With the holiday tournament season over and the dual-meet season about to get ramped up, it’s time for the first Shore Sports Network Wrestling Top 10.

There’s no surprise at the top where reigning Group 5 champion Howell begins the season at No. 1 after going wire-to-wire last season. After that, there may or may not be some surprises, depending on your point of view. It’s mostly familiar names but there are some programs looking to enter uncharted territory in the new year. 

 

1. Howell (4-0) 

The two-time defending NJSIAA Group 5 champion Rebels have been as advertised so far this season with a perfect dual-meet record and a strong showing at both tournaments they’ve participated in. Howell crowned seven champions and won the unofficial team title at the season-opening John and Betty Vogeding Tournament at Paulsboro and, most recently, finished 14th at the prestigious Powerade Tournament. The highlight of their dual season thus far is a 32-18 win over Jackson Memorial where they won nine bouts. Junior 170-pounder Shane Reitsma finished third at Powerade while senior Darby Diedrich placed fourth at 138 and senior Christian Murphy finished fifth at 182 while securing his 100th career win in the process. This week: Wednesday at Freehold Township; Friday at No. 5 Middletown North; Saturday vs. CBA and Bound Brook.

 

2. Jackson Memorial (4-1) 

Characterized by a balanced lineup and a hard-nosed, grinding style, the Jaguars are out to a very strong start. A thrilling 28-25 win over rival Southern on Dec. 19 set the tone and the Jaguars have kept the momentum going. They finished third at the Walter Woods Tournament with sophomore Brett Blaess (106), senior Vin Scollo (120) and junior Kyle Epperly (195) taking individual titles and most recently swept a tri-meet with Cherokee and Kingsway. Jackson’s lone blemish is a 32-18 setback to top-ranked Howell. Both Blaess (12-0) and Epperly (10-0) are undefeated and ranked in the top-eight statewide in their respective weight classes by NJ.com. While taking down Southern early was a huge step toward a division title, the A South gauntlet continues with a huge match with Toms River North on Thursday. This week: Thursday at No. 4 Toms River North; Saturday/Sunday at Sam Cali Battle for the Belt.

 

3. Southern (2-2) 

The Rams began the season ranked in the top-five in the state but tumbled a bit following close losses to Jackson Memorial (28-25) and High Point (34-28) over the first week of the season. Still, it’s been a solid start for one of New Jersey’s most consistent winners. Southern shined in tournaments in December, winning its own Robin Leff Invitational with seniors Nick O’Connell (160) and John Stout (182) and juniors Robert Woodcock (138) and J.T. Cornelius (220) winning titles. The Rams also had a great showing at the Hunterdon Central Red Devil Invitational with O’Connell, Stout, Cornelius, senior Nick Pepe (145) and junior Ben LoParo (195) giving them a tournament-high five champions. O’Connell, Stout and Cornelius are each 10-0 entering 2019. This week: Thursday at Brick; Saturday at Mount Olive with Paramus and West Morris.

 

4. Toms River North (4-0)

The Mariners have been ascending for a few years now and have picked up right where they left off last season when they win a district team title. After finishing second to High Point at the season-opening Colt Classic, the Mariners ripped off four straight dual-meet wins, including an eye-opening 48-21 win over defending Central Jersey Group 4 champion Long Branch. North then won the Lenape Valley Tournament with five champions – Louis Gagliardo (106), Nick Reilly (126), Nick Boggiano (138), Matt Spalletta (160) and John O’Donnell (220). They’ve yet to get into the teeth of the A South schedule – which they’ll do this week – but the Mariners have as good a chance as any to take home the division crown. This week: Thursday vs. No. 2 Jackson Memorial; Saturday at Henry Boresch Duals.

 

5. Middletown North (2-1) 

The Lions returned six district medalists, including region champion Tyler Klinsky and fellow state qualifier Jacob Anderson, and so far, have performed well enough to earn a top-five ranking. Middletown North was third at the season-opening Battle at the Bay Tournament with Klinsky (106), junior Thomas O’Keefe (113) and sophomore Nico Cerbo (182) winning individual titles. At the powerful Mustang Classic, Klinsky cruised to the 106-pound title and Anderson finished second at 195 pounds. The Lions’ only blemish came in a 44-21 defeat at the hands of Hunterdon Central. Klinsky is off to a 10-0 start and is state-ranked by NJ.com. This week: Thursday vs. Red Bank; Friday vs. No. 1 Howell; Saturday at Roxbury with No. Ocean and Hopewell Valley.

 

6. Long Branch (3-1)

The Green Wave opened the season with a second-place finish at the Neptune Classic as junior Tracey Taylor (220) and senior Kevin Cerruti (Hwt) each won individual titles. The Green Wave stumbled in a 48-21 loss to Toms River North before placing three wrestlers in the top three at the Mustang Classic. Cerruti and junior Ryan Zimmerman (126) each finished second and Taylor took third. Long Branch is still awaiting the debut of senior Luke Arnold (182), who won 21 bouts last season. Arnold was the starting middle linebacker for Long Branch’s state championship football team and battled through an injury late in the season. This week: Saturday at Marlboro with Freehold and Manalapan.

