Wrestling – Shore Conference Tournament Preview and Predictions
When wrestling begins on a swath of eight mats Friday night at Red Bank Regional High School it will mark the dawn of a new era in the Shore Conference.
This Friday and Saturday the Shore Conference will host the first individual Shore Conference Tournament, replacing what had become New Jersey’s only conference or county tournament in dual meet form. The SCT in its prior form was contested from 1975 to 2017 (there was no tournament in 1992 because of a herpes outbreak or in 1994 because of a severe snowstorm), starting with Toms River South’s 26-17 win over Jackson Memorial and concluding with Howell’s 36-24 win over Raritan last season. Brick Memorial has the most team titles all-time with 15, including an incredible 10 in a row from 1985 to 1996, while Jackson Memorial has six and Toms River South has four.
The dual-meet style worked for many years but had grown stale in recent seasons. An individual SCT was never considered because the NJSIAA Region 6 Tournament, which was comprised exclusively of the Shore’s wrestling teams, was essentially a Shore Conference Tournament. But when the NJSIAA realigned its districts prior to the 2016-2017 season it split the Shore into Regions 5, 6, 7 and 8. No longer were all the Shore’s teams in one region, and that opened the door for changing the SCT from a team to an individual tournament.
Below we will preview each weight class and offer our picks on who we think will leave Red Bank on Saturday night as SCT champions. Team scores will be kept, so in addition to the 14 individual champions there will also be a team champion. There have been several wrestlers pull out of the tournament since it was initially seeded on Tuesday, and those updates along with the seeds/brackets can be seen right here.
At Red Bank Regional
Friday, Jan. 26
Weight check, 2:30 p.m.
Weigh-ins and skin check, 3 p.m.
First round, 5 p.m. (eight mats)
Round of 16, 6:30 p.m. (8 mats)
Saturday, Jan. 27
Weight check, 7:30 a.m.
Weigh-ins and skin check, 8 a.m.
Quarterfinals, 10 a.m. (4 mats)
Semifinals, 1 p.m. (2 mats)
Finals and third-place bouts, 3:30 p.m. (2 mats)
Favorite: 1-Dean Peterson, Fr., St. John Vianney
Contenders: 2-Vinnie Scollo, Jr., Jackson Memorial; 3-Vin Santaniello, Fr., Brick Memorial; 9-Jesse Liptzin, Sr., Howell; 4-Thomas O’Keefe, So., Middletown North.
Darkhorse: 6-Jack Maida, Fr., Shore
Peterson entered high school with a ton of hype following a tremendous youth career and so far, he has lived up to the billing with a 21-0 record, a top-eight ranking in New Jersey and a top-20 ranking nationally. He has a win Santaniello in the Mustang Classic final plus a win over Don Bosco Prep state medalist Justin Bierdumpfel and Allentown state qualifier Joey Lamparelli. There is a lot of talent in this weight class but Peterson clearly leads the way. Santaniello’s only loss is to Peterson and he has a win over Maida, a win over O’Keefe and a win over Middletown North 113-pounder Tyler Klinsky. Maida’s only loss is to Santaniello. Liptzin didn’t make his season debut until Jan. 3, which is one of the reasons he is seeded No. 9. He did just beat O’Keefe, 1-0, and his only losses are to Northern Burlington’s Travis Kotelnicki and South Plainfield undefeated freshman Anthony White, but he’ll have to face Peterson in the quarterfinals and there are no wrestleback rounds, only a third-place bout.
Prediction: 1-Peterson, 2-Santaniello, 3-Scollo.
Favorite: 5-Hunter Gutierrez, Jr., Lacey
Contender: 1-Ben Sabo, Sr., Point Boro; 2-Ryan Zimmerman, So., Long Branch; 3-Tyler Klinksy, So., Middletown North; 4-Sean Foley, Sr., Barnegat; 6-Nico Messina, So., Freehold.
