By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Wrestling teaches a student-athlete about a lot of things, and one of the most important is that there are times when life has a way of kicking you in the gut, and it can keep kicking until a couple of ribs are broken. It’s in those moments when you find out what kind of person you are. Some can’t handle the tough situations and simply quit, while others use tough times to harden their resolve and get the most out of their body and talent.
You can put Holy Spirit senior Connor Boal in the latter group.
Boal spent a good portion of his high school wrestling career beat up, bruised, battered, injured — whatever you want to call it. But he never threw in the towel. He ended his career by making his first trip to the Region 8 Championships in February, and he can also hang his hat on this accolade: he is the only wrestler in school history who has wrestled in the sectional championship match four straight years.
“Unfortunately for him, he missed the individual tournament his sophomore year because he had a concussion, and missed about a month of last season with another concussion,” said Spartans coach Ralph Paolone. “This season, about a month ago, he had some elbow pain and it turned out he had a partial tear in his bicep. It bothered him, and it was painful for him to wrestle most days, but he’s a senior so he figured he would give it a shot.”
“I really liked the program they had going on, and coach Ralph. I was excited (as a freshman) and it was a huge step forward, wrestling varsity as a freshman. It took about half a season to adjust to it. Sophomore year I got hurt and missed the second half of the season, and junior year I got hurt again. This year was my last shot at it, so I had to give it all I had. I wasn’t going to let (the biceps injury) stop me this year, I just had to put that to the side and go,” said Boal, who started out as a 152-pounder and finished his career at 170. “(The mental aspect) is the challenging part. The physical pain is tolerable, but you have to get over it in your head.”
Five years ago, the Spartans had, well, a Spartan roster. It was basically Pat D’Arcy — who went on to win a state championship — and about five or six other guys in the room. Spirit couldn’t even fill out a roster big enough to win dual meets, as they had to forfeit about half the weight classes. But coach Paolone wasn’t discouraged and he continued to try to get guys from the football team and other sports to come out and help the team. Holy Spirit started to expand its roster, and once the Spartans weren’t giving up all those forfeits they began to become a legitimate threat in South Jersey Non-Public B. They won three straight team sectional titles before falling in the championship match this season, and Boal was a big reason behind this recent success.
“He’s just a coach’s dream in terms of dual meets. He had 29 wins this year, and almost all of them were by pin. And that was basically his whole career. He was a pin-or-be-pinned guy. He went six minutes in his two losses to Buena’s Jaden Roberts this year; his freshman year he might have gone six minutes once, sophomore year I’m not sure he did go six minutes, and last year he went six minutes once. And every year he’s won at least 15 matches, and this year he won 29. He was a guy who got us six points all the time, which is awesome. He’s certainly been big for us. I didn’t really know him that well as a junior wrestler, but he was good and he immediately had an impact. His freshman year, I think he pinned everybody in the Cape-Atlantic League,” Paolone said. “We’ve had holes in the lineup, and if you’re giving up 18 points you have to find where you can get those 18 points back. He was a kid who always got us six, so instead of forfeiting three weight classes, you’re really only forfeiting two. I never worried about him getting us six points when he was wrestling. He’s a good kid, kind of quiet, but a great kid in the room and a captain this year.”
This year, Boal, a Dennis Township resident, made it out of districts for the first time in his career, and in the opening round of regions, true to form, he pinned Oakcrest’s Elijah Gonzalez in the first period. That set up a third meeting against Buena’s Roberts, and a major decision loss sent Boal into the wrestlebacks. He won his next match before getting pinned by Mainland’s Jesse Bishop, but again bounced back in the 5th/6th match, pinning Woodstown senior Robert Parkell. He capped his career with a 29-12 senior season.
“I’ll take what I got, but it wasn’t what I came for,” Boal said. “I had the flu that whole weekend of regions, so that took a lot out of me. But I had never made it out of districts my first three years.”
Boal said he thoroughly enjoyed his time as a Holy Spirit wrestler.
“It’s more like a family than a team, everyone is so close with each other. It was awesome, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “I don’t think anybody really saw (four straight sectional finals appearances) coming, but we have a really tough team. That’s something I’ll always think about. The kids on this team are all great.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays