2019-2020 Class A North Wrestling Preview
CLASS A NORTH
Teams and coaches
CBA: Billy Ashnault, second season
Freehold: Matt Shephard, 16th season
Freehold Township: Jesse Heubel, third season
Howell: John Gagliano, 23rd season
Long Branch: Dan George, 30th season
Manalapan: Scott Pressman, 13th season
Marlboro: Charlie Frankel, fourth season
Middletown South: Anton Atterbury, fourth season
THE FAVORITE: Howell
The Rebels have won 14th consecutive Class A North division titles, 13 of them outright, and with several standouts returning the Rebels remain the clear favorite to add another banner to its already large collection.
Senior Shane Reitsma, a two-time state medalist, two-time region champ, three-time district champ and returning state runner-up, leads a lineup that will feature four returning state qualifiers and seven wrestlers who won 18 or more bouts a season ago. Reitsma, who is committed to Rider University, enters the season ranked No. 19 in the country at 170 pounds. He’ll enter the season with 123 career victories and the singular goal of going out with a state championship.
Senior Justin Wright at heavyweight is another returning starter among the upperweights after going 21-8 and placing second in District 25.
Down low, senior Ethan Liptzin (106) anchors what has traditionally been an exceptionally strong area of the lineup for the Rebels. Liptzin was 31-9 and two wins from a state medal last season. Junior Kyle Nase (120) had a solid season in going 19-11 and is a candidate to have a breakout year. Junior Neiko Malone (132) had a great debut season for Howell last season after transferring into the school, winning a Shore Conference Tournament title and reaching the state tournament with a 30-10 record.
In the middle of the lineup, Howell is led by junior Paul Jakub, who won a District 25 title and placed second in Region 7 to reach the state tournament. Jakub was 33-8 last season and returns at 152 pounds. The Rebels also have junior James McGee at 138 pounds, who had a solid sophomore year with an 18-8 record and will look to break through in the postseason.
The other seven spots in the lineup are unknown commodities but Howell is known for building great program depth. Wrestlers who rarely see the mat their first two years have come in as junior or even seniors and made an immediate impact, so there are surely a few wrestlers who will do just that in 2020.
Howell has jacked up its out-of-division schedule, as well, with duals against Class A South contenders Toms River North and Jackson Memorial and nonconference matchups with fellow state powers High Point and South Plainfield. Howell will also once again compete in the season-opening Paulsboro Tournament and head back to Pennsylvania for the prestigious PowerAde Tournament.
CONTENDERS: Long Branch and Manalapan
Long Branch is no stranger to success both in the Shore and on a statewide level. The Green Wave are a usual top-10 team locally and have won six NJSIAA state sectional championship and three Group 2 state championships since 2008. They were used to duking it out with familiar rivals Ocean and Wall in Class B North for many years before being realigned to A North last season and having to deal with Howell.
The Green Wave graduated five wrestlers who won 15 or more bouts last season, four of whom were region qualifiers and two of which were state qualifiers. Six region qualifiers buoy the lineup this year for Long Branch, led by senior Ryan Zimmerman at 145 pounds. Zimmerman was 35-5 and a District 23 and Region 6 champion last year and enters the season with 106 career wins.
Senior Dylan Kelleher (113) had a sub-.500 record last season but turned it up in the postseason to place second in District 23 and win a match in the Region 6 Tournament. Junior Joseph Conlon (126) was 17-5 and won a District 23 title last season. Bolstering the middle of the lineup along with Zimmerman is senior Ryan Carey at 152 pounds. Carey went 20-10 and placed second in District 23 last season. Junior Jack Friedman is at 170 pounds after going 20-13 and winning a District 23 title last season and senior Tracey Taylor is at 220 pounds and was 27-7 with a second-place district finish last year.
Taking down Howell will be a tall order for Long Branch but so will staking a claim as the top contender with a talented Manalapan team lurking. Long Branch and Manalapan had a wild dual last season with Long Branch coming away with a close victory. The Braves will try to reverse that result when the two teams meet on Jan. 4.
Manalapan returns three state qualifiers and four additional region qualifiers, led by senior state medalist Matt Benedetti at 170 pounds. Benedetti placed sixth in the state at 160 pounds last year to cap a season that saw him go 41-7, win a District 21 title and finish second in Region 5 and at the SCT. Benedetti anchors a strong group of upperweights that also includes senior Gavin Claro (195), who went 34-11 and reached the state tournament last season, plus senior Dylan Waller at 182 and senior Matt Kovacs at heavyweight. Waller was 30-12 and a region qualifier and Kovacs was 20-9. Junior George Zavalnik (195) was a double-digit bout winner a season ago.
The Braves had a potentially strong group of lowerweights, as well, with juniors Chris Balzano (113) and Calvin Burke (126) returning and senior twins Justin (120) and Jason Schifter (132) transferring into the program from Freehold Township. Burke was 17-8 and a Region 5 qualifier while the Jason Schifter was 23-6 and Justin Schifter was 15-6, both reaching the Region 6 Tournament. Balzano posted a 22-15 record.
Leading the group from 138-160 is senior Hunter Konstantoulas, who was 30-10, a District 21 champ and a state qualifier last season. He’ll be at 145 pounds with junior James Grande (152) adding an experienced presence.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Christian Brothers Academy
CBA won just three duals last season, graduated its most accomplished wrestler and will be a very young team in 2019-2020. However, the Colts are in the building state under second-year head coach Billy Ashnault and have some very promising underclassmen who could certainly open eyes this season.