Darkhorse: 10-Ethan Liptzin, So., Howell
This was the weight that got a lot of people up in arms regarding the seeding process as Gutierrez, the fifth-place finisher in the state tournament at 106 pounds last season, is the No. 5 seed. It is a very deep weight with five state qualifiers. Sabo isn’t one of them, but he has had a great season with plenty of quality wins and a 24-1 record, which gave him the number of points to be pre-seeded No. 1. The odds of the seeds holding up here are unlikely given the depth from one through six. Sabo look looks like a good bet to reach the semifinals and Gutierrez will be favored over Foley, but the other two potential quarterfinals should be great with Klinsky and Messina and Zimmerman vs. Liptzin/Donovan Catholic’s Cael Rankin.
Prediction: 1-Gutierrez, 2-Messina, 3-Zimmerman.
Favorite: 1-Rich Koehler, Sr., CBA
Contenders: 2-Joey King, Sr., Colts Neck; 3-Tyler Pepe, So., St. John Vianney; 4-Michael Conklin, Fr., Toms River East; 5-Adam Manzo, Sr., Ocean; 6-Fred Luchs, So., Middletown North.
Darkhorse: 7-Jerry Lleshi, Sr., Howell
All sings point to another matchup between King and Koehler, who have met three times in the last two seasons with Koehler winning all three. Koehler won last season’s Region 6 title, 4-3, and won this season’s matchup, 5-1. Koehler was the state sixth-place finisher at 106 as a freshman and both are returning state qualifiers. So, who can disrupt a fourth meeting between the two? In the top bracket, Koehler’s main challenger looks to be Conklin, who has posted some impressive wins this season including pinning Manzo in 32 seconds. Pepe and Luchs should be a good quarterfinal, but the question is can either challenge King, who beat Pepe, 9-2, at the Mustang Classic.
Prediction: 1-Koehler, 2-King, 3-Pepe.
Favorite: 1-Darby Diedrich, Jr., Howell
Contenders: 2-Max Brignola, Fr., Rumson-Fair Haven; 3-Dyon Womack, Sr., Colts Neck; 4-Josh Bollard, Sr., Jackson Liberty; 6-Jack Nies, So., Ocean; 7-Al Desantis, So., Shore.
Darkhorses: 5-Chris Dean, Sr., Long Branch; 8-Paul Santomarco, Jr., Manalapan; 14-Seth Rotondella, Fr., St. John Vianney.
Diedrich, the state seventh-place finisher at 120 pounds last season, is the clear favorite to take the title. After that, it’s pretty wide open with any head-to-head results from the remaining contenders/darkhorses being close. Santomarco has been red-hot lately, including a win over Nies, but he is slated to see Diedrich in the quarterfinals. The other three potential quarterfinals between Dean/Bollard, Womack/Nies and Desantis/Brignola are very intriguing and could go either way. I think most pick Diedrich to win but the remaining two spots could be all over the place.
Prediction: 1-Dedrich, 2-Womack; 3-Brignola
Favorite: Kyle Slendorn, Sr., Howell
Contenders: 2-Luke Moynihan, Sr., Lacey; 3-Alex Poniros, So., Ocean; 4-Charles Peterson, Sr., St. John Vianney; 5-Kareem Ghiada, Jr., Manalapan; 6-Russell Benson, Sr., Raritan.
Darkhorse: 7-Sam LaCorte, Jr., CBA
This is another weight that had people scratching their heads. Slendorn, the state runner-up at 126 pounds last season, was the obvious No. 1, but Benson, a two-time top-12 finisher at the state tournament, is all the way down at the No. 6 seed based on points. He is on the opposite side of the bracket from Slendorn, so in that respect it’s not the worst scenario. A quarterfinal bout between Benson and Poniros should be a good one. Moynihan is a returning state qualifier but LaCorte is solid and will look to play spoiler. The round of 16 bout between Long Branch’s Steve Pabone and Toms River South’s Nick Gallicchio could be sneaky-good, but the winner’s reward is a date with Slendorn on Saturday morning. Peterson and Ghiada will likely meet in the quarterfinals with a chance at a medal on the line.
Prediction: 1-Slendorn, 2-Benson, 3-Moynihan.
Favorite: 1-Jake Benner, Sr., Ocean
Contenders: 2-Dan Esposito, Sr., Howell; 3-Nick Boggiano; 4-Riley Cheong, Jr., Toms River South; 5-Cristiaan Dailey, Sr., Donovan Catholic.
