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Finally, the Shore Conference wrestling season is about to begin.

It will not be the same season we’re accustomed to, but on Tuesday, March 16, the first matches will be held and we’ll be off and running for a six-week sprint that will culminate with the NJSIAA Championships on April 24 and 25.

Teams are limited to a maximum of 15 dual meets and there will be no tri or quad meets. There will also be no NJSIAA Team Tournament, so area teams will have to prove themselves with their division schedule and, in the case of the powerhouse teams, some key non-divisional and non-conference matchups. With programs like Southern Regional, Brick Memorial and Howell, the Shore Conference will once again feature some of New Jersey’s best teams.

COVID-19 statistics are improving throughout the region but there are still restrictions on spectators for indoor sporting events. As of now, that means only parents will be allowed to attend matches in person. Maybe that changes during the season. Nearly every school in the Shore has set up their gyms to live stream their events and there are also several outdoor matches scheduled, which is great news for wrestling fans because there are some outstanding, must-see matches on the 2021 schedule.

So whether in person or in the comfort of your own home, these are the can’t-miss, must-see wrestling matches for the 2021 season.

 

March 16 – Manalapan at Christian Brothers Academy

Manalapan has been steadily on the rise and in 2020 finally broke through to win the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 5 title (its first sectional title since 1992) and reach the Group 5 final. The Braves lost a lot to graduation, including state fourth-place medalist Matt Benedetti, but bring back state top-12 finisher Gavin Claro at 220 pounds and a total of six region qualifiers. CBA saw its stock rise sharply and then fall almost as fast over the last five seasons, but the Colts are certainly on their way back up under second-year head coach Billy Ashnault. All of their heavy-hitters return, including the outstanding sophomore trio of Julian George (132/138), Zander Silva (152) and Tyler Barrett (160), all of whom were state qualifiers as freshmen. The Colts also welcome in junior Garrett Totten, who transferred from Northern Burlington after finishing seventh in the state last season. The Colts actually beat Manalapan last season in a final-bout thriller and we’ll immediately find out if they’ve taken the next step to become a division challenger to Howell’s Class A North throne.

 

March 17 – Shore at Point Beach

Either Shore or Point Beach has won the Class B Central division title in 22 of the last 24 years and the regular-season match between the two has usually been the deciding factor. The Garnet Gulls got the upper hand last season with a 45-23 victory and have been the division standard for the better part of two decades, but it’s been an even battle over the past five seasons.

Point Beach is one of the smallest schools in the Shore but always has great numbers in the room, and they’ll need that depth after suffering several key losses to graduation, including state seventh-place finisher Jason Sherlock, state qualifier Liam Buday and region medalists Jesse Bowers and Jared Kerr. Senior Riley Simon (145/152) is the leading returner after qualifying for the state tournament last season while seniors Kip Lovgren (160), Jason Schulz (170) and Macky Liotta (182) were all district medalists last season.

Shore graduated the program’s all-time wins leader, state seventh-place finisher Al DeSantis, but returns two hammers in seniors Jack Maida (132) and Mike McGhee (160) and welcome junior Jamie Mazzacco back to the lineup after an injury prevented him from competing as a sophomore following a 30-win freshman season. Senior Brendan Nichols (106) and juniors Gabe Scalise (138) and Jake Herschenfeld (145) are also back after posting 20 or more wins last season. A division title is the only team award that can be claimed in 2021 so this match is even more important than usual.

 

March 20 – Red Bank at Shore

Ardent fans of Shore Conference wrestling may be wondering why this match is on the list. Here’s why: it will be held outdoors on Shore’s Feeney Field and is scheduled to be the first outdoor wrestling match in Shore Conference history. Since it will be held outside, there’s a good possibility additional fans other than parents will be permitted to attend, although that has not yet been confirmed. It will also be the first time wrestlers, coaches and fans will have to check the weather report before a match. In West Long Branch, the current forecast calls for a chance of showers in the morning with highs in the mid-40s. Shore head coach Dave Porta said the match will happen, rain or shine. It will definitely be a unique atmosphere.

 

March 20 – Brick Memorial at Rumson-Fair Haven

The first titanic battle of the season comes on the first Saturday of the season when the Mustangs will travel north to meet the Bulldogs in a very intriguing matchup.

