will fight hard for wins at every weight. Three senior district champions lead a potent lineup for Paulsboro: Dymere Rappa (130), Anthony Dawson (160), and Nick Curl (heavyweight). The Eagles will go at Paulsboro with district champs Drew Spector (135) and Tyler Kaminski (112) and a solid core of seniors between 140 and 160.
Feb. 2: Cherokee (11-12) at Timber Creek, 7 p.m. Cherokee is expected to rebound from the losing record it posted last season with 10 talented, returning starters. Led by district champions Ben Fanjoy at 152 and Mike Zeuli at 189, the Chiefs should be ready for tough Timber Creek by February. However, by then, the Chargers should be even stronger with the addition of Ricky Carter, who transferred from Washington Township on Dec. 13. Carter last year went 33-6 at 103.
Feb. 2: Camden Catholic at Collingswood (25-9), 7 p.m. These two neighboring rivals have been wrestling each other for decades. This season, Collingswood enters the battle with a more experienced group, which includes four district champions in Eric Hamrick (135), Jimmy Hatzell (119), Taylor Venanzi (171), and Tony Giancola (112). Meanwhile, the Irish return with district champions Chad Walsh (103), Matt Sausman (119), and T.J. Miller (125).