Heading into the year the record book for St. John Vianney’s wrestling program was a short read, but in one season the Lancers added several pages with an all-time season that got the attention of both the Shore Conference and New Jersey.

The man at the center of it all is already a Shore Conference legend and a Hall of Famer. Denny D’Andrea took over as St. John Vianney’s head coach in 2014, and since then the Lancers have been on a steady climb in the Shore. This year they broke through with the program’s first division, conference and district titles while experiencing unprecedented success at the state tournament. For guiding St. John Vianney to arguably its best season in program history, D’Andrea is the Shore Sports Network’s choice for the 2017-2018 Shore Conference Wrestling Coach of the Year.

St. John Vianney captured the team title at the inaugural Shore Conference Individual Championships. (Photo by Steve Meyer).

D’Andrea had accomplished pretty much everything as the head coach at Manalapan and an assistant coach at Brick Memorial during his Hall of Fame career, so it wasn’t like he had anything left to prove when he took the reins of the Lancers five seasons ago. D’Andrea came back for the love of the sport and a chance to make an impact in the lives of young men, and with his longtime friend and coaching mate Tony Caravella by his side, he’s done exactly that.

With state qualifiers Nick Caracappa, Steven Giannios, Josiah Walker and Tyler Pepe returning along with the addition of freshman phenom Dean Peterson and Keansburg transfer Paul Liseno, the potential was certainly there for the Lancers to have a breakthrough season. The Lancers had three champions at the season-opening Robin Leff Invitational, but it was at the Mustang Classic where SJV first made waves and put the state on notice. Peterson, Caracappa, Giannios and Liseno each won titles while Pepe was second and senior Charles Peterson was third. The Lancers were the story of the tournament, and that was only the beginning.

St. John Vianney then finished second at the star-studded Sam Cali Invitational with Peterson and Caracappa winning individual titles. What followed was arguably the biggest dual-meet victory in program history, a 31-29 victory over Raritan that put them in the driver’s seat to eventually win the Class A Central division title for the first time in program history.

At the first Shore Conference Individual Championships, the Lancers showcased their firepower by crowning four champions, one runner-up and two third-place finishers to out-point Howell for the team title. Peterson, Caracappa, Giannios and Liseno each secured SCT titles, Pepe took second and Charles Peterson and Walker placed third.

The Lancers’ quest for a state sectional title came to an end via a 37-31 loss to St. Augustine in the Non-Public A semifinals, however, the team was about to go on an unprecedented run in the individual postseason. At the District 19 Tournament, Dean Peterson, Charles Peterson, freshman Blake Clayton, Giannios and Liseno each won district titles while five others finished in the top three to advance to the Region 5 Tournament, giving SJV its first district team championship.

Caracappa then became the Lancers’ first two-time region champion by winning the 170-pound title while Peterson and Giannios finished second and Pepe wrestled back for fourth to advance to the state tournament.

Prior to this season’s trip to Atlantic City, just three St. John Vianney wrestlers had earned a state medal and all three finished either eighth or seventh/eighth. That previous high-water mark was blown out of the water as Peterson became the Lancers’ first state finalist and placed second at 106 pounds, Caracappa took third at 170 and Giannios finished fourth at 220.

The Lancers lose an important senior class of Caracappa, Giannios, Walker and Charles Peterson, but will return eight starters next season and should once again be championship contenders. From his time at Manalapan and Brick Memorial, D’Andrea knows how a program is built into a powerhouse, and he’s doing it again at St. John Vianney. The old man can still coach with the best of them.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.

 

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