The Collingswood High School wrestling team knows exactly what it is up against tonight. The wrestlers know they are being given little chance of upsetting one of South Jersey’s true wrestling powerhouses.
The team also knows the type of talent it possesses, and isn’t about to concede anything when the No. 4 Panthers travel to take on No. 1 Paulsboro. The pair will meet in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 1 semifinals at 7 p.m.
“I think we have to all be confident that we can do it,” said sophomore Pat Miles. “We have to wrestle smart. They are obviously tough, but I think we can do it this time. I think we have a good shot of beating them.”
Paulsboro has earned a reputation as one of the top wrestling schools—big or small—in South Jersey. The program recorded its 1,000 win two years ago, and last year’s Group 1 title win gave them a state-leading 28 championship crowns.
Even more relevant, though, is the fact that less than two weeks ago Collingswood and Paulsboro met in a Colonial Conference showdown, with the Red Raiders pulling away for a 46-21 win.
All of that points to status quo tonight. However, the Panthers aren’t buying it.
“It’s going to be different this time,” Collingswood coach Dechlin Moody said. “Every match is something new. If we win the coin toss, things are different. We have two guys back in the lineup that missed that match. The kids are excited and have nothing to lose. There’s no pressure on us.”
Collingswood is fresh off an impressive 45-22 win over No. 5 Buena. Many thought the match would be a nail-bitter, but the Collingswood heavyweights dominated the night.
“It was great to win against a tough team,” said Miles, who had a pin at 195. “They are really good and we thought it was going to be a lot closer than it was. We had the crowd there to really hype us up.”
Senior Mike Campbell has been a leader for the Panthers all season. He scored a decision on Monday to improve to 26-5 on the season at 170 pounds. He said the home cooking helped bring the best out of the team.
“It was awesome to see our team rally like that in front of our crowd,” said Campbell. “We weren’t supposed to beat them by that much. No one thought it was coming but we pulled it out.”
Now the Panthers have to prepare to enter one of the loudest gyms in the area and pull off a major upset. Miles has no doubt about what type of reaction is waiting for the Panthers.
“I’m thinking hostile,” Miles said with a laugh. “Their fans are pretty tough and our fans should give it to them right back. It should be an intense match.”
One thing in Collingswood’s favor is that the team was shorthanded when the two teams met earlier this month. Campbell also believes several wrestlers weren't at their best during that match and can perform much better tonight.
“This time we need our guns to step it up and do big,” Campbell said. “Up top, we should pin out. We need everyone to do their jobs and down low we have to fight off our backs.”
Moody has tried to strike the balance between keeping his players lose and having them prepared for the intense challenge. On one hand, the Panthers have nothing to lose; on the other hand, there is an internal expectation to reach the South Jersey finals.
“I told them that (tonight) is the championship,” Moody said. “We already beat the No. 2 seed (Cinnaminson) on the other side. This is their night.”
If the Panthers can pull off the upset, it will further cement their own program as one of the best in the area. Earlier this year, the team notched victory number 700 in its program history.
“It would definitely be huge,” Miles said. “We haven’t beaten Paulsboro since 2008, and before that, in like 30 years or so. It would be huge to beat them [tonight].”