"We're trying to prove we're a quality program," said coach Pete DiBiase, who is in his fourth year at the school. "When you hang that close to the No. 1 team, I guess it's a positive development. But we wanted to win."
West Deptford was alive Wednesday until the conclusion of the heavyweight bout, a bout it entered trailing only 31-27. The Eagles also were alive against No. 9 Haddon Township until the final bout. They led both Voorhees Township and No. 10 Pennsville going into the final bout.
Only in a 34-23 loss to No. 6 Pemberton on Saturday was West Deptford dominated.
The Eagles have defeated such quality teams as Delsea, Overbrook and Millville and will meet Washington Township on Wednesday.
"I'm not saying we're a Top 10 team yet," DiBiase said. "All I'm saying is, we're right there. We're real young and we've had an almost unbelievable string of injuries.
"So I couldn't be more pleased. Every year we've gotten to another level. Our midget program and our jayvees are improving. Our best days are coming."
DiBiase wasn't kidding about the Eagles' youth. At one point this year, he had seven sophomores and a freshman in the 13-man lineup.
"That's the one good thing about the injuries," he said. "I've had a chance to get a lot of guys in the lineup and get them some experience."
The Colonial Conference, long the private playground of Paulsboro and Haddon Township, now seems likely to have a third competitive program for some time to come.
TOURNAMENT TIME. The pairings for the annual South Jersey group tournaments were announced Tuesday afternoon. The tourney semifinals are scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the finals are 7 p.m. Thursday at the site of the higher- rated surviving team.
There are only two interesting groups, as three group winners are nearly foregone conclusions and one already has been decided.
St. James, the only qualifier in its group, already has been awarded the Parochial B title. It will meet Pope John of Sparta on Feb. 22 for the state title. Pope John was the only Parochial B qualifier from North Jersey.
In Group 1, Paulsboro will seek its 13th consecutive South Jersey title. The Raiders have not lost a playoff match to a South Jersey team since the tourney was created in 1980.
In Group 3, Brick Memorial will be a prohibitive favorite to win its fifth title in seven years. In Parochial A, Paul VI will be favored to win its 12th straight sectional title. (Camden Catholic won the inaugural tourney in 1980, and Paul VI has won every one since.)
Only in Group 4 and in Group 2 will there be any suspense. Let's take a look.
Group 2 is the best balanced of all the tourney pairings. All four qualifiers are ranked in The Inquirer Top 10. Top-seeded Delran (15-2) is ranked No. 8. Second-seeded Buena (15-1) is ranked No. 4. Third-seeded Haddon Township (12-3) is ranked No. 9. Fourth-seeded Pennsville (16-1) is ranked No. 10.
Delran has lost only to Lenape and another Group 4 qualifier, Pemberton. Delran has beaten Haddon Township.
Buena has lost only to Group 4 qualifier Lenape and has beaten Group 3 qualifier Absegami.
Haddon Township beat Pennsville on Saturday, ending the Eagles' 14-match winning streak. Township has lost only to Paulsboro, Delran and Paul VI.
Pennsville has beaten Group 3 qualifier Delsea (which is the defending Group 2 state champion).
Ironically, West Deptford was the third-best team in this group in terms of power ratings. But in wrestling, unlike football, the power ratings are not the sole factor in tourney qualification.
Buena was chosen because it had more wins than West Deptford, and Pennsville was chosen because it beat West Deptford head-to-head.
Any of these four fine programs could produce a champion.
In Group 4, there is the potential for a terrific final match if both No. 2 Highland (20-0) and No. 3 Lenape (13-0) win their semifinals.
CONDOLENCES. If you're looking for a team that has had a great season, but got nothing to show for it, take a look at Eastern. The Vikings are 17-1 and are ranked No. 5 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, but didn't win their league and didn't make the tournament.
The Vikings lost to Highland, 41-16, on Jan. 15. That loss cost them the title in the Olympic Conference American Division. It also kept them out of the tournament in powerful Group 4.