NJSIAA Wrestling Sectional Finals Preview
The team portion of the New Jersey High School wrestling season is down to its final two days, and on Friday night 13 Shore Conference teams in 10 different sections will try to capture NJSIAA state sectional titles. Below we’ll take a look at each matchup and gauge the odds of each local team bringing home a championship.
NORTH 2, GROUP 4
2-Phillipsburg (14-2) at 1-Middletown North (14-6), 7 p.m.
Phillipsburg’s top wrestlers
113: Cullen Day, Sr., 21-7
126: No. 7 No. 6 Travis Jones, Jr. 26-4
138: Cody Harrison, Jr. 22-2
152: No. 2 Brian Meyer, Sr., 24-2
170: Lance Wissing, Sr., 27-3
Middletown North’s top wrestlers
106: Thomas O’Keefe, So., 24-8
113: Tyler Klinsky, So., 28-4
152: Stanley Wojdylak, Sr., 28-4
182: No. 5 Nicko Cofone, Sr., 30-2
195: Jacob Anderson, Jr., 20-0
285: Austin Dewise, Sr., 17-7
Middletown North finally gets Phillipsburg to make the 90-minute drive and wrestle a sectional final in its own gym, and will try to end a three-year, sectional-final losing streak to the Stateliners and capture its first sectional title since 1996. Whereas the Lions have not won a state sectional crown in over two decades, Phillipsburg has been able to book its trip to the group finals pretty much every year. The Stateliners have 36 sectional titles in their illustrious history, which is second all-time behind Paulsboro’s 37. Since the state sectional tournaments began in 1980 there have been just two seasons, 1990 and 2013, where Phillipsburg did not win a sectional title. Paulsboro has one better at 37, but considering the Stateliners have done it against a deeper field of teams in groups 3 and 4 it’s a pretty ridiculous stat.
Middletown North has closed the gap each year and will look to finally get over the hump and takedown Phillipsburg. What makes Phillipsburg so good? The ‘Liners do the little things very well, they win big, they lose small and they seem to win all the toss-up bouts. To counter that Middletown North will have to beat them at their own game, which is obviously not an easy task. The Lions actually match up fairly well but will, of course, have to win those key matchups. One such matchup could be at 113 where Day and Klinsky, both of whom were state qualifiers last season, could square off. Winning the flip will be big, as well as who weighs in where. With Phillipsburg wrestling last night there will be an extra weight allowance (total of four points, i.e. 110, 117, 124 and so on) which could help Middletown North potentially get Wojdylak down to 145 and away from Meyer, who is ranked No. 2 in New Jersey by Full Circle. Another key matchup could be at 182 if Phillipsburg decides to put Wissing up against Cofone. Middletown North appears to have a big edge from 182 to 285 with Cofone, Anderson, Kevin McCarthney and Dewise, and if the Lions can get a sweep and some bonus during that stretch it could be the difference. It’s a fool’s errand to pick against Phillipsburg but there’s something about this Middletown North team that has me thinking they pull it off. With the match at home, there opportunity has never been better.
Prediction: Middletown North
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP 5
2-Howell (29-0) at 1-Hunterdon Central (22-1), 7 p.m.
Hunterdon Central’s top wrestlers
106: No. 7 Brett Ungar, Fr., 30-1
113: Colton Washleski, Fr., 22-9
120: Jack Bauer, Jr., 19-5
132: No. 6 Hunter Graf, Sr., 30-2
145: Vincent Romaniello, Jr., 27-4
160: Kevin Ciresa, Sr., 23-7
170: Dan Furmato, Jr., 23-8
195: Lukas Bakerian, So., 22-8
220: Angelo Crespo, Sr., 20-4
Howell’s top wrestlers
106: Ethan Liptzin, So., 22-5 or Jesse Liptzin, Sr., 17-3
113: Jerry Lleshi, Sr., 19-4
120: No. 4 Darby Diedrich, Jr., 31-0
126: Luke Rada, So., 24-4
132: No. 2 Kyle Slendorn, Sr., 30-0
138: Dan Esposito, Sr., 27-3
145: Paul Jakub, Fr., 26-2
152: Xavier Kelly, Jr., 21-4
170: No. 6 Shane Reitsma, So., 28-2
182: Christian Murphy, Jr., 28-2
Friday night’s meeting at the Hunterdon Central Field House is the most anticipated sectional final in New Jersey after Howell edged the Red Devils, 28-27, to win last season’s Group 5 title. The two teams were set to meet in the regular season but Hunterdon Central cancelled the match being the teams are now aligned in the same section. The Red Devils were able to out-point Howell for the top spot in the section and now get the advantage of wrestling in what should be a raucous home environment.