Darkhorse: 10-Caleb Alvarado, Jr., Brick Memorial
Benner is the defending 138-pound state champion, so if anyone besides him wins this bracket it would be a monumental upset. That means for anyone in the top bracket with him – Cheong, Dailey, Manalapan’s Alex Baran and Point Boro’s Ty Bailey – it’s going to be a steep uphill climb. Esposito is a strong No. 2 seed but look out for Alvarado, who is a big-move waiting to happen. The potential quarterfinals between Daily and Cheong and Boggiano and Raritan’s A.J. Erven have some juice.
Prediction: 1-Benner, 2-Esposito; 3-Boggiano
Favorite: 1-Jack Kelly, Sr., Wall
Contenders: 2-Luke Gauthier, Sr., Lacey; 3-Spencer Robinson, Jr., Point Boro; 4-Anthony Coposky, Sr., Manalapan.
Darkhorse: 5-Paul Jakub, Fr., Howell
Kelly has been a point-scoring machine this season whose only loss was to Ocean’s Jake Benner, 4-2. Kelly is a three-time district medalist, but he’s taken his game to a new level this season and is the rightful No. 1 seed. Gauthier and Robinson are both state qualifiers and will likely meet in the semifinals, although Ocean’s Saif Ali could spoil Robinson’s run in the quarterfinals. Jakub is the real wild card here because when he’s on he looks like he can beat anybody and he’s still only a freshman. The common result with Kelly is Robbinsville’s Tyler Williams, who Jakub lost to and Kelly majored, however, so it looks to be a tall order even if he gets past Coposky in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: 1-Kelly, 2-Gauthier, 3-Jakub
Favorite: 1-Cole Corrigan, Sr., Toms River South
Contenders: 2-Stanley Wojdylak, Sr., Middletown North; 3-Scott Dupont, Sr., Holmdel; 4-Francis Marshall, Sr., Point Boro; 5-Xavier Kelly, Jr., Howell.
Darkhorse: Jake Whitworth, Fr., Wall
Corrigan, a three-time state qualifier and state medalist as a freshman, is the big favorite in a weight that is very deep one through eight. Corrigan is 20-0 and has already pinned Marshall twice, so being in the top bracket with him doesn’t leave much hope in terms of reaching the final. It’s especially tough for Long Branch’s Luke Arnold, who, as the No. 8 seed, is slated to see Corrigan in the quarterfinals and won’t get an opportunity to medal if he indeed loses there. The 4-5 matchup between Kelly and Marshall has the potential to be a very fun, high-scoring quarterfinal bout between two wrestlers who are very athletic and good on their feet. Whitworth has wrestled very well as a freshman and should give Dupont a good run in the quarterfinals. Either Whitworth or Dupont squaring off against Wojdylak in the semifinals is a really good matchup.
Prediction: 1-Corrigan, 2-Dupont, 3-Marshall
Favorite: Rob Kanniard, Jr., Wall
Contenders: Matt Benedetti, So., Manalapan; 3-Johnny O’Beirne, Sr., Holmdel; 4-John McTaggart, Sr., Point Boro.
Darkhorse: 6-Anthony Aquilano, Jr., Raritan
Not to say no one else has a chance, but this is Rob Kanniard’s weight to lose in the most certain terms. Kanniard, the fourth-place finisher in the state at 152 pounds last year, has been a buzzsaw this year and enters with 24-0 record. It would be utterly shocking if he doesn’t win and do so with ease. Obviously being in the bottom bracket is advantageous to avoid Kanniard until the final so it will be an easier road for the likes of Benedetti, O’Beirne and even Aquilano.
Prediction: 1-Kanniard, 2-Benedetti, 3-O’Beirne
Favorite: 1-Shane Reitsma, So., Howell
Contenders: 2-Nick Caracappa, Sr., St. John Vianney; 3-Kyle Hillermeier, Sr., Freehold Township; 4-Nick Addison, Jr., Rumson-Fair Haven.
