Down but not out: Pioneers hoping to bounce back in postseason

Clearview’s wrestling team rolled through the regular season all the way until the penultimate day of January, when they fell to Kingsway in a lopsided defeat. But they could earn a rematch with the Dragons this week in the Group 4 playoffs.

Clearview Ty Whalen attempts tp jump out from the grip of Kingsway’s Josh Palmucci in the 106-pound match. Whalen won 5–4, ending Kingsway’s streak of taking seven straight matches. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

The highly anticipated Tri-County Conference match wasn’t even over for 10 minutes when the senior emerged to talk about the night, the season, and what’s next.

Clearview Regional High School standout David McCullough’s eyes were filled with disappointment. But with resolve, too.

“We’re better than that,” he said.

For just the second time in the 2018–19 season, Clearview’s wrestling team lost, a 43–12 defeat to Kingsway that left most of the folks in the jam-packed gym shellshocked. The match, one that drew a crowd so big inside Hank Ledden Memorial Gymnasium at Clearview that it was difficult to find a seat a half hour before it began on a painfully cold Wednesday night, was supposed to be a preview of the possible South Jersey Group 4 championship a little more than a week later. Instead, it almost looked like Kingsway was running through a practice session, reeling off seven straight wins at one point en route to taking 11 of the 13 matches wrestled.

Clearview senior David McCullough battles with Kingsway’s Ryan Crane. McCullough, who entered the night undefeated on the season, lost the match 7–6. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

The loss was painful, and McCullough surely felt some responsibility for that pain: he was the victim of an upset three matches into the night. When Kingway’s Ryan Crane edged the previously undefeated McCullough, 7–6, at 160 pounds, it swung the momentum toward the Dragons, who had just seen one of their own slay a wrestler considered a favorite to place at states.

But then there was the perspective the Pioneers could find through the shock before the gym emptied: this was a regular season match.

If it happened in the playoffs, it would be season over. The season, instead, was not over.

“It’s kind of a wakeup call for us,” said fellow senior Carmen Giumarello, who collected his 100th career win in a match against Pennsville last month. “We need to get our minds in the right place. We didn’t wrestle good. Some people came up big for us, but then it started to go downhill. But the good thing is, this isn’t really where it counts. We just have to prepare for when it really matters.”

Clearview Regional High School wrestlers prep for Wednesday night’s pivotal match with Kingsway. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

Clearview’s wrestling team, which sported a 17–2 mark with less than a week before the postseason, has the opportunity to give itself a second chance. When the playoff seeds came out last week, the Pioneers were the №2 seed in the South Jersey Group 4 bracket.

If Clearview wins its first two matches, and if the other side of the bracket goes as expected, too, they’ll travel to top-seeded Kingsway on Friday, Feb. 8 for a rematch.

“We’re always pretty motivated after tough losses,” Giumarello said of his senior-laden team. “That’s the biggest motivation: we’re seniors. This is the last time we have a shot at what we want to do. We all want to go out with a bang, so there’s nothing to lose.”

Clearview’s Jaden James-Mason attempts to pick up Kingsway’s Sean Homer in the 285-pound match. Homer won 2–1. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

Clearview head coach Stephen Duncan admitted his team got “out-toughed” in its regular season loss to Kingsway. But perhaps a defeat that one-sided, one that left most of his kids feeling as if they’d been punched in the gut, was just the kind of thing that can bring them to a different level, both mentally and physically, for a playoff run.

“I sure hope it does, that’s all I can say, I sure hope it does,” Duncan said with the loss freshly on his mind Wednesday night. “I know (the seniors want this), I know that we’re going to work hard throughout the next week to get things done for next week. I think it will (motivate them).”

Kingsway is arguably one of the deepest teams in the entire state — they had more than 40 girls alone come out for wrestling in the first season the sport was NJSIAA-sanctioned for females — and it gave Clearview fits with that depth and talent in the battle for the Tri-County Conference Royal Division match. The Pioneers came out of the defeat with new perspective, motivation, and some homework before the postseason got underway.

“We haven’t been tested like this, everyone we’ve wrestled we’ve pretty much beaten up on, so this is a learning experience,” said McCullough, who is planning to wrestle next season at the Coast Guard Academy. “This is our last year and we’ve been wanting to do something big. We had injuries last year, this year we’ve wanted it. Unfortunately (we didn’t beat Kingsway), but hopefully we’ll see them next week. … We have to wrestle better. This was our first test. Next time we’ll be ready.”

Clearview Regional High School students cheer on the Pioneers and exchange cheers with their Kingsway co-horts across the gym early on during the match. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)
Clearview senior David McCullough battles with Kingsway’s Ryan Crane. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)
Clearview’s Jack Love collects the first win of the night, defeating Kingsway’s Cheney Kinner 4–2. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)
Clearview’s Aidan Romano battles with Kingsway’s Sly VanMorter in the 220-pound match. Romano lost 5–2. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)