Hunterdon Central has won 19 sectional titles all time while Howell has three sectional titles, which have come in the last four seasons. Both teams have one overall state title to their credit with Howell’s coming last season and Hunterdon Central’s coming back in 1989.
There are several potential marquee matchups, especially in the lower half of the lineup where either of the Liptzin’s will face the freshman standout Ungar at 106 and either Liptzin or Lleshi will take on Washleski. A big factor will be Howell getting Darby Diedrich down to 120 so they can insert Luke Rada at 126. That would likely put Diedrich against Bauer and Rada on Anthony Romaniello. At 132 it will probably be Slendorn vs. Graf in a state-ranked clash.
There will be a good amount of toss-up bouts in the middle that will have major implications on the overall match. Any kind of bonus points during that stretch will turn the tide.
Howell has not been tested in any of its duals this season while Hunterdon Central has wrestled a challenging schedule that includes a win over Phillipsburg and a one-point loss to Group 1 contender Emerson-Park Ridge. We’ll see if that plays a factor.
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP 4
3-Brick memorial (19-2) at 1-Long Branch (21-3), 6:30 p.m.
Brick Memorial’s top wrestlers
106: No. 2 Vincent Santaniello, Fr., 29-2
138: Caleb Alvarado, Jr., 19-6
170: No. 5 Ean Mueller, Jr., 20-8
195: No. 6 Sam Williams, Sr., 23-3
Long Branch’s top wrestlers
113: No. 2 Ryan Zimmerman, So., 29-3
126: No. 5 Chris Dean, Sr., 21-9
152: No. 5 Luke Arnold, Jr., 20-3
160: No. 5 Louie Saez, Sr., 12-8
170: No. 7 Dan Santos-Silva, Sr., 24-6
195: No. 1 Pete Wersinger, Sr., 27-3
220: La’Qym Morris, Jr., 12-1
285: No. 2 Kevin Cerruti, Jr., 26-3
With six of the eight teams in the sectional hailing from the Shore Conference it was always likely two area teams would meet in the final, and that’s exactly the case as Brick Memorial travels to Long Branch with a sectional championship on the line.
Brick Memorial is the most decorated of the Shore’s wrestling programs with 15 sectional titles and nine overall state titles in its history. The Mustangs last sectional title came in 2015 when they won the inaugural Group 5 title. Long Branch has five sectional titles, the last of which came in 2013, and three overall state titles which came in a row from 2008-2010.
Brick Memorial won by fall in six of its seven wins in a 39-28 win over Jackson Memorial in the semifinals, and bonus points will be crucial against a Long Branch team that is stingy and wrestles a grinding style. The matchup to make down low for Brick Memorial appears to have senior Joe Rotondo at 106 where he would be favored against either Dylan Kelleher or Joseph Conlon and run Santaniello up to 113 to face Zimmerman. If that scenario plays out and Santaniello can win the battle of Shore Conference Tournament finalists it could swing the tide in the Mustangs’ favor.
Long Branch has the advantage up top in spots and can match Brick Memorial’s strengths at 160, 170 and 195, so it will be interesting to see how the team that wins the flip decides to maneuver its lineup.
Prediction: Long Branch
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP 3
2-Ocean (15-7) at 1-South Plainfield (17-7), 7 p.m.