Brick Memorial could be the top public school in the state and will certainly be in the running thanks to its three returning state finalists, two impact transfers and experience up and down the lineup. The Mustangs have a scary first seven that begins with Point Boro transfer Lucas Torre, a returning state qualifier, at 106 and continues with Brick transfer Evan Tallmadge, the state fourth-place finisher at 106 last season, at 113 pounds. At 120 is sophomore Anthony Santaniello, the state-runner up at 106 last season, and at 126 is senior Vincent Santaniello, the state-runner up at 120 last season and a three-time state medalist. Junior Braden Scott and seniors Nick Torre and Victor DiPianta round out the stretch from 106 to 145. There are several wrestlers looking to take the next step between 152 and 220 leading into senior David Szuba at heavyweight. Szuba is a returning state runner-up (195) and is ranked in the top 10 in the nation at 285 pounds.

So where’s the drama?

While Rumson can’t match Brick Memorial down low (who can?) They do have junior Aidan Shaughnessy, a returning state qualifier, at 120 who will try to prevent bonus points. The Bulldogs will look to take advantage up top where they are loaded from 152-182 with senior Max Brignola (8th in NJ at 145 last season), senior Tyler Brignola (state qualifier), junior Shay Addison (5th in NJ at 160) and senior Jack Kelly (5th in NJ at 170). There’s also promising freshman Hudson Skove (yes, those Skoves) at 195 pounds. Brick Memorial is definitely the favorite, but Rumson has the firepower to make things interesting. Like most big duals, it’s going to come down to bonus points and toss-up bouts.

 

March 24 – Ocean at Rumson-Fair Haven

Division realignment has moved Ocean from Class B North into Class A Central and that means some new and interesting division matches. These two teams plus Raritan and St. John Vianney should be in the running for the division title so this could end up being the match that decides the champion.

The aforementioned Bulldogs (see above) are loaded up top with Max Brignola at 152, Tyler Brignola at 160, Shay Addison at 170 and Jack Kelly at 182. Junior Aidan Shaughnessy is a returning state qualifier who gives the Bulldogs a presence down low at 120 pounds.

Ocean brings back four state qualifiers, a handful of other starters and has added two solid transfers. Senior state qualifiers Blake Tarnowski and Demetri Poniros are back at 113 and 120 while region medalist Gio Poniros, a junior, is at 126 and senior region qualifier AJ Benner is at 132. In the upper half of the lineup, junior Jared Tracey is at 170/182 and senior Joe Teresi is at heavyweight. Both are returning state qualifiers with Teresi as a two-time SQ and a 2020 region champ. There’s also district runner-up Tah-Jay Phillips at 160/170. Junior Shane Cartagena-Walsh and senior Kevin Cartagena-Walsh join the team as transfers from Monmouth Regional. Kevin was a district runner-up who won 27 bouts and Kevin went 15-3 last season. This should be a good one.

 

March 24 – Lacey at Point Boro

A match that will likely have Class B South division title implications comes in Week 2 when the Panthers host the Lions. Point Boro has claimed four straight division crowns but Lacey gave them a run for their money last season in a 32-25 nail-biter.

Point Boro lost stalwart Ty Baily to graduation and state qualifier Lucas Torre to Brick Memorial but brings back four district medalists from a season ago, led by senior Jack Baily and including seniors Lucas Sabo, Peter Karras and Gavin O’Connor. Point Boro is one of those programs that always finds a way to be competitive thanks to a reliable youth program and dedicated coaching.

Lacey was snake-bitten last season, both in the loss to Point Boro and then in the South Jersey Group 3 final where Delsea closed the match with three straight pins to win the title, 37-30. The Lions can only make amends within Class B South this season, so assume they’ll be geared up for a chance to claim their first division title since 1999. On paper, Lacey is probably considered the favorite with several key wrestlers returning, including standout junior Brady Carter and region medalists Vin Ceglie and Collin Rolak, both of whom are seniors. Juniors Mason Heck, Andre Ferraiuolo and Scott Stevens and senior Gerard O’Connor are all returning starters. Carter was a state qualifier as a freshman but injuries limited him to a 5-0 record last season. A return to form would be a massive boost for Lacey.

 

March 25 – Howell at Christian Brothers Academy

Depending on what happens in the first week of the season, this match could be the one that decides the Class A North division title. Howell has won an astounding 15 division titles in a row and during that span has lost only one Class A North match. The team? CBA in 2016. The Colts also beat Howell in the Shore Conference Tournament final that season. For background’s sake, that CBA team featured NCAA All-American Sebastian Rivera, who is now at Rutgers, and Rider’s Richie Koehler, who recently qualified for the 2021 NCAA Championships.

