ATLANTIC CITY — Way back in the 1990s, Absegami was one of the most feared wrestling programs in South Jersey. These days, the Braves are led by one of their former heroes, 1996 state champion Shawn Scannell — who won his title over a freshman named Damion Hahn. Hahn, of Lakewood, finished his career on a 102-bout winning streak, won three state titles, then went on to become a two-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American at the University of Minnesota.

Scannell wasn’t so bad himself, eventually gaining entry into the Rider University Hall of Fame, so he knows a thing or two about wrestling.

The former Absegami star doesn’t exactly smile much when he’s near a wrestling mat, but his mouth may have twitched a bit upward on Thursday afternoon as two of his wrestlers scored wins in their opening bouts at the 2020 NJSIAA Championships at Boardwalk Hall. The Braves still have a long way to go to recapture the glory of the 90s, but getting three wrestlers to Atlantic City, and having two win their opening matches, is definitely a step in the right direction.

“We’ve had a really successful season as far as getting things back on target,” Scannell said. “We have some good kids coming in next year and some young kids who have done some really good things, so there’s a bright future ahead for us and we’re pretty excited about that.”

Sean Cowan, a freshman, went 0-2 in the 113-pound weight class, but Absegami got its first win of this year’s championships at 170, where George Rhodes — another rookie — looked like a seasoned veteran when he dominated James Holder of North Hunterdon, winning 9-0.

“George is a wrestling guy and he’s built for tournaments like this. He’s wrestled all over the place and it doesn’t surprise me the success he’s been having in the postseason. He’s made for this,” Scannell said. “He’s been at major tournaments throughout the country, so this doesn’t faze him. He’s really excited, he wants to get to the podium.”

“It didn’t feel any different than kids states in Trenton. I feel like I was prepared for this because of Trenton. It is a little bit nerve wracking, but once you overcome that it becomes a lot easier,” Rhodes said. “I want to get on the podium, definitely. That’s probably everyone’s goal and someone has to get up there. I don’t take anybody lightly, because once you do that’s how you get a loss.”

Mikal Taylor, more of a football star at Absegami, came in as the No. 22 seed at 195 pounds and promptly knocked off 11th-seeded Daniel Pereira of West Orange, rallying late for a 7-6 victory.

“Mikal’s a kid who took fourth in the district last year, so he’s still kind of figuring it out,” Scannell said of the junior. “But getting that win under his belt, now he knows he belongs here and he can wrestle with the best. He was a middle school wrestler but is mostly a football player. He’s just a great athlete who works really hard. God gave him some muscle.”

Unfortunately, neither Rhodes nor Taylor has the opportunity to win a state championship because of losses in the round of 32, but they both are still alive in wrestlebacks.

St. Augustine Prep had several wrestlers qualify for states, but only 195-pound junior Mike Misita, the No. 2 seed in his weight class, is still alive for a title. He looked dominant in registering a pin in his opening bout, then beat Colts Neck’s Kenneth Koenig 8-1 to cruise into the quarterfinals, where he’ll face seventh-seeded Tommy Goodwin of Pequannock on Friday.

Holy Spirit sophomore K.J. Sherman — who needed the final seconds of a wrestleback victory at the Region 8 Championships just to qualify for states, scored a pin in his opening-round match in one of the more exciting bouts of the afternoon. The 138-pounder who came in seeded 16th was up against No. 17 Nicholas Stampoulos of Brearley-Dayton, and the wrestlers traded takedowns until late in the third period, when Sherman — holding a 12-11 lead — locked up Stampoulos and got the pin with 18 seconds left. Sherman then ran into top-seeded Jacob Perez-Eli of Paulsboro and lost, 7-2, to fall into the wrestlebacks.

Here’s a look at how Cape-Atlantic League wrestlers fared during Thursday’s action:

Advanced to quarterfinals: Mike Misita (195, St. Augustine prep).

Still alive in wrestlebacks with a 1-1 record: D’Amani Almodovar (106 pounds, St. Augustine Prep); Brock Zurawski (132 pounds, Prep); Alex Marshall (160 pounds, Prep); George Rhodes (170, Absegami); Alex Giordano (170, St. Joseph — will face Rhodes in Friday’s wrestlebacks); Mikal Taylor (195, Absegami); Marcus Hebron (195, Lower Cape May); Tony Thompson (220, Buena Regional); Nick Sannino (285, Ocean City).

Went 0-2, eliminated: Hogan Horsey (106, Oakcrest); Hunter Horsey (113, Oakcrest); Sean Cowan (113, Absegami); Braydon Castillo (160, Lower Cape May); Nick Marshall (182, Prep).

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays