Pioneers: Jackson Memorial and Manalapan girls make NJ wrestling history
MANALAPAN – The stands were filled and the crowd was loud, hanging on every move executed under the spotlight illuminating the center of the mat. It felt like a mid-January dual with a division title or state ranking on the line.
There were no such implications stemming from the result of Friday’s match at Manalapan High School; the final score was irrelevant in the grand scheme. This was about a brave group of girls becoming pioneers. This was history in the making.
The first girls wrestling dual meet in New Jersey history was contested on the opening night of the 2018-2019 high school wrestling season as Jackson Memorial defeated Manalapan, 30-21, to usher in a new era of wrestling in the Garden State. There were nine bouts in the dual plus an additional exhibition bout that started the night. For the 19 girls who took the mat and the 26 total wrestlers between the two teams, it was a night they’ll never forget.
“It’s really amazing, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Jackson senior Brandi Rado. “I’m so proud of my team and what we accomplished tonight.”
Rado won by fall in just one minute in her bout at 136 pounds, one of five pins by the Jaguars on the night. Rado has been around wrestling for much of her life as her father is one of the coaches at Goetz Middle School. She was the manager for the middle school team, as well. Before November that was as close as she’d been to the sport.
“I’m been wrestling for a month, maybe,” Rado said. “I wanted to do it, but at first I was kind of hesitant. Coach Withstandley pushed me to come out and now I’m here getting my first varsity win as a Lady Jag. It’s amazing.”
There was uncertainty for many entering Friday night. Manalapan’s Angelina Vitola is an experienced wrestler who was a member of the boys team last year and is also an accomplished freestyle wrestler. She and teammate Jess Johnson, who is a fifth-year wrestler who was a Fargo All-American this past summer, were the only ones who understood what it meant to be out there in the middle of the mat and tried to let the rest of the team know what to expect.
“I told them to just be aggressive and not worry about the people around them,” said Vitola, whose father, Anthony, was a two-time state medalist, including the state runner-up at 171 pounds in 1992, at Freehold Township before becoming a two-time All-American at The College of New Jersey. “I told them to just move forward and attack.”
The aggressive nature of each bout certainly stood out. There were no stalling calls and plenty of exciting moments. The nerves they were feeling before taking the mat didn’t hold them back.
“This was about promoting the sport as a whole and also about these 10 or 11 girls from each team who took the mat tonight,” said Jackson Memorial head coach Doug Withstandley. “They really put themselves out there. I can’t imagine the courage it took for them to be the pioneers in, not only the Shore Conference, but the state of New Jersey.”
“The girls were excited and were nervous, just like any other athlete would be for a big match,” said Manalapan head coach Scott Pressman. “I definitely feel like it set the tone for [girls] wrestling in the state for years to come. Our administration was behind it and obviously you can see the town was into it. And Jackson was awesome, they were absolutely wonderful about everything.”
The evening started with an exhibition match that did not count toward the dual-meet scoring. Manalapan’s Sabrina Maniscalco used a reversal and a takedown in the third period to defeat Shannon Stroud, 6-3, at 138 pounds.
In the opening dual bout at 161, Jackson’s Abby Stanberry won by fall over Ruba Abou Chakra in 3:12 to give Jackson a 6-0 lead. Alley Meyer followed with a first-period pin and Jordyn Katz made it three in a row to give the Jaguars a quick 18-0 advantage.
Manalapan’s Trinity Valentin-Walczak won by forfeit at 100 pounds to get the Braves on the board and Julia Manolas then secured a pin in 1:02 to cut Jackson’s lead to 18-12.
Avery Meyers extended the Jaguars’ lead to 24-12 with a pin at 118 pounds. Meyers built a big lead on Alexandra Urbanek with three takedowns in the first period and a reversal, three near-fall points and another takedown in the second before finishing off the fall at 5:40.
The marquee bout of the night came at 127 where Vitola edged Kayla Gregory, 5-3. Vitola led 2-1 after the first period but a penalty point for locking hands and then an escape gave Gregory a 3-2 advantage heading to the third period. Vitola escaped to tie the score and secured the winning takedown with 20 seconds left to cut Jackson’s lead to 24-15.
Rado clinched the match for Jackson with her 60-second pin before Manalapan’s Johnson closed out the match with a first-period pin at 147 pounds.
“It was exciting and I really think it’s amazing that this many people came out and supported us,” Rado said. “We came out strong and didn’t give up, and it showed.”
“I’m extremely proud of them for getting this far,” Withstandley said. “We lost one or two along the way and we have one injured right now, but I think we’re doing really good. It was good to see the girls come out and compete and go after it on both sides. Credit to Manalapan, they came out and wrestled hard.”
In addition to Jackson and Manalapan, Raritan also has a girls team with substantial numbers and its own head coach. Kingsway in South Jersey has over 40 girls in the program. The interest is there and it’s growing, and Friday night’s historic dual showcased the potential for growth.
“It’s a great opportunity to promote the sport and to promote women in sports as a whole,” Withstandley said. “Any people who doubted whether this sport would be successful, shame on them because if they were here tonight or see videos, these girls can wrestle. They represented their school and the sport well.”
Friday’s dual was certainly a memorable moment and there will be more to come this season. In February, an all-girls region tournament will lead into a girls state tournament in Atlantic City right beside the high-profile boys tournament at Boardwalk Hall. There will obviously be plenty of excitement surrounding that event because it will be the first in state history, but Withstandley hopes the appreciation comes from them not simply because of their gender but because of their ability.
“That’s one thing we really wanted to preach to them: this is a gladiator sport,” Withstandley. Said. “Whether you’re male or female, we’re all humans, we’re all gladiators.”
Jackson Memorial 30, Manalapan 21
161: Abby Stanberry (JM) p. Ruba Abou Chakra 3:13
185: Alley Meyer (JM) p. Olivia Delgado 1:44
225: Jordyn Katz (JM) p. Samantha Albujar 0:56
100: Trinity Valentin-Walczak (M) by forfeit
111: Julia Manolas (M) p. Gianna Tandari 1:02
118: Avery Meyers (JM) p. Alexandra Urbanek 5:40
127: Angelina Vitola (M) d. Kayla Gregory 5-3
136: Brandi Rado (JM) p. Alyssa Curcio 1:00
147: Jess Johnson (M) p. Skyelar Smith 1:02
Exhibition bout – 138: Sabrina Maniscalco (M) d. Shannon Stroud 6-3.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.