Darkhorse: 5-Dan Santos-Silva, Sr., Long Branch
The 170-pound bracket is right up there with the best weights in the entire SCT thanks to a stellar top for that features three state qualifiers. It looks like it’s going to be difficult for anyone outside of the top four to make the semifinals given how well they’ve wrestled this year. If the seeds hold the semifinals should be very good, especially a potential Reitsma vs. Addison bout. Addison has been looking for big matches all year and he’ll get his chance this weekend. A bout between Reitsma and Caracappa, which would happen in the championship match, seems like it’s been in the making since last season when both were top-12 finishers at the state tournament.
Prediction: 1-Reitsma, 2-Caracappa, 3-Addison
Favorite: 1-Nicko Cofone, Sr., Middletown North
Contenders: 2-Christian Murphy, Jr., Howell; 3-Kyle Epperly, So., Jackson Memorial; 4-George Burdick, Jr., Raritan.
Darkhorse: 6-Jack Hardzewicz, Sr., Middletown South
Cofone has been dynamite this season with several big wins and his only two losses coming to Paulsboro state medalist Santino Morino and St. Joseph (Montvale) top-12 finisher Garrett Beam. It’s shaping up to be Cofone vs. Burdick in the top bracket semifinals, which would be a good one. Burdick is coming off a loss to Cofone’s teammate, Jacob Anderson, up a weight at 195 but recently had bonus-point wins over state qualifiers Josiah Walker and Kaylon Bradley, so he’s certainly capable of the upset. Murphy gets lost in Howell’s powerful lineup but he has been a hammer this season and should have no issue reaching the final. The probable quarterfinals of Epperly and Hardzewicz is intriguing.
Prediction: 1-Cofone, 2-Murphy, 3-Burdick
Favorite: 1-Pete Wersinger, Sr., Long Branch
Contenders: 3-Eric Quartey, Sr., Freehold Township, 4-Sam Williams, Sr., Brick Memorial; 5-Billy Borowsky, Jr., Point Boro; 7-Josiah Walker, Sr., St. John Vianney.
Darkhorse: 2-Rashaun Hansford, Sr., Howell
The No. 2 seed being looked at as a sleeper tells you all you need to know about this weight class. Hansford became the unlikely No. 2 seed because of a win over Quartey by disqualification (headgear violation) and no losses to anyone else on the board. Still, this is a pretty wide-open weight where any of the top five seeds plus Walker, a returning state qualifier, have a legitimate chance to take the title. This could definitely come down to the flip of the disk in ultimate tiebreaker in several bouts.
Prediction: 1-Borowsky, 2-Quartey, 3-Wersinger
Favorite: 2-Steven Giannios, Sr., St. John Vianney
Contenders: 1-Ethan Wolf, Sr., Raritan; 3-Cameron DiGiorgio, Sr., CBA; Sal DiSalvo, Sr., Donovan Catholic.
Darkhorse: 6-Gabe Fattizzi, Sr., Point Boro
Although Wolf is the No. 1 seed, Giannios is a returning state qualifier who defeated Wolf last season. The odds of both reaching the final seem to be pretty good, although this is a fairly deep weight class with solid wrestlers through the first eight seeds. I do think the top four seeds reach the semifinals, however, with the one possible exception being the potential quarterfinals between DiGiorgio and Fattizzi.
Prediction: 1-Giannios, 2-Wolf, 3-DiSalvo.
Favorite: 3-Paul Liseno, Jr., St. John Vianney
Contenders: 1-Kevin Cerruti, Jr., Long Branch; 2-Anthony Bonavito, Sr., Point Boro; 4-Austin Dewise, Sr., Middletown North; 5-Adam Markman, Sr., Middletown South.
Darkhorse: 15-Scott Prendergast, Sr., Howell
Liseno has been a monster this season with 11 pins, nine of which have come in the first period. His only defeats came at the Sam Cali Invitational and another was by injury default. He also has a win over Raritan’s Ethan Wolf, the top seed at 220 pounds. He has the scary combination of size, athleticism and the ability to score like a wrestler at a lower weight class. Cerruti and Bonavito are both returning state qualifiers who will push for the top spot. Dewise and Markman are solid, as well, and it’s heavyweight where anything can happen. What better weight to pick the No. 15 seed as a sleeper to medal.
Prediction: 1-Liseno, 2-Cerruti, 3-Bonavito.
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.