Childhood dream: Gloucester’s Zearfoss makes it to Boardwalk Hall

After competing in Georgia last year, sophomore Gloucester wrestler heads to New Jersey state meet

MATTHEW SHINKLE/South Jersey Sports Weekly: Gloucester’s Jacob Zearfoss qualified for the NJSIAA State Wrestling Tournament at the 144-pound weight class, following a 38-4 season thus far. After spending last wrestling season out of state, Zearfoss excitedly returned to Gloucester for his first season with the Lions this season.

Growing up, it quickly became tradition for Jacob Zearfoss and his dad to travel to Atlantic City each March to watch the NJSIAA State Wrestling Championships take place annually at Boardwalk Hall.

The experience, he said, was one that he looked forward to near the end of each passing winter season, with the hope being that he would one day earn himself a spot amongst the state qualifiers once he reached high school.

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His quest to go from the stands to the wrestling mats he’d watched for so many years reached its true beginning two years ago, when Zearfoss watched one of his close friends and training partner win the state title at the 145-pound weight class in 2020. The visual, he said, was powerful.

“My dad and I would go to Boardwalk Hall to watch all the matches and especially the finals, and what really hit me was two years ago watching Andrew Clark [from Collingswood] win the state final.

“I was just sitting in the stands thinking, ‘Wow, this could be me one day,’ ” he added.

Unfortunately, Zearfoss ended up competing in Georgia last year instead of Gloucester, after moving for a lengthy period of last school year during his freshman year due to personal reasons, thus taking away what would’ve been his first potential year to qualify for the state meet and make it to Boardwalk Hall. 

He placed third last year in the 7A state tournament in Georgia, winning 30 matches in total while attending Lambert High School in Suwanee, Georgia. Having at least had the opportunity to wrestle while so far away from home was a comfort for Zearfoss, but he couldn’t help think that it didn’t feel normal.

“It was different, the team welcomed me and I enjoyed it the best I could, but it just wasn’t Gloucester,” Zearfoss said. “It meant a lot to be able to come back and represent both my coaches and Gloucester as a whole.”

Now in his first year donning a Gloucester singlet, Zearfoss has been worth the wait for the Lions, as the sophomore enters the 2022 NJSIAA State Wrestling Tournament seeded 18th in the 144-pound weight class, having posted a 38-4 record thus far according to his head coach. 

Zearfoss was one of the driving factors that led the program to have its most successful team season in its 12-year history; Gloucester went 19-8 this year, the most ever in a single-season for the Lions. The regular season success earned Gloucester its first ever home playoff match, eventually leading to their first playoff victory and first playoff finals appearance, losing by just 10 points to Group 1 powerhouse Paulsboro.

Gloucester head coach Tom McConnell said he and other Gloucester-area wrestling coaches had been well aware of Zearfoss’ ability and talent long before he reached the high school level. His dedication and effort, along with the same from his teammates this season, helped the program reach heights not yet seen for the Lions.

“He immediately showed the athletic ability that we knew he had, but just as quickly, he showed the work ethic that he was serious about getting better each and every day,” McConnell said. “With everything that we did as a team this season, it was big beyond just our team; there was so much support that came along with it … and [Zearfoss] was one of the many kids that helped make a name for our program this year in a big way.”

The young wrestlers return to New Jersey after his extended stay in Georgia last year, McConnell said, was a relief for sure, not just for the program but also because his coach knows how much Gloucester pride Zearfoss exudes. 

For that reason, McConnell couldn’t have been happier to see the sophomore enjoy such a stellar season in just his first year within the program and is excited to see what he can do at the state meet.

“It was relieving to say the least to have him come back and be a part of Gloucester again,” McConnell said. “He’s so personable that even when he was younger, we would talk about what his high school days might look like when he got older, so I know he’s excited to actually get to be on the mat for a state meet this time around.”

Looking back, before the state tournament gets underway, Zearfoss said he’s thankful to have been able to have a strong season during the 2021-’22 season thus far and looks forward to more success, for Gloucester as a whole and for himself individually, in the coming years. 

“It’s definitely been an honor to even have the opportunity to do everything that we have this season, especially with everything that happened with COVID,” Zearfoss said. “We didn’t have to quarantine once this year, and we know teams that have lost a lot of time from that, but we went to work every day, with fresh minds, ready to do our best.”

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