We touched on CBA’s talented youngsters under second-year head coach Billy Ashnault at the top of this article. The feeling is that CBA is going to be a Shore power again sooner than later. How soon is the question. However, even in CBA’s best year, Howell did not entirely relinquish the division throne (it was a tri-championship with Middletown North in 2016), which shows how entrenched the Rebels are. The 2021 season figures to be more of the same, even with the graduation of the program’s all-time wins leader and three-time state medalist Shane Reitsma plus state medalist Justin Wright. Howell brings back state qualifiers Nieko Malone, Paul Jakub and Colin Bradshaw, region medalists Kyle Nase and Hunter Lino and junior transfer Hunter Mays, who was a state qualifier in Pennsylvania. If you’ve ever seen a Howell weigh-in sheet you understand that depth is never an issue and the Rebels always seem to have impact wrestlers in the first handful of weights. Depending on how the teams weigh in, a potential Paul Jakub vs. Tyler Barrett match at 160 would be huge.

 

March 25 – Toms River North at Jackson Memorial

Both Toms River North and Jackson Memorial are in somewhat similar positions entering 2021 as they turn the program over to the next group after graduating their core from a season ago. We’ll get a good look at how the reloading process is going for each team.

Toms River North graduated a whopping 10 starters that led the Mariners to consecutive Class A South titles, including 2020 state champion Nick Boggiano. Just four starters return, led by senior heavyweight John O’Donnell, a 2020 Region 7 champion who reached the third round of wrestlebacks at the state tournament, and junior Jake Rosenthal, a district runner-up, at 138 pounds. Senior Alex Danelson (113) and junior Cole Anderson (120) are also returning starters.

Jackson graduated seven wrestlers who saw significant action, including current Rutgers freshman and last year’s 195-pound state fifth-place medalist Kyle Epperly, plus state qualifiers Brad Galassi and Hunter Smith. The Jags have more returning than Toms River North with senior state qualifier Luke Temple along with region qualifiers Brett Blaess, Lucas Lipari, Nick White, Mike Rauch and Rob Lagravenis.

 

March 26 – Southern at Brick Memorial

Buckle. Up.

The two Class A South juggernauts will square off 10 days into a season in a match that figures to decide the division championship and, potentially, who ends up being the No. 1 team in the Shore and perhaps the No. 1 public school in New Jersey. We went through Brick Memorial’s roster earlier in the article; TLDR: the Mustangs have three returning state finalists, a total of four returning state medalists and five total state qualifiers. They have the best stretch from 106-126 in New Jersey, plus hulking senior David Szuba at heavyweight. Yikes.

Southern, on the other hand, graduated a state runner-up, a state third-place finisher and two other state qualifiers. But only looking at who Southern has lost from the previous year and the accolades of those returning has proven to be a foolish method. Sure, it’s a good barometer, but no team in the Shore, and maybe even all of New Jersey, reloads as well as the Rams. That being said, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare in Manahawkin. Senior Eddie Hummel, a two-time state medalist who was third in NJ at 138 last season, leads a talented lineup that features a total of four state qualifiers and two additional region qualifiers. Sophomores Conor Collins (106 last season) and Cole Velardi (152 last season) were dynamite as freshmen and Collins finished one win short of a state medal in an always-crowded 106-pound field. Senior Matt Brielmeier has quietly put together a very good career and is coming off a 28-win season. Southern also routinely has wrestlers make major jumps year-to-year and become hammers. Someone is going to do that again this year, mark it down. And there’s probably a freshman or two ready to make an impact.

Does Brick Memorial’s firepower win out or can Southern grind out another huge victory against one of their division foes? This one can’t come soon enough.

 

March 27 – Point Beach at Point Boro

What is a list of matches to watch without the annual Battle of Point Pleasant? Unfortunately, this year’s match won’t be the raucous tour-de-force it usually is because of spectator restrictions. There are more important matches in the Shore in terms of rankings and titles, but there is nothing like Boro vs. Beach wrestling. It is everything that is good about high school athletics. Students who wouldn’t know a cradle if it folded them up in the hallway pack the gym – and I mean PACK the gym – to cheer on their respective school. It’s really unlike anything else in the Shore Conference.