Senior Maximus Bean (120/126) is the lone holdover with postseason accolades after placing third in District 22 last season. Senior Ethan Diamond won 14 bouts last season and returns at 170/182 pounds. CBA also welcomes junior Sam Nini, who was 28-8 and District 22 runner-up at Allentown last season.
CBA has a big freshman presence in its wrestling room, led by highly-touted middleweight Tyler Barrett (138/145) and 182/195-pounder Robert Canterino.
After a great three-year run from 2014-2016 followed by some down years, CBA is once again a very attractive school to wrestle at. The Ashnault name carries a ton of weight and Billy Ashnault, who was a standout at South Plainfield and cut his coaching teeth at Rutgers after a collegiate career with the Scarlet Knights, is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks. And with volunteers like NCAA champion and four-time undefeated New Jersey state champion Anthony Ashnault and two-time state champion Vinny DelleFave in the room, it sure seems like a matter of when, not if, CBA will be back among the Shore’s elite.
WRESTLERS TO WATCH (In weight order)
Ethan Liptzin, Sr., 106, Howell: 31-9, 2nd D25, 4th R7, NJ-WB3
Harrison Gordon, Jr., 106/113, Marlboro: 32-5, 1st D19
Isaiah Sweeny, Sr., 113, Freehold: 19-12, 3rd D21
Dylan Kelleher, Sr., 113, Long Branch: 16-19, 2nd D23
Travis Tuminelli, So., 113, Middletown South: 29-6
Justin Schifter, Sr., 120, Manalapan: 15-6, 2nd D21
Max Bean, Sr., 120/126, CBA: 12-19, 3rd D22
Sam Nini, Jr., 120/126, CBA: 28-8, 2nd D22
Nico Messina, Sr., 126, Freehold: 34-6, 4th SCT, 1st D21, 1st R6, NJ-WB4
Joseph Conlon, Jr., 126, Long Branch: 17-5, 1st D23
Calvin Burke, Jr., 126, Manalapan: 17-8, 3rd D20
Neiko Malone, Jr., 132, Howell: 30-10, 1st SCT, 2nd D25, 4th R7, NJ-WB1
Jason Schifter, Sr., 132, Manalapan: 23-6, 2nd D21
Michael Holland, Sr., 132, Middletown South: 26-13, 3rd D19
Keegan Roche, Sr., 138/145, Freehold: 10-10, 3rd D21
Tyler Barrett, Fr., 138/145, CBA
Zach Vasile, Jr., 138/145, Marlboro: 26-7, 2nd D19
Avery Clarke, Jr., 145, Freehold Township: 30-12, 3rd D21, 3rd R6, NJ-WB1
Ryan Zimmerman, Sr., 145, Long Branch: 35-5, 1st D23, 1st R6, NJ-WB2
Hunter Konstantoulas, Sr., 145, Manalapan: 30-10, 1st D20, 4th R5, NJ-WB2
Paul Jakub, Jr., 152, Howell: 33-8, 1st SCT, 1st D25, 2nd R7, NJ-WB2
Ryan Carey, Sr., 152, Long Branch: 20-10, 2nd D23
Edward Jang, Sr., 160/170, Marlboro: 20-15, 2nd D19
Shane Reitsma, Sr., 170, Howell: 42-2, 1st SCT, D25 1st, R7 1st, 2nd NJ
Matt Benedetti, Sr., 170, Manalapan: 41-7, 2nd SCT, 1st D20, 2nd R5, 6th NJ
Jack Friedman, Jr., 170, Long Branch: 20-13, 1st D23
Dylan Waller, Sr., 182, Manalapan: 30-12, 3rd D20
Gavin Claro, Jr., 195, Manalapan: 34-11, 2nd D20, 4th R5, NJ-WB2
Jarrid Markowitz, Sr., 195, Freehold Township: 17-11, 2nd D21
Tracey Taylor, Sr., 220, Long Branch: 27-7, 2nd D23
Justin Wright, Sr., Hwt, Howell: 21-8, 4th SCT, 2nd D25
CBA at Colt Classic (CBA)
Freehold at Gator Tournament (Gateway HS)
Freehold Township, Marlboro at Old Bridge Icebreaker
Howell at John and Betty Vogeding Tournament (Paulsboro HS)
Long Branch at Battle of the Bay (Bayonne HS)
Manalapan at Nottingham Tournament
Middletown South at TCNJ Pride Tournament (Middletown South HS)
CBA at Collingswood Tournament
Freehold Township at East Brunswick Bear Invitational
Howell at PowerAde Tournament (Canon-McMillan HS, PA)
Long Branch at Mustang Classic (Brick Memorial HS)
Middletown South at Walter Woods Tournament (Middletown South HS)
Howell at PowerAde Tournament (Canon-McMillan HS, PA)
Toms River North at Howell
Manalapan at Long Branch
Howell at High Point
Long Branch at Raritan
Jackson Memorial at Howell
CBA at Freehold Township
Manalapan at Colts Neck
Howell, Long Branch at Jack Welch Duals (Moorestown HS)
Manalapan at Wall
Long Branch at Howell
Middletown South at Middletown North
South Plainfield at Howell
Howell at Manalapan
CBA at Middletown South
Jan. 31-Feb. 1
Shore Conference Tournament at Red Bank Regional HS
Freehold Township at Freehold
NJSIAA sectional quarterfinals
NJSIAA sectional semifinals
NJSIAA sectional finals
NJSIAA state semifinals and finals at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena (Toms River North HS)
NJSIAA district tournaments
Feb. 26, 28-29
NJSIAA region tournaments
NJSIAA state tournament at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
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.