SPARTA — The Pope John wrestling team is returning to full health and that is a frightening prospect for opposing teams.
Montville learned that the hard way on Friday night.
As Lions' state medalist Jack Stoll competed in his first dual match since suffering a knee injury at Beast of the East last month, Pope John piled up seven pins to knock off Montville, 46-28, at Pope John High School.
After losing to Livingston, 34-21, on Wednesday with six straight defeats between 165 and 106 pounds, Pope John (2-2) jumped out to a big lead against the Mustangs (0-2) with the upper weights getting back on track.
"We’re starting to get our team back," Lions coach Mark Piotrowsky said. "We got Jack Stoll back today. A lot of our younger guys today stepped up. We’ve got places where we needed to get wins, we got wins and where we needed to keep it close, we were able to stay off our back."
Lions junior Cardin Madry started off by tallying a pin in 1:19 at 215 pounds. Stoll made an immediate impact in his return with a 12-second pin of Mohammad Gaber.
Stoll, who missed the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament with a sprained LCL, came back a little early to try and help his team any way possible. Heavyweight Jake Rubin had also returned to the lineup against Livingston after missing the tri-county tournament.
"I cut it short a little bit because I have to get back out there," said Stoll, who was sixth in the state at 215 last season. "It was good, especially with last year not having fans. It’s definitely awesome. I can’t wait for the bigger tournaments."
Through eight bouts, Pope John built a 25-point lead as Jason Athey and Justin Holly notched first-period pins at 120 and 138 pounds, respectively, and Spencer Mosier added another at 132.
After the Mustangs won three straight bouts, including a major decision from Karl Monaco over tri-county champion Collin Neal at 152 pounds, Pope John's AJ DeAngelis clinched the match with a pin of Montville's Billy Templeton to make it 40-22 with two bouts to go.
What it means
If Pope John can get its full lineup back, it will be a threat inside Non-Public B North. The Lions have won three straight sectional titles since snapping a 24-year drought in 2018.
Piotrowsky said one of the biggest challenges will be hitting the 10-match limit to ensure his team qualifies for the state tournament.
"Having Jack and Jake up top really helps," Piotrowsky said. "We just need everybody. We were forfeiting 113 because we were hurting ther. (Zachary) Hentschel wasn't in the lineup today. Once we get the full lineup, we can compete with a lot of teams."
Montville had gone more than three weeks without a dual match but could not battle back from an early deficit. The Mustangs dropped to 0-2 with the loss, with their only other match a 35-33 loss to Mendham on Dec. 23.
Mustangs back on the mat
After 16 days without a competitive match, the Mustangs were simply happy to be back on the mat.
With the school district going partially virtual after winter break, Montville coach John Krip said it has been a challenge to get all of his athletes on the same page.
"Once you start hitting (dual matches), you get in this groove and everyone feeds off one another," Krip said. "We haven’t had the people in the lineup, we haven’t filled the lineup so we’re still trying to get the feel."
Despite the loss, there were some positives, including filling out all of the weight classes to go without a forfeit and getting some of the younger wrestlers key match experience.
Monaco delivered one of the Mustangs' best results when he picked up a takedown and two back points in the first period against Neal and rolled to a 9-0 major decision.
"We're still keeping up with practice and keep working hard every day," Monaco said. "You've just got to keep on the grind and stick to it, even with all the tough times."
Dominick Kraemer notched Montville's lone pin at 175 pounds.
After building a 25-point lead, Montville got back in the match at 34-22 with three bouts to go with a 5-0 decision by Justin Ciliotta at 144 pounds, Monaco's major decision, and a Lions forfeit at 157 pounds.
At 165 pounds, DeAngelis scored a takedown with 33 seconds in the first period and led 2-1 after an escape 13 seconds later.
DeAngelis started the second period on defense. With Templeton on his back, DeAngelis was able to work backwards, get leverage and score a defensive pin to clinch the match.
"It was confusing at first because you can’t really tell," DeAngelis said. "As soon as I came around, I knew I had him stuck."
Piotrowsky credited DeAngelis with pulling off a creative move to halt the Mustangs' momentum and come up with a pivotal swing in the match.
"AJ is a funky, strong wrestler. He hits some moves that you just don't teach. It's all feel. He's a very athletic kid. He just came up huge. I don't how to teach that, but that was something that was all feel and athleticism."
The Lions are hoping that the snow will hold off so it can compete in a quad meet against Bergen Catholic, St. Augustine and Holy Spirit on Monday at Bergen Catholic.
Montville was slated to make up ground in a quad meet at Morris Hills High School on Saturday.
This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: NJ wrestling: Pope John gets back on track with win over Montville