The great news is that this year’s match will take place outside on Point Boro’s Al Saner Field and that likely means more than just parents will be allowed. Here’s hoping that outdoor limits on fans are raised by then. It would be amazing to see some kind of student section in the bleachers for this one.

 

March 30 – Southern at Phillipsburg

The Rams and Stateliners will renew their annual “rivalry” again this season. It’s not really a rivalry, per se, but they have met for several seasons in a row and it’s always a competitive match, as you would expect. This match usually comes during the Shore Conference Tournament (which Southern does not enter) and gives each team some crucial power points and a firm test before the state team tournament. That won’t be the case this year, but it’s still a great iron-sharpens-iron-clash between two of New Jersey’s best.

 

April 1 – Wall at Colts Neck

The division realignment for 2021 has moved Middletown North to Class A North and Ocean to Class A Central, leaving Colts Neck and Wall as the clear favorites in Class B North.

Colts Neck lost three state qualifiers to graduation, including state runner-up Luke Rada, but returns a solid and balanced lineup in 2021. SCT champion Logan Waller leads the way after a 38-4 season and will be at 145 pounds while senior Joe Barsky is also a returning state qualifier and will be at 170. Then there’s returning region qualifiers Michael Lyristis (113), Eli Novoselov (132), Nick Moldaver (152), Ford Zajac (170) and Ray Santiago (220), plus returning starter Matt Jannucci at heavyweight.

Wall is in a similar position having graduated two state qualifiers and one region qualifier while bringing back two state qualifiers and four additional region qualifiers. The major difference for Wall is that senior Jake Whitworth is out for the season with an injury, which is a huge blow to the Crimson Knights. Whitworth was sixth in NJ at 182 pounds last season. Wall will look to senior state qualifiers Nicolas Zamaloff (160) and Brendan Newbury (182) to lead the way along with seniors Jack Kinsella (126) and Mike Bruno (138), junior Lou Pilla (195) and sophomores Kei’Sun Sanders (285) and Mike Fumarola (160).

 

April 3 – Christian Brothers Academy at Rumson-Fair Haven

See above for breakdowns on what each team brings to the table. Although CBA has broken into the upper echelon before when it won the 2016 SCT and finished No. 2 in the Shore Conference, these are two programs trying to continue their ascent and become annual members of the Shore’s elite. Given the proximity of the schools the fact that they are rivals in many other sports, this could be a matchup that becomes a yearly occurrence.

 

April 13 – Raritan at Long Branch

Ah, the Rockets and the Green Wave. While there is great mutual respect between the two programs and head coaches Rob Nucci and Danny George, there isn’t much these teams hate more than losing to the other.

Raritan has a very young team after losing six starters to graduation, three of whom were state qualifiers while two others were region qualifiers. Nucci’s squad does return five district medalists, however, led by junior Cole Bailey at 170 and including sophomore Ryan Mansueto at 113, junior Alex Auletta at 132, senior Jordan Rafalko at 145 and junior Nick Burns at 220. Senior Aswan Clark (285, 21-10 last season) and juniors Connor Newell (138) and Nick Cadoo (160) are also returning starters.

Although not as young, Long Branch is in a similar boat. The Wave lost two state medalists (Ryan Zimmerman and Patrick O’Dwyer) to graduation plus state qualifiers Ryan Carey and Tracey Taylor. Returning to lead the way is a quartet of district medalists: senior Joseph Conlon, junior Angel Bonnano, junior Jack Friedman and junior Andrew Conklin.

 

Other Matches to Watch:

March 16

Middletown North at Middletown South

Rumson-Fair Haven at St. John Vianney

March 17

Raritan at Ocean

March 18

Howell at Manalapan

Wall at Ocean

March 19

Rumson-Fair Haven at Raritan

March 23

CBA at Long Branch

March 24

Jackson Memorial at Brick Memorial

March 25

St. John Vianney at Raritan

March 27

Howell at Jackson Memorial

Colts Neck at Long Branch

March 29

Toms River North at Southern

March 30

Long Branch at Manalapan

April 1

Middletown North at Long Branch

Brick Memorial at Toms River North

Point Boro at Ocean

April 3

Jackson Memorial at Southern (Outdoor match)

Toms River North at Phillipsburg

April 6

Ocean at St. John Vianney

Manalapan at Wall

April 8

CBA at Middletown North

April 10

Toms River North at Howell

South Plainfield at Southern (Outdoor match)

April 12

Delbarton at Rumson-Fair Haven

April 15

CBA at Bergen Catholic

 

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