Colin Wexler woke up Wednesday morning and suspected he wasn’t going to wrestle in the South Jersey Group 5 semifinals.
Wexler left school Wednesday afternoon with the same idea, figuring there wasn’t any way he would be able to take the mat for Kingsway’s playoff match against Cherokee.
“Then I went to physical therapy and I was feeling pretty good,” Wexler said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can go out there and help my team.’ ”
Wexler, a senior 170-pounder, returned to the mat after missing most of the last month with a knee injury he originally feared might end his career.
Wexler won a major decision in the first bout, sparking Kingsway to a 32-28 victory over Cherokee in a rubber-match between two of South Jersey’s top programs.
Kingsway (18-5) got a pin from freshman Sean Horner at 285 pounds, a forfeit win from defending state champion senior Quinn Kinner at 145, and a huge win from sophomore John Sambogna at 138 pounds which effectively clinched the match.
Kingsway coach Mike Barikian called Sambogna “the hero” of the victory and also raved about Wexler’s dramatic return to the mat.
“I didn’t know until about 15 minutes before weigh-ins that he was going to be able to go,” said Barikian, whose second-seeded team will face top-seeded Southern in Friday’s sectional finals. “He’s been out for weeks. It gave us a real boost.”
Cherokee (18-7) got strong work from freshman Cooper Pontelandolfo and senior Colin Wickramaratna, who won toss-up bouts against top opponents at 120 and 126 pounds, respectively.
“They wrestled better than us tonight,” Cherokee coach Mike Booth said of Kingsway.
The teams had split in the regular season, with Cherokee taking a 40-31 decision on Dec. 30 and Kingsway turning the tables for a 26-25 win on Jan. 20.
Wexler’s return as well as Sambogna’s victory made the difference for the Dragons in the third match before a spirited crowd in Kingsway’s South gymnasium.
“He has shocked me,” Wexler said of Sambogna’s improvement. “He’s wrestling tough, winning big matches for us.”
Wexler was a key for Kingsway, according to Booth.
“He’s such a tough kid,” Booth said of Wexler.
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Wexler injured his knee in the Escape the Rock tournament on the weekend of Jan. 13-14 at Council Rock High School in Bucks County. He thought his high school career might be over.
“It felt like it,” Wexler said.
He sat out most of the last month, coming back to wrestle one bout against rival Clearview.
“His doctor’s appointment was the next day,” Barikian said.
Wexler was a steady visitor to physical therapy. But he wasn’t able to wrestle, not even in practice.
“I was real concerned about my conditioning,” Wexler said. “I’m kind of out of shape. But I felt pretty good.”
Wexler won a 13-2 decision over Cherokee’s Gasperio Alessi, getting Kingsway out to a 4-0 lead and setting the stage for the Dragons’ victory.
For Wexler, it was an unlikely end to a day that began with little hope of taking the mat in the final home match of his career.
“That hasn’t even sunk it,” Wexler said. “To be able to wrestle in the final home match with my team, in this gym, it’s something special.”
Kingsway 32, Cherokee 28
170: Colin Wexler, K, d. Gasperio Alessi, 13-2; 182: Noah Falabella, K, d. Brandon Noble, 11-3; 195: Alieis Almanzar, K, d. Andrew Cardinali, 5-3; 220: Robert Livshits, C, pin Jalen Shaklin, 3:08; 285: Sean Horner, K, pin Justin Dickinson, 1:03; 106: Charlie Fisher, C, d. Kyle Bomenblit, 12-0; 113: McKenzie Bell, K, d. Andrew Aromando, 7-1; 120: Cooper Pongtelandolfo, C, d. Cheyney Kinner, 7-0; 126: Colin Wickramaratna, C, d. Finnegan McFadden, 5-3; 132: Jake Gentile, K, d. Nate Lipinski, 10-4; 138: John Sambogna, K, d. Nick Moffa, 4-3; 145: Quinn Kinner, K, win by forfeit; 152: Ryan Burke, C, win by forfeit; 160: Mike Ritcher, C, win by forfeit.