Ocean’s top wrestlers
106: Demetri Poniros, Fr., 17-5
120: Adam Manzo, Sr., 17-9
126: Jack Nies, So., 25-6
132: Alex Poniros, So., 22-5
138: No. 3 Jake Benner, Sr., 27-1
160: Anthony Esposito, Jr., 20-10
South Plainfield’s top wrestlers
106: No. 8 Anthony White, Fr., 29-1
120: David Loniewski, Jr., 14-3
126: Joe Heilmann, Sr., 31-0
132: Thomas Fierro, Jr., 21-7
138: Alex Amato, Jr., 17-12
145: Joe Sacco, Jr., 26-5
195: Luke Niemeyer, Jr., 28-2
220: Zach DelVecchio, Jr., 30-0
Ocean heads to its first sectional since 2014, but to win its seventh sectional title and first since 2012 it will need to pull the upset against the state-ranked Tigers.
South Plainfield has won 14 sectional titles and 10 overall group titles, and although this isn’t a vintage Tigers team, it’s still South Plainfield, and that counts for something. The Tigers are solid in 12 of 14 spots and have hammers at 106, 126, 145, 195 and 220 with White, Heilmann, Sacco, Niemeyer and DelVecchio, respectively. Ocean’s strength is in the lower half of the lineup, led by returning state champion Jake Banner at 138/145 pounds.
Ocean is going to have to win all the toss-up bouts, pull and upset or two and get bonus where it’s favored to pull out the win. This isn’t David vs. Goliath, but the matchups certainly favor South Plainfield. The only wrestled down low for Ocean are Alex Poniros and Benner and South Plainfield has a big advantage up top with Niemeyer and DelVecchio prime candidates to secure six points each.
Prediction: South Plainfield
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP 2
2-Holmdel (24-5) at 1-Raritan (25-2), 7 p.m.
Holmdel’s top wrestlers
106: No. 10 Nick Ammirati, So., 27-5
145: No. 9 Dean Gallo, Jr., 30-2
152: No. 2 Scott Dupont, Sr., 30-2
160: No. 10 Johnny O’Beirne, Sr., 25-6
Raritan’s top wrestlers
132: No. 2 Russell Benson, Sr., 30-2
138: No. 7 A.J. Erven, Sr., 26-5
145: No. 8 Christian Sookdeo, Sr., 25-7
160: No. 3 Anthony Aquilano, Jr., 26-6
182: No. 3 George Burdick, Jr., 29-3
195: No. 10 Justin Acevedo, Jr., 25-7
220: No. 3 Ethan Wolf, Sr., 30-2
285: No. 8 Matt Spirko, Jr., 23-6
Holmdel has made a great run to its first sectional final in program history, but anything other than a Raritan win here would be a galactic upset. These two teams met during the regular season, albeit early in the season on Dec. 18, but Raritan came away with an emphatic 58-13 victory in which it won 11 of the 14 bouts. So many unlikely scenarios would have to transpire for Holmdel to flip the script this time around.
Raritan did the heavy lifting in the semifinals when it blasted state tournament arch rival and defending Group 2 champion Delaware Valley, 50-9.
Some good individual bouts that could happen are Gallo vs. Sookdeo at 145 and O’Beirne vs. Aquilano 160. Sookdeo defeated Gallo, 7-2, in the first meeting while O’Beirne bested Aquilano, 6-4.
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP 1
2-Shore Regional (22-4) at 1-Point Beach (22-3), 7 p.m.
Shore Regional’s top wrestlers
106: No. 7 Jack Maida, Fr., 20-3
113: No. 8 Matt Klemser, Jr., 28-3
120: Brad Smuro, Sr., 23-8
126: No. 6 Al Desantis, So., 27-5
138: Michael McGhee, Fr., 26-6
152: Jarrett Weir, Sr., 26-6
195: Mike Rosati, Sr., 29-6
Point Beach’s top wrestlers
113: Will Jarvis, Sr., 22-7
132: Jesse Bowers, So., 25-3
138: Jude Lovgren, Sr., 19-8
152: No. 7 Jimmy Sherlock, Sr., 25-5
160: No. 6 Jason Sherlock, So., 6-2
The third all-Shore Conference sectional final matchup is also a rematch of a regular-season, divisional match as Class B Central champion Point Beach meets Shore for the second time this season. Point Beach won the first meeting, 40-22, and won eight of the 14 bouts.
