TABERNACLE - Matt Smith was going to give it one practice.
One practice turned into two, then three.
That was two months ago.
After ditching the sport following his freshman season, Smith returned to the wrestling room as a senior.
He’s glad he did. So is the rest of the Seneca High School wrestling team.
Smith has posted 15 wins in the 215-pound weight class so far this season, the latest being a first-period fall Wednesday night that highlighted Senior Night as the Golden Eagles soared to a 49-27 home win over Cherry Hill West.
“With all the fans being here, it’s a good feeling to go out there and get a win,” said Smith, who improved to 15-7 with seven wins in his last eight bouts, the lone loss coming to state champion Martin Cosgrove, of Camden Catholic.
Being in the center of the mat was the last place Smith thought he was going to be after a rough experience as a freshman.
“I got beat on a lot at 170 pounds in freshman year,” Smith said. “I just decided I was going to concentrate on lifting for football.”
Smith developed into a solid two-way starter at offensive tackle and defensive end for the Golden Eagles over the last two seasons.
However, the Seneca wrestling coaching staff never stopped trying to get Smith back out for their team.
“Every year they were there talking to me, Mr. Columbo was harping on me all the time to get me back out,” Smith said. “I finally told him I’d come out for one practice. I did and I enjoyed it. I wanted to give it a shot.”
Persistence paid off for Seneca head coach Greg Bauer and assistant coach Bob Columbo.
“We finally got him to come back out,” Bauer said. “He’s a big, athletic kid. We always saw the potential there and he’s been a pretty big surprise.
“We always try to push the idea that this sport is going to help you in football, too.”
Smith’s first action came at the Hammonton Kick-Off Tournament where he placed second. He would finished fourth at the Marinelli Tournament in Egg Harbor Township, with both losses coming to ranked opponents in Lower Cape May’s Marcus Hebron and Washington Township’s Dom Petracci.
Smith said there was some rust to knock off, but it certainly hasn’t shown as he racked up eight pins among his 15 wins.
“It was a lot different feeling when I got back in the room,” Smith said. “I just felt I was more mature and I had more strength. Those were the big differences this time around.
“I have the basics, but I don’t have all the technique down yet. I’m still getting the rust off, but hopefully for districts, I’ll be ready.”
Smith said he’s not sure if he wants to play football at the college level, but he must be having fun with wrestling because he says he “wants to see where this all goes.”
After graduating 10 starters from last year’s 6-1 squad, Bauer wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this version of the Golden Eagles.
It’s safe to say, the head coach has been pleasantly surprised. Seneca improved to 11-5 with Wednesday’s win and was seeded third in the latest South Jersey Group 3 power points that were released on Tuesday.
“They’re getting there,” Bauer said. “I knew the kids had some talent, but when you graduate 10 guys, you’re never really sure how the new guys are going to adjust to varsity competition.
“Starting last summer though, these guys have responded. They listen, they work hard and they’re improving every week.”
— Tom McGurk (@McGurkSports) January 27, 2022
Junior Max Borton (175) ran his record to 22-0 with a his 14th pin of the season. Fellow juniors Jackson Bauer (106, 18 wins), the head coach’s nephew, Bradley Chilkotowsky (113, 12) and Kyle Pickard (126, 15) along with sophomore David Vacca (144, 15) and Daniel Bogardus (132, 14) have been solid contributors
“No surrender, that’s what we’re going by this season,” Smith said. “We knew we had to step it up this year. We’re being doubted by some, but we’re going to keep pushing.”
Seneca 49, Cherry Hill West 27
157: Brandon Drea, CHW, p. Kyle Stickel, 0:56; 165: Dominic Versace, CHW, p. Colby Carfagno, 0:45; 175: Max Borton, S, p. Benjamin Quach, 0:54; 190: Anthony Horiates, CHW, d. LeVor Kelly, 6-3; 215: Matt Smith, S, p. JoNathan Valentin, 1:40; 285: Jordan Drayton, S, p. Ross Worlds, 2:58; 106: Jackson Bauer, S, Christian Rodi, 2:34; 113: Bradley Chilkotowsky, S, p. Darnell Huff, 0:44; 120: Evan Conza, S, p. Nate Camacho, 3:26; 126: Kyle Pickard, S, d. Michael Ummarino, 7-0; 132: Ryan Schimpf, CHW, p. Grady Brown, 1:13; 138: Daniel Bogardus, S, md. Kristian Lenny, 14-0; 144: David Vacca, S, p. Josiah Canales, 2:37; 150: Nick Berckman, CHW, p. Logan Benson, 1:34.
Tom McGurk is a regional sports reporter for the Courier-Post, The Daily Journal and Burlington County Times, covering South Jersey sports for over 30 years. If you have a sports story that needs to be told, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: H.S. wrestling: Seneca's Smith glad he gave wrestling another shot