 

7. Ocean (4-0)

The Spartans won the Wendy Pandy-Leh Invitational to start the season and had three individual champions: senior Anthony Esposito (160) and sophomores Demetri Poniros (113) and Joe Teresi (Hwt). They then opened their dual-meet season with a 46-18 win over Point Boro and added wins over Wall, Red Bank and Matawan. At the Mustang Classic, junior Jack Nies won the 132-pound title and Demetri Poniros took third. Although it’s been a strong start, Ocean did suffer a significant loss when junior Alex Poniros, the state seventh-place finisher at 132 pounds last season, injured his shoulder against Point Boro. He is expected to be out until late January. The B North title will be on the line for Ocean this week with division matches against Colts Neck and Middletown North. This week: Thursday at No. 10 Colts Neck; Saturday at Roxbury with No. 5 Middletown North and Hopewell Valley.

 

8. Raritan (4-1)

A close victory (36-31) over upstart Rumson-Fair Haven on Dec. 22 opened some eyes, but that turned out to be more about Rumson’s improvements than anything else. Raritan began the season with four dual-meet wins before leading all Shore Conference teams with a second-place finish at the Walter Woods Tournament. The Rocket’s lone defeat was 37-31 to Hunterdon Central in a match that came down to the final bout. Raritan has some serious firepower up top with seniors Anthony Aquilano, George Burdick and Justin Acevedo, who are a combined 29-3 so far. Aquilano won Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Walter Woods Tournament by pinning state medalist Corey Fischer of West Deptford to win the 160-pound title. Burdick (182) continues to be a bonus-point machine with nine of his 10 wins coming via fall (the other was a forfeit). Acevedo, a state qualifier last season, is 9-2 at 195 pounds. This week: Thursday at Phillipsburg; Saturday at Wayne Valley with North Hunterdon and West Essex.

 

9. Lacey (4-0) 

The Lions have come out of the gate flying under first-year head coach Justin Bonitatis with a 4-0 record and solid showings at both tournaments. They were third at the Garden State Classic where freshman Brady Carter (106), senior Hunter Gutierrez (132) and junior Jackson Brandt (170) won individual titles. Lacey was second at the Collingswood Tournament with Carter, senior Trevor Krinic (160) and sophomore Vin Ceglie (220) winning titles. Among their four dual-meet wins was a thrilling 31-30 comeback win over Mendham where the Lions scored 22 points in the final five bouts. Lacey hasn’t won a division title since 1999 and can take a huge step toward the B South crown with a win over Point Boro on Friday. This week: Friday at Point Boro; Saturday vs. Rumson-Fair Haven, Jackson Liberty and Manchester.

 

10. Colts Neck (3-0) 

The final spot in the Top 10 goes to the Cougars, who are unbeaten in duals, won a tournament title and had an individual champion at one of the state’s premier tournaments. Colts Neck began the season by winning the Ewing Blue Devil Classic with four champions – sophomore Logan Waller (120), junior Luke Rada (145), sophomore Joe Barsky (160) and senior Michael Jannucci (182). The Cougars scored a 42-30 win over Point Boro before the Mustang Classic, where Rada won the 145-pound title and M.O.W. honors for defeating two state qualifiers en route to the championship. This week: Thursday vs. No. 7 Ocean; Saturday at Brick with Holmdel and Lakewood.

 

Keep an eye on: 

Rumson-Fair Haven (4-2): Rumson is a program on the rise and the early-season results back that up. A 36-31 defeat to Raritan in a match that came down to the final bout turn heads around the Shore and a 36-30 win over Group 1 power Kittatinny was a huge moment for the program. The Bulldogs also finished second to Shore Regional at the Holmdel Holiday Tournament with five champions – junior Tristan Izzo (120), freshman Shay Addison (132), sophomore Max Brignola (138), junior Michael Ponenti (152) and senior Nick Addison (182). Nick Addison, a Stanford recruit, is a state title contender after finishing fourth in the state at 170 pounds last season.

 

Shore (4-0): Could this be the best team in school history? There’s a long way to go, but this has the makings of a special season in West Long Branch. There’s talent up and down the lineup for the Blue Devils, starting with sophomore 106-pounder Jack Maida, who is nationally-ranked. Add in state qualifier Al DeSantis, district medalists Mike McGhee and Taylor Sousa, seniors Jack McCrae, Matt Klemser and Ian Smith, sophomore Cade Torres and talented freshman Jamie Mazzacco and it's easy to see why Shore is unbeaten and won the Holmdel Holiday Tournament. They’ll take on Point Beach this week on the de facto Class B Central division championship match.

 

St. John Vianney (0-0): Depth is again an issue for the Lancers, but where they’re good they are very good. Sophomore Dean Peterson, a returning state runner-up,  is nationally-ranked at 113 pounds and senior Paul Liseno is one of the best heavyweights in the state. Sophomore’s Joey Butler (126), Seth Rotondella (132) and Blake Clayton (170) are also ones to watch. Whether SJV has enough balance to repeat as A Central champion remains to be seen, but they are no doubt a dangerous team.

 

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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