Raider wrestlers ready to rock

Mangini return will bolster lineup

By: Rudy Brandl
   A powerful 1-2 punch in the middle weights will give Hillsborough High wrestling fans something exciting to watch this winter.
   The return of star John Mangini gives the program a major shot in the arm. He’ll join fellow junior Frank McLaughlin in the 145-160 range of weight classes to comprise one of the state’s best middleweight connections.
   Mangini transferred to Blair Academy for his sophomore year after shattering all HHS freshman records with a 36-2 campaign in which he finished third in the state at 112 pounds. He’s back in a Raider singlet but won’t be eligible to compete until Jan. 17 due to the state’s transfer rules.
   McLaughlin quietly had a very solid freshman year as Mangini’s teammate but took his game up a few notches last winter. He won his first District 18 title and posted an impressive 25-4 record.
   Now, Mangini and McLaughlin are back together to lead the Raiders.
   "They’re joined at the hip," HHS veteran head coach Steve Molinaro said. "They will definitely compliment each other. Obviously, we’re putting both of them on the mat. We want Frank and John going back-to-back."
   Molinaro quickly cautioned that this team isn’t merely about Mangini or the 1-2 middleweight duo. Mangini will bring a lot of attention to the program but the focus will continue to be the progress of the entire team, which only won three matches last year.
   "It’s definitely a spark and the kids can draw off him, but it’s not a one-person deal," Molinaro said. "He was here as a freshman and a lot of kids have improved since he left. He’s the type of kid who will take some kids under his wing."
   The Raiders will have experienced wrestlers in most weight classes, including nine starters with at least a year of varsity experience. Two more big guns return to join Mangini and McLaughlin, one in the lower weights and one up high.
   Senior Adam Kull moves up a weight to 125 after an outstanding 26-5 campaign last winter. Fellow senior Ernie Guaimano returns to 189 after a breakout 20-11 junior year. Both upperclassmen should be set for a huge year.
   Other starters returning include junior Andrew DeSanto (112), senior Bobby Wolf (130), junior Chris Ambrose (140), senior Dale Mathewson (171) and senior Mike Trani (Hwt). Seniors Joey Guido (135) and Mike Collins (160), juniors James McMahon (140) and Brian Zebro (140) and sophomore Luke Dawson (145) will also contribute.
   "We’ve got some juggling ability, but we have to make sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot," Molinaro said. "A lot of them have been working in the off-season. They’ve been getting mat time and it’s going to show."
   Molinaro is very pleased about this year’s numbers, particularly in the freshman class. Last winter, a mass exodus of ninth-graders left him somewhat short in the ranks. This year, Molinaro expects some freshmen to make varsity contributions.
   "The biggest group is the freshmen," he said. "They’re hanging in there. I like some of the things I saw in the scrimmage. We’ve got a couple of tough freshmen."
   The Raiders will send Jake Hartzog to the mat at 103 pounds, with fellow freshman Chris Beal slated to compete at 119. If these guys can win some bouts, it will help the Raiders going into the more experienced part of their lineup.
   Molinaro expects his team to win more matches this year. Three of the team’s four 20-bout winners are back on the roster to go with the return of Mangini. That gives the Raiders four go-to guys in the lineup.
   There are also seniors like Wolf and Mathewson that should be more productive. Wolf just missed a .500 season last year and lost a host of tight bouts. Molinaro is hoping another year of maturity will help some of his more seasoned wrestlers win more bouts.
   "In my experience, a lot of these guys blossom more than they did the year before," Molinaro said. "They get to the point where they realize this is it and they have a great year as a senior. They have an opportunity this year. If they kick it in, we’ll have a nice lineup."