The first two weeks and change of the wrestling season is all over the place with mostly tournaments, some duals and a whole lot of guessing. Most wrestlers aren’t down to the weight they’ll be competing at for the bulk of the season and lineups are in constant flux because of it. Nothing is decided in December, and I like to think of the (half) month as one big preview.

That brings us to the first Shore Sports Network Wrestling Top 10 of the season. What we thought heading into the season has remained largely unchanged. Howell is the top dog by a what looks like a pretty wide margin, Raritan and Southern have deep and balanced lineups and Long Branch and Middletown North are right behind them in that department. What we’ve learned is that you can add Point Boro to that group as well. The Panthers have proven they have the balance and firepower to win duals and tournaments. Speaking of firepower, St. John Vianney has shown it has the hammers to put a scare into just about anybody in the Shore.

Familiar names like Brick Memorial, Jackson and Ocean round out the rankings, but it’s not hard to envision scenarios where a handful of other teams make a claim for a spot in the top 10 in the coming weeks.

1. Howell (9-0)

The Rebels have opened the season as expected with a dominant showing at the John and Betty Vogeding Tournament and an 8-0 dual-meet record, which includes going 6-0 in Florida to win their pool at the Disney Duals. They have five starters (Ethan Liptzin, Darby Diedrich, Kyle Slendorn, Paul Jakub and Shane Reitsma) with undefeated records and six others (Jerry Lleshi, Luke Rada, Dan Esposito, Xavier Kelly, Evan Richard and Christian Murphy) with only one loss. This week: Wednesday vs. Marlboro; Saturday vs. Kittatinny and West Deptford.

 

2. Raritan (6-1)

The Rockets began the season in Pennsylvania and came home with the team title at the Kurt Meister Invitational, then won three straight duals against Holmdel, Wall and Bound Brook. A 33-23 setback to Seton Hall Prep could not derail them, however, as they responded by winning the Hawk Classic with seven individual champions and sweeping a quad with Cherokee, Kingsway and Jackson. Seniors Russell Benson (11-1), A.J. Erven (12-0) and Ethan Wolf (12-0), and junior George Burdick (9-1) are all off to strong starts. This week: Thursday at Phillipsburg; Saturday at Wayne Valley w/ North Hunterdon and West Essex.

 

3. Southern (4-1)

Southern christened the season with a 31-21 victory over A South rival Brick Memorial before having seven top-three finishers, including champions Sebastian Delligatti and Nick O’Connell, in their own Robin Leff Tournament. A 28-25 loss to High Point is the only blemish so far on the Rams’ record, as they followed the Robin Leff with wins over Atlantic City, Woodstown and Toms River South. Southern is still without senior Matt Barnett, a two-time state qualifier, who was injured late in the football season and has yet to make his season debut. O’Connell and fellow junior John Stout did not wrestle in the Hunterdon Central Tournament or the dual vs. Toms River South, so their availability for this week remains to be seen. This week: Wednesday at Toms River East; Friday vs. Central; Saturday at Mount Olive with West Morris and Paramus.

 

4. St. John Vianney (2-0)

The Lancers have wrestled in just two duals — defeating Manchester and Monmouth — but it is in tournaments where the they have shined, including opening eyes around the state by crowning a tournament-high four champions at the Mustang Classic. St. John Vianney does not have a lot of depth and there are some holes in its lineup, but the Lancers have several hammers throughout the lineup which may carry them a long way. Freshman phenom Dean Peterson has been as good as advertised with a 9-0 record while senior Steven Giannios is 8-0 and junior heavyweight Paul Liseno is 4-0. Liseno was dominant in winning the Mustang Classic with three pins, including a pair of falls in just eight seconds. Sophomore Tyler Pepe (7-1), senior Charlie Peterson (7-2) and senior Nick Caracappa (7-1) are all off to strong starts, as well. When state qualifier Josiah Walker makes his season debut it will give the Lancers another hammer up top. This week: Wednesday vs. Red Bank; Friday vs. St. Peter’s Prep; Saturday at Old Bridge with Sayreville and Pingry.

 

5. Point Boro (6-0)

With a deep and balanced lineup Point Boro has gotten off to one of its best starts in years with a 6-0 record and team titles at the TCNJ Pride Tournament and Walter Woods Tournament. Among their six dual-meet victories was a 35-16 win over Jackson Memorial, the Panthers’ first over the Jaguars since at least 1983. Senior heavyweight Anthony Bonavito is 9-0 while seniors Ben Sabo (11-1) and Francis Marshall (11-2), and juniors Billy Borowsky (10-1) and Spencer Robinson (9-2) have been hot out of the gate. This week: Wednesday vs. Pinelands; Saturday at Elizabeth Minutemen Tournament.

 

6. Long Branch (3-1)

The Green Wave won the Neptune Classic team title, defeated Middletown South and Middletown North and then took second place at the Hawk Classic before falling to Watchung Hills. The 31-28 win over Middletown North was key vital in the race for the B North division title as Long Branch can basically clinch the crown with a win over Ocean on Wednesday. Sophomore 113-pounder Ryan Zimmerman has been tremendous with a 7-0 record, including a thrilling 7-4 win over Middletown North’s Tyler Klinsky, last season’s Region 5 106-pound champ. Junior heavyweight Kevin Cerruti is also 7-0 with titles at the Neptune Classic and Hawk Classic. The Green Wave have been without standout junior Luke Arnold since the season-opening Neptune Classic. He’s a big presence in the lineup at 170 pounds, so his return, whenever it comes, will be a major boost. This week: Wednesday vs. No. 10 Ocean; Friday at Manasquan; Saturday at Timber Creek with Woodbridge, Lenape and Woodstown.

 

7. Middletown North (4-3)

The Lions have had an up and down start to the season, but that has more to do with a challenging schedule than anything else. Middletown North started the season with a first-place finish at the Battle of the Bay tournament have dual-meet victories over Wall, Hillsborough, Bishop Ahr and Piscataway. Their losses have come to Long Branch, Hunterdon Central and Seton Hall Prep - all of which were by nine points or less. Seniors Nicko Cofone (12-1) and Stanley Wojdylak (11-1) and junior Jacob Anderson (7-0)  have been great so far while the 1-2-3 punch of Tyler Klinsky, Thomas O’Keefe and Freddy Luchs at 106, 113 and 120 are a combined 29-7. Next week: Wednesday vs. Red Bank Catholic; Saturday at No. 10 Ocean with Hopewell Valley and Roxbury.

 

8. Brick Memorial (4-1)

The Mustangs began the season with just one region qualifier, senior Joe Rotondo, but improvements up and down the lineup have Brick Memorial trending upward. Following a season-opening 31-21 loss to Southern, the Mustangs placed second behind Point Boro at the TCNJ Pride Tournament and picked up dual-meet wins over Notre Dame, Toms River North, Shore and Hamilton. Freshman 106-pounder Vincent Santaniello has emerged as a buzzsaw with a 12-1 record (his only loss is to St. John Vianney’s Dean Peterson, 4-2) and senior Sam Williams has also started strong with an 8-2 record. This week: Wednesday at No. 9 Jackson Memorial; Thursday vs. Lacey; Saturday vs. Bordentown and Robbinsville.

 

9. Jackson Memorial (2-3)

The Jaguars have struggled out of the gate, due in large part to a slew of injuries. After having five wrestlers place in the top three at the Robin Leff Invitational, including 106-pound chap Vin Scollo, and defeating Toms River East, Jackson lost to Point Boro, 35-16, and placed ninth at the Walter Woods Tournament. The Jags defeated Cherokee but lost to Raritan and Kingsway during a quad. Still, the belief is that Jackson will get healthy and turn things back around and begin to wrestle at its usual level. Senior Nick Tomasiello and junior Brandon Burkert have yet to make their season debuts, and when they do return it will help round out Jackson’s lineup. Sophomore Kyle Epperly (9-2), Scollo (6-2) and senior Dave Lemay (6-2) have led the way for the Jags so far. This week: Wednesday vs. No. 8 Brick Memorial; Friday at South Plainfield; Saturday at Fair Lawn with Westfield.

 

10. Ocean (5-2)

The Spartans finished second at the Wendy Pandy-Leh Tournament to open the season and own dual-meet wins over Manasquan, Northern Burlington, Monmouth, Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic. Their two losses came to Pope John and Camden Catholic at the Kingsway Duals. Returning state champ Jake Benner lost to Pope John’s Robert Garcia but the Rutgers recruit remains a state title contender again this season. Sophomore Jack Nies is off to a very good start with a 12-2 record. Ocean can make some noise this week when it takes on division rivals Long Branch and Middletown North. This week: Wednesday at No. 6 Long Branch; Saturday vs. No. 7 Middletown North, Hopewell Valley and Roxbury.

 

Teams to Watch

Manalapan (5-0): The Braves have wins over CBA, Neptune, Holmdel, Nottingham and Allentown while also finishing third at the Nottingham Invitational and second at the Walter Woods Tournament. Senior A.J. Sortino leads the way with a 10-1 record while Matt Benedetti (8-1, Kareem Ghaida (7-1), Paul Santomarco (8-2) and Anthony Coposky have also started the season in strong fashion. This week: Wednesday vs. Freehold Township; Saturday at Jackson Liberty with Colts Neck and Freehold.

Lacey (2-2): The Lions have wins over Pinelands and Old Bridge with losses to Williamstown and Cherokee. They also placed third at both the TCNJ Pride Tournament and the Collingwood Tournament. Lacey has some hammers in the lineup, led by state fifth-place finisher Hunter Gutierrez along with seniors Luke Moynihan (8-2) and Luke Gauthier (10-0). Sophomore Jackson Brandt (9-3) has started strong, Manchester transfer Quint Kearns (8-2) has made an immediate impact and freshman Vincent Cegile (8-2) has been solid at 195 pounds. They’ll have a chance to make a dent in the top 10 when they take on Brick Memorial on Thursday. This week: Wednesday vs. Manchester; Thursday at No. 8 Brick Memorial; Saturday vs. Rumson-Fair Haven.

 

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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