The Garnet Gulls are the two-time defending champions in the section and are making their fifth straight appearance in the sectional final. Shore, meanwhile, will be wrestling in its first sectional championship match in 16 years.
Six of the seven Shore wrestlers listed above won in the first meeting, so the big guns took care of business for the Blue Devils the first time around. Where Point Beach won the match was in the stretch from 152 to heavyweight where it won six of seven bouts with four pins and a major decision. Obviously if Shore can turn around a loss or two up top or even limit bonus points it will put the Blue Devils right in the match.
Prediction: Point Beach
SOUTH JERSEY GROUP 5
2-Kingsway (18-5) at 1-Southern (18-2), 7 p.m.
Kingsway’s top wrestlers
113: McKenzie Bell, So., 26-6
120: Cheney Kinner, So., 22-10
126: Finnegan McFadden, Fr., 22-9
138: No. 1 Quinn Kinner, Sr., 32-0
170: Colin Wexler, Sr., 14-3
Southern’s top wrestlers
126: Sebastian Delligatti, Jr., 20-6
132: Robert Woodcock, So., 17-2
138: Matt Barnett, Sr., 10-2
145: Nick Pepe, Jr., 19-5
152: No. 3 Nick O’Connell, Jr., 17-1
182: Vin Miele, Sr., 19-7
220: Matt Mackanic, Sr., 21-2
This season’s South Jersey Group 5 bracket resembles the South Jersey Group 4 brackets of old, which Southern dominated with nine titles in 10 seasons from 2005 to 2014 before the NJSIAA expanded the state tournament to five groups. Southern has 12 sectional titles all-time, the last of which came in 2016 when the Rams also captured the overall Group 5 title. Kingsway has eight sectional titles to its credit, including winning the South Jersey Group 4 championship last season. The Dragons have three overall state titles, the last of which came in 2007.
Injuries have hampered Southern all season, but the Rams always had an eye on being healthy and peaking at this point, and it appears that is exactly what’s happening. State qualifier Matt Barnett has been back in the lineup for weeks now and junior John Stout made his return in the semifinals after being out since Dec. 23. That bodes well for a team that wins with depth along with a grinding, relentless approach.
There are toss-up bouts all over the place and Southern has made a living on winning those matchups over the years. The Rams also have the edge with O’Connell whether he goes out at 152 or 160 pounds and at 220 with the twice-beaten Mackanic. Southern also probably wants to keep Barnett away from Kinner and it’s likely he weights in at 132. Southern has plenty of moves it can make from 132 and up, especially now that Stout is back in the lineup at 170 pounds.
Southern’s path to victory is to do what it does best: win big, lose small and win the toss-up bouts. Kingsway will need all its top wrestlers to win and pick off one of Southern’s top guys, as well. Southern is the favorite, but Kingsway (No. 18 in the NJWWA Top 20) will give the Rams (No. 12) a run in a battle of state-ranked teams.
SOUTH JERSEY GROUP 3
2-Lacey (14-5) at 1-Delsea (13-7), 7 p.m.
Lacey’s top wrestlers
113: Hunter Gutierrez, Jr., 18-3
132: Luke Moynihan, Sr., 24-5
145: No. 7 Luke Gauthier, Sr., 28-0
160: Jackson Brandt, So., 22-8
182: Quint Kearns, Jr., 20-4
195: Vincent Cegile, Fr., 16-9
Delsea’s top wrestlers
106: Asa Walton, Fr., 22-8
138: Tim Spatola, So., 24-7
160: Nick Bennett, Sr., 24-6
170: Mason Maxwell, Sr., 24-7
182: No. 1 Billy Janzer, Sr., 19-0
195: No. 5 Tommy Maxwell, Sr., 26-5
After a thrilling 33-32 victory over Gateway/Woodbury in the semifinals, Lacey tries to bring home its first sectional title in program history when it heads into the depths of South Jersey to take on Delsea. Standing in the Lions way are the 15-time sectional champion Crusaders, who will be looking for their eighth straight South Jersey Group 3 championship.
