Army Strong Wrestling Team of the Week: Howell
New for this winter season, the United States Army and Shore Sports Network will be selecting a wrestling Team of the Week based on its performance over the past weekend.
The latest recipient of the Army Strong Team of the Week is Howell, which capped off the program's first undefeated season by winning its second straight NJSIAA Group 5 state championship. Shore Sports Network along with Sargeant First Class Daniel Soto Jr. and Sargeant James F. Warren of the U.S. Army were at practice Friday to present the Rebels and head coach John Gagliano with a special banner to commemorate their accomplishments.
Howell rolled through its first two opponents in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 5 Tournament with a 69-7 win over Hillsborough and a 64-9 victory over Manalapan, setting up a highly-anticipated rematch with Hunterdon Central. Howell had defeated the Red Devils, 28-27, in last season's epic Group 5 final. The Rebels went up to Flemington and once again got the best of Hunterdon Central with a 29-20 victory to capture the sectional championship. Senior Kyle Slendorn had a dramatic 10-6 victory over Hunter Graf at 132 pounds to clinch the match, and the Rebels also had clutch wins and bonus points from Shane Reitsma, Christian Murphy, Jerry Lleshi, Darby Diedrich and Luke Rada.
The Rebels cruised past West Orange, 53-13, in the Group 5 semifinals to set up a match with Shore Conference rival Southern for the state championship. Despite Southern taking the first two bouts with upset wins, the Rebels took control of the match with six consecutive wins by Dan Esposito, Slendorn, Paul Jakub, Xavier Kelly, Reitsma and Murphy. Jesse Liptzin's pin at 106 pounds clinched the match for Howell as the Rebels won nine of the 14 bouts to cement their status as the top public school in the state.
That distinction was made official when the Rebels came in ranked No. 3 in the state in the final New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association Top 20 behind only Bergen Catholic and Delbarton.
Howell then polished off its historic season by winning the District 22 team title. Lleshi, Diedrich, Slendorn, Esposito, Reitsma and Murphy each won individual titles and the Rebels advanced 13 of 14 wrestlers to the Region 6 Tournament. Slendorn won his fourth district title to join Zac Cunliffe as the only Howell wrestlers to do so, and also became the sixth Shore Conference wrestler to reach 150 career wins.