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Senior wrestlers savoring last chance to make their mark at state championships in Atlantic City

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher After Craig Roumes of Roxbury outlasted St. Augustine Prep’s Jarred Hodges 3-2 in an ultimate rideout overtime in the opening round at the 2014 NJSIAA state wrestling championships, Hodges, then a junior 145-pounder, had to be rushed to the hospital with severe dehydration. Seven periods of wrestling can do that to you. He was forced to withdraw from the tournament after just one match. As a sophomore, Hodges went 0-2 at the tournament. He’s now 0-3 in his career at states. That gives the senior plenty of motivation heading into this weekend’s championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Boardwalk Hall is the Valhalla of high school wrestling, and Hodges is one of many seniors who will have one more shot to step foot on the podium as one of the top eight wrestlers in his weight class in the state. He plans on making the most of his final opportunity. “I’m pretty relaxed. I’m not too stressed about how I’m going to perform. I’m very confident in myself. This is my last year, so I’m going to put it all on the mat. This is going to be my last time wrestling in my high school career at the big show, and I can’t be more excited,” said Hodges, who is coming off District 32 and Region 8 titles at 152 pounds. “I think it’s a huge advantage (being a senior). My sophomore year, it was very intimidating, the crowd, the big stage. You have eight mats going. It’s very intimidating. It might not seem like that, but all eyes are on you. You learn from experience that once you get on the mat it all goes away, and that’s a huge advantage for a senior.” Buena Regional senior Chaz Bramble scored a third-place finish at the Region 8 tournament to secure a second straight appearance at the state championships in Atlantic City. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Buena Regional senior Chaz Bramble scored a third-place finish at the Region 8 tournament to secure a second straight appearance at the state championships in Atlantic City. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) Buena Regional senior Chaz Bramble, a 138-pounder who won District 31 and finished third at Region 8 to qualify for states, agrees. He made it to states last year as a junior and went 0-2, admittedly completely overwhelmed by the atmosphere. “I think last year I was more nervous than I am this year. I got that preview under my belt last year, so I don’t think it’s going to hit me as much of a shock as it did last year,” Bramble said. “I had wrestled in some big tournaments before, but states is definitely a lot more realistic. Other tournaments are just summer tournaments and don’t really mean anything, but states is the real deal. It takes your breath away at first.” Hodges can relate to Bramble’s emotions last year. The first time he made it to Boardwalk Hall he was a 15-year-old sophomore. “I was 15 going out there. I didn’t know what to expect, the level of competition. I was trying to do my best, but I can say I was a little intimidated,” Hodges said. “I just have to get my head on straight. I was just overwhelmed last year with the emotions. I think I’ll be fine this year. Even districts and regions, they haven’t felt the same this year because everything was a first last year,” Bramble added. St. Augustine Prep senior 152-pounder Jarred Hodges is 0-3 lifetime at the state championships. He's hoping to change that this year, as he heads into this weekend as the No. 6 seed in the bottom bracket of his weight class. St. Augustine Prep senior 152-pounder Jarred Hodges is 0-3 lifetime at the state championships. He’s hoping to change that this year, as he heads into this weekend as the No. 6 seed in the bottom bracket of his weight class. But guys like Hodges and Bramble, as well as fellow Cape-Atlantic League seniors C.J. LaFragola of St. Joseph and Pat D’Arcy of Holy Spirit, have an air of confidence about them this year that only comes with being a senior who has been there, done that. Both LaFragola and D’Arcy placed last year, with LaFragola fighting his way through wrestlebacks to finish seventh at 182 pounds and D’Arcy making a run to the finals before falling to Bergen Catholic phenom Nick Suriano. Hodges said that winning district and region titles with relative ease gives him a lot of confidence heading into this weekend. “It gives me a lot of confidence, but I don’t just want to focus on those performances,” Hodges, an Egg Harbor Township resident, said. “All the wrestling I’ve done in my high school career has prepared me for this moment now. I couldn’t be more excited to go out there and wrestle. It’s always been my goal to place at states, and what better year to do it? Coming off a district and region title and 100 wins, why not go for it all?” Bramble said he is ready to give his best this weekend as well. “I know physically I’m a lot better than I was last year. Last year I suffered from a stomach virus the whole week before. The whole week between regions and states I didn’t have a single day of practice, but this year I’ve practiced every day this week, so I feel a lot better than I did last year,” Bramble said. “I just have to go out there and wrestle my style. I can’t let the other guy set the pace in the match. I have to set my pace.” Both Hodges and Bramble know that when they walk off the mat for the final time this weekend, no matter in what round the end comes, the finality of the end of their high school wrestling careers will hit them hard. “It’s been sitting in the back of my mind that this is it, my last run at any kind of title. So I have to go out there and give it 110 percent,” Bramble said. “It will definitely hit me as soon as that last buzzer goes off on the mat this weekend. Hopefully it’s on Sunday, but as soon as that buzzer goes off it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster, I know that.” “I think it’s going to hit me once I place or get eliminated and I’m walking off that mat, looking at my home crowd,” Hodges said. “I’m definitely going to be looking around and taking it all in before I step off that mat for the last time. I think that’s when it’s going to hit me the most.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullsays [adsense]

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