Delsea lost plenty to graduation following last season’s run to the Group 3 final and have lost seven duals this season, but the Crusaders are still a formidable squad with a great coach in Greg Sawyer. Delsea looks to have the advantage at six weights with Lacey appearing to have the edge in three and five more being toss-ups, the problem for Lacey is that where Delsea is favored it is against one of the Lions’ better wrestlers. Winning the flip will be big to have the ability to move guys around, but there really isn’t a way around the stretch from 160 to 195 with Bennett, Janzer the Maxwell’s. Lacey is going to need wins – and probably bonus – from Gutierrez, Moynihan and Gauthier while winning toss-up bouts to have a chance.
SOUTH JERSEY GROUP 2
2-Haddonfield (20-3) at 1-Point Boro (19-1), 7 p.m.
Haddonfield’s top wrestlers
106: Ryan Bolletino, So., 26-5
126: William Sabia, Sr., 19-8
138: Luke Benedict, So., 24-5
145: Jack Mooney, Sr., 21-6
160: Sean Ellery, Jr., 21-10
170: Chris Bolletino, Sr., 24-2
220: Will Murray, Sr., 26-2
Point Boro’s top wrestlers
113: Ben Sabo, Sr., 28-3
120: Jack Bailey, Fr., 20-9
138: Ty Bailey, So., 22-7
145: Spencer Robinson, Jr., 23-7
152: Francis Marshall, Sr., 27-5
160: John McTaggart, Sr., 20-5
195: Billy Borowsky, Jr., 27-4
220: Gabe Fattizzi, Sr., 22-7
285: Anthony Bonavito, Sr., 23-1
It’s been a special season so far for Point Boro, but this is the moment they’ve been gearing up for more than anything else. The Panthers will wrestle in their first sectional final since 2007, the same year they captured the program’s only sectional championship in this very bracket. Their opponent is chasing history itself as Haddonfield is trying to reign in the program’s first sectional championship.
The amount of potential toss-up bouts here makes the analysis for this match along the lines of former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis’s motto: just win, baby. Ryan Bolletino vs. Sabo at 113, Benedict vs. Ty Bailey at 138, Mooney vs. Robinson at 145 or Mooney vs. Marshall at 152, Ellery vs. McTaggart at 160 and Murray vs. Fattizzi at 220 are potential bouts pitting strength vs. strength, and there are a few other bouts that could go either way. In the few spots either team is favored, bonus points will be massive. The one spot that stands out is at heavyweight where Bonavito will be up against a wrester with a losing record in junior Matthew Pinsky (11-13). Bonavito has done a great job of getting important bonus points all season and the Panthers will looks his way again to deliver in the clutch. Another spot Point Boro has to win is at 170 or 182, whichever weight Chris Bolletino is not at, so the spotlight will be on either Ryan Sansone or Dylan Ippolito against either Michael Carey (170) or Nick DiNoia (182).
Another factor is the status of Sabo, who did not wrestle during the semifinal win over Oakcrest.
Prediction: Point Boro
NON-PUBLIC SOUTH B
2-Holy Spirit (7-11) at 1-Donovan Catholic (14-10), 7 p.m.
Holy Spirit’s top wrestlers
120: Dominic Sacco, Sr., 19-10
152: Connor Boal, Jr., 12-3
160: No. 6 Tim Fitzpatrick, Sr., 27-3
182: Michael Waszen, Sr., 24-6
195: Kurt Driscoll, So., 15-9
285: Dimitris Pali, Sr., 11-5
Donovan Catholic’s top wrestlers
113: Cael Rankin, So., 24-6
138: No. 8 Cristiaan Dailey, Sr., 30-1
152: Conor Panzarella, Sr., 23-1
220: Sal DiSalvo, Sr., 27-4
Holy Spirit is the two-time defending champion in the section and defeated Donovan Catholic, 51-28, in last season’s sectional final. This time the Griffins get the match at home and will try to come away with the first sectional title in program history.
Each team has a few hammers and it doesn’t look like any of them will match up against each other, so both teams will expect their studs to come away with bonus points. From there it’s going to come down to toss-up bouts and which team has more depth, and that appears to be Donovan Catholic by a hair.
Prediction: Donovan Catholic
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.