LITTLE SILVER – Hunter Gutierrez was already looking forward to the Shore Conference Tournament as a chance to get back to the form that enabled him to place fifth at last season’s NJSIAA Championships, but when the Lacey junior saw his surprisingly-low seed it gave him even more motivation to run through the 113-pound bracket.

“Yeah, that was definitely the biggest thing,” Gutierrez said. “Getting the No. 5 seed definitely lit a fire under my butt. I wanted to go out and make a statement.”

Gutierrez rolled to the 113-pound title during Saturday’s inaugural Shore Conference Individual Championships at Red Bank Regional High School, winning by bonus points in all four of his bouts and ultimately defeating Long Branch sophomore Ryan Zimmerman by 8-0 major decision in the championship bout.

“This year I felt I fell off a little bit,” Gutierrez said. “I didn’t really get off to a great start and was out a lot. This was just a good chance to get my name out there.”

The seeding process for the SCT used the NJSIAA’s quality points and prestige points, plus head-to-head results, to seed the tournament and did not otherwise factor in prior state advancement. That meant Gutierrez, who had just 11 bouts of record prior to the seeding meeting, fell to the No. 5 seed. In the end, it didn’t matter where Gutierrez was placed. He won by technical fall over Manalapan’s Colby Glusko in the pre-quarterfinals, pinned Barnegat state qualifier Sean Foley in the quarterfinals and needed just one minute to pin the No. 1 seed, Point Boro’s Ben Sabo, in the semifinals.

“I’m definitely hitting my stride,” Gutierrez said.  “My weight is good and not an issue and I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season and making some noise in (Atlantic City). I think I’m one of the top kids in the state.”

Lacey was of three teams to have multiple champions as senior Luke Gauthier joined Gutierrez as an SCT champion with a thrilling victory at 145 pounds. Going up against fellow state qualifier Jack Kelly from Wall, Gauthier locked in a cradle off a scramble to stun Kelly with 13 seconds left in the first period.

“He shot in on my leg and I started coming around the side. At first, I was looking for a near-side cradle but then his other leg stepped up and I just threw the far side and locked it in,” Gauthier said. “I had the death grip on it and just rolled it through.”

Gauthier entered the tournament undefeated while Kelly had been piling up points with multiple 20-point bouts and suffered his only loss to Ocean’s Jake Benner, the reigning 138-pound state champion. Kelly was ranked in the state top eight at 145 pounds by, and by pinning him Gauthier announced to the state he is among the best in New Jersey.

“I’ve been trying to make a name for myself this year but I really don’t pay attention to the rankings much,” Gauthier said. “I never really cared. Whenever I step on that line I just do everything I can to win.”

The new Shore Conference Tournament in the individual form is the same as when the NJSIAA Region 6 Tournament was comprised entirely of Shore Conference Teams, which it was from 1992 to 2016, and in both Gutierrez and Gauthier are the first pair of Lacey teammates to win titles in the same season. John and Bryan Stout both won Region 6 titles in 1990, but at the time the Shore was spread out throughout multiple regions.

“I know the Shore Conference is very respected around the state and to be a Shore Conference champion really is a great feeling,” Gauthier said.

2018 SCT champions from left to right: bottom row - Dean Peterson, SJV; Hunter Gutierrez, Lacey; Rich Koehler, CBA; Darby Diedrich, Howell; Kyle Slendorn, Howell'; Jake Benner, Ocean; Luke Gauthier, Lacey. Top row - Cole Corrigan, TR South; Rob Kanniard, Wall; Nick Caracappa, SJV; Nicko Cofone, Middletown North; Pete Wersinger, Long Branch; Steven Giannios, SJV; Paul Liseno, SJV. (Photo by Steve Meyer).

Howell also had two champions crowned as senior Kyle Slendorn won the 132-pound championship and junior Darby Diedrich claimed the 120-pound title. Slendorn, the 126-pound state runner-up last season, defeated Raritan’s Russell Benson, 4-2, in the championship bout. Slendorn was dominant in his run to the title with three falls prior to the win over Benson. During the tournament, Slendorn passed Zac Cunliffe to become Howell’s all-time wins leader with 141 and counting. Depending on Howell’s run in the NJSIAA Team Tournament and how far Slendorn goes in the individual postseason he has a chance to break the Shore Conference record for career wins of 158 by Raritan’s Dan Seidenberg.

Diedrich, the state seventh-place finisher at 120 pounds last season, picked up career win No. 100 during the quarterfinals and rolled to the 126-pound title with four bonus-point victories. He won by 22-7 technical fall in 4:43 over Colts Neck’s Dyon Womack in the championship bout.

At 138 pounds, Benner was tested briefly by Donovan Catholic’s Cristiaan Dailey in the semifinals but still cruised to the SCT title with two pins and two major decisions. After beating Dailey, 10-2, in the semis he shut out Howell’s Dan Esposito, 12-0, in the final.

Dailey finished third at 138 pounds with a 2-1 win over Toms River North’s Nick Boggiano to record his 100th career win and become the first Donovan Catholic wrestler to reach 100 wins.

Wall junior Rob Kanniard also had a dominant showing in winning the 160-pound SCT championship. The fourth-place finisher in the state at 152 pounds last season who is currently ranked No. 2 in the state and among the top 20 in the U.S., Kanniard had two first-period pins, a technical fall and finally a pin over Raritan’s Anthony Aquilano in the championship bout. Kanniard also recorded his 100th career victory during the tournament.

Christian Brothers Academy senior Rich Koehler claimed the 120-pound SCT title with an 8-6 victory over St. John Vianney’s Tyler Pepe in a back-and-forth bout. Pepe led early, but Koehler rallied for the win with a third-period takedown. Koehler, who is a three-time state qualifier, two-time Region 6 champion, and a state medalist (2015), won by fall in his three previous bouts.

Toms River South senior Cole Corrigan defeated Middletown North’s Stanley Wojdylak, 7-1, to win the 152-pound title. Corrigan won by technical fall over Long Branch’s Luke Arnold in the quarterfinals and beat Point Boro’s Francis Marshall, 9-2, in the semifinals.

Middletown North senior Nicko Cofone used a second-period escape and a rideout in the third period to top Howell’s Christian Murphy, 1-0, and win the 182-pound SCT title. A top-12 finisher at the state tournament last season, Cofone won by fall in the quarterfinals and topped Raritan’s George Burdick, 8-4, in the semifinals.

Long Branch senior Pete Wersinger came out on top in a balanced 195-pound weight class via a 5-3 victory over Freehold Township’s Eric Quartey. Wersinger edged Point Boro’s Billy Borowsky, 4-3, in the semifinals and won by fall and technical fall, respectively, in his first two bouts.

St. John Vianney won the team title with four champions as freshman Dean Peterson (106), seniors Nick Caracappa (170) and Steven Giannios (220) and junior Paul Liseno (285) led the way with individual titles.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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