Jackie Dehney was lucky enough to grow up with a pretty good coach, and that tutelage is showing in her first season as a high school wrestler.
The Central Catholic freshman resides just over the Massachusetts border in Pelham, N.H., but she grew up in Dracut. She developed a love of the sport by watching her cousin, Matt Dehney. He won a New England title at 152 pounds as a senior at Dracut High in 2010, wrestled at the University at Buffalo, and now is the head coach back at Dracut.
“Mostly, Matt was the big wrestler in the family,” she said.
That status soon may change.
Jackie Dehney has earned a starting spot for Central Catholic at 120 pounds. Among females, Jackie is ranked fourth at 123 pounds by USA Wrestling.
At 10, Dehney started wrestling both boys and girls and competed at national-level girls’ tournament when she was 13.
Last August, she placed second in her weight class at the Super 32 Challenge, a national freestyle tournament in Greensboro, N.C. In her first full year wrestling boys, Jackie won the 120 title at the Salem (N.H.) Blue Devil Classic with two pins and a 4-2 decision.
“I knew [her ability] when she stepped on the mat,” Central Catholic coach Jamie Durkin. “She’s a technical wrestler who’s a gamer.”
Matt Dehney said Jackie “wrestles at a high level outside of the winter [season]. She’s placing in national tournaments and it’s hard to replicate that competition during the winter season. So everything like this, it’s new to her because she’s a freshman, but she’s already wrestled harder matches than she is right now.”
Durkin compared Dehney with former Central Catholic star lightweight Brandon DesFosses, a two-time state champion.
“Jackie kind of emulates DesFosses because she came in at 120,” Durkin said. “For a freshman to come in at 120, you’re going to have to be technically sound to compete and, thus far, she’s done that.”
Jackie’s work ethic sets her apart. She’s a regular attendee of the Doughboy Wrestling Club in Lowell. At Central Catholic, she drills with 106-pounder Jimmy Glynn and his brother, 138-pounder Mike.
“I knew there was some top-level kids in the [Central Catholic] room and my goal was just to get better,” she said. “Even if my goal wasn’t to start varsity, my goal was to just get better in that room.
“They’re wicked technical with everything and they know a ton. They’re always teaching me stuff. They’re fast, they’re strong. They’re always making me better.”
Said Durkin, “She’s not afraid to roll with anybody, which you look for in a wrestler.”
Girls’ wrestling is on the rise, with the introduction of the girls’ state tournament by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association last season.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported wrestling now has a higher participation rate among girls nationwide than gymnastics.
At 10, Dehney started wrestling both boys and girls when she was 10 and competed at national-level girls’ tournament when she was 13.
“Numbers across the board are down,” said Matt Dehney. “Girls came and spiked it back up again.”
When the boys’ sectional tournaments begin in February, however, she has a decision to make: Girls who wrestle in the girls’ state tournament — held the same weekend as boys’ All-States — are not allowed to participate if they compete in the boys’ state tournament. With Central Catholic looking to defend its sectional and state titles, that decision will defend on the team’s needs.
“That’s been a topic that’s popping up in my head,” Jackie said. “I think that’s what the coaches are going to decide and do what’s best for the team.”
Her goal, if she competes in the girls’ tournament, is to win a state title. If she competes with the boys, she wants to qualify for All-States.
“She’s got all the tools for it,” Durkin said.
A few observations from holiday tourneys in the area . . .
■ Danvers junior Maximilian Leete completed a great 2019 with his 126-pound title and Most Outstanding Wrestler award at the George Bossi Lowell Holiday Tournament. He won his second All-State title in February, placed second at New Englands in March, and achieved Greco-Roman All-American status when he placed eighth at the Fargo Nationals last July — a day after his birthday.
■ Melrose’s Hunter Adrian, the 120-pound champion at Lowell, added another record to his already illustrious career during the Wilmington Sons of Italy Tournament Dec. 21. Adrian broke the mark of Methuen’s Christian Monserrat (115 consecutive wins) with a pin of Shawsheen’s Austin Dube at the first-period buzzer. He now has 121 straight wins and a career record of 170-5. His last loss? March 4, 2017, at New Englands in his freshman year.
■ Springfield Central won the Lowell tournament, but Franklin (ninth) recorded the highest finish by an EMass squad. Sixteen of the 28 finalists hailed from the Bay State, with seven earning titles. In 2018, three EMass teams placed in the top 10, Springfield Central was the winner, and Massachusetts had nine individual champions.
■ St. John’s Prep was unable to defend its Marshfield Holiday Tournament title, finishing as the runner-up to Cumberland (R.I.) Prep, but had two champions in Adam Schaeublin (106 pounds) and Nick Curley (113). Brockton also had two champions — Domenic Cirignano (152) and Naziah Armor (220).
■ Lawrence placed second at the Framingham Holiday Tournament behind West Springfield. Lawrence (165 points) had two champions, as did Framingham, Holliston, and King Philip.
■ On Thursday night, Whittier Tech stunned defending Division 1 North champion Haverhill, 42-33, snapping the Hillies’ 31-match win streak.
Matches to watch
■ Saturday, quad meet at Braintree High, 9 a.m. — A meet with Braintree, Pembroke, Taunton, and Plymouth North will be ripe with competition. Braintree (3-0) is off to a strong start, bolstered by a second-place finish at the Oliver Ames Devin Ness Tournament. Plymouth North’s Brandon Nguyen (113) was the runner-up at Marshfield and Pembroke’s Ryan Parmenter (126) was the champion.
■ Saturday, Whitman-Hanson Panther Invitational, 10 a.m. — The 15-team tourney gives teams which were at either Lowell or Marshfield the opportunity to face each other. Notable teams: BC High, Haverhill, Foxborough, Marshfield, Whitman-Hanson, and Xaverian.
■ Wednesday, Canton at Sharon, 4:30 p.m. — Sharon is off to an impressive 10-1 start — the lone blemish a 38-37 setback to Brookline in the opener. The Eagles now have a chance to show a traditionally strong Canton team its might in a Hockomock Davenport match.
■ Wednesday, Chelmsford at Lawrence, Wednesday, 5:15 p.m. — Two of the Merrimack Valley Conference’s top programs will take to the mat.
■ Wednesday, Bridgewater-Raynham at Brockton, 7 p.m. — Brockton (4-1) had strong showings at Marshfield and the Oliver Ames Devin Ness Tournament (third place). B-R opened its dual-meet slate with a 48-29 win over a solid Ashland program, so this should be an excellent Southeast Conference dual.
Brandon Chase can be reached at email@example.com.