FARMINGDALE – With every match and every opportunity to showcase exactly how good it is, Howell continues to add to its resume as the best public-school wrestling team in New Jersey.

Thursday night’s matchup with fellow public stalwart South Plainfield was yet another example of Howell’s dominance as the Rebels, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and No. 3 in New Jersey, bulldozed the No. 12 Tigers by winning 10 of 14 bouts in a resounding 41-14 nonconference victory.

Freshman Paul Jakub started the Rebels off in style with a dramatic win over returning state qualifier Joe Sacco in the closing seconds of their 145-pound bout, and Howell opened the match with five straight wins to take a 20-0 lead and never look back. Sophomore Ethan Liptzin won by fall, junior Xavier Kelly, sophomore Shane Reitsma and senior Kyle Slendorn won by technical fall and sophomore Christian Murphy and senior Dan Esposito each recorded major decisions to lead Howell to its 19th win of the season.

“South Plainfield is always a top team in the state year-in and year-out,” Slendorn said. “Beating up on the bad teams doesn’t show where we’re at but going up against these guys and seeing how dominant we were was great to be a part of. I’m stoked.”

Howell head coach John Gagliano remains reserved in his assessment of where his team ranks, preferring to focus on the Rebels’ ultimate goal of repeating as NJSIAA Group 5 champions. South Plainfield head coach Bill Pavlak has seen some of the best teams in the state this season, however, and his opinion of Howell was clear.

“I saw them last year at the groups and they’re just a well-balanced, well-conditioned team and they have a lot of bodies,” Pavlak said. “It’s going to take a hell of a team to beat them. No public school is beating them in Jersey this year. I’ve seen some good teams, and that includes Hunterdon Central.”

Hunterdon Central and Southern are the main challengers to Howell in Group 5 this season.

“They (South Plainfield) are tough, balanced and well-coached,” Gagliano said. “We have a lot of respect for them.”

Jakub’s 8-4 win over Sacco to start the match got Howell’s gym rocking and sent an immediate message that an unforgiving and relentless lineup was about to be unleashed. Jakub scored a takedown in the second period to take a 2-1 lead, but Sacco escaped and took Jakub down in the final seconds of the second period to lead 4-2. Trailing 4-3 off a restart with 17.6 seconds left, Jakub tossed Sacco to his back for a five-point move that gave him the win. Sacco reached the fourth round of wrestlebacks in last season’s state tournament, coming one win from a state medal.

“I had an underhook and just hit a step-over,” Jakub said. “It just happened. I saw it and I went for it.”

“I think he’s very mature and he didn’t panic, Gagliano said. “Even giving up that takedown (at the end of the second period) he didn’t feel like the match was over. He knew he had to fight back and he did.”

“After that match I was like, ‘we got this’,” Slendorn said. “Sacco is a senior stud on South Plainfield and he beats him and our crowd is going nuts. Then we have our 152, 160, 170, 182 all win and right there we had it in the bag. That first one set the tone for the entire match.”

Kelly followed with a 15-0 technical fall in 3:54 over Mike Marrero at 152 pounds and Evan Richard used a first-period takedown to edge Marc Giordano, 3-2, at 160 pounds. Then at 170, Reitsma, the reigning Region 6 champion, used 10 takedowns to score a 24-7 technical fall over Joe Nardacci and give Howell a 16-0 lead. Murphy’s 11-2 major decision over Brenden Hedden at 182 gave Howell an insurmountable 20-0 advantage.

South Plainfield took the next two bouts with state qualifier Luke Niemeyer besting Rashaun Hansford, 6-4, at 195 and state medalist Zach DelVecchio winning by 18-6 major decision over Joe Sardina at 220 pounds.

Scott Prendergast got Howell back in the win column with a 3-0 win over Julian Medina at heavyweight before undefeated South Plainfield freshman Anthony White topped Jesse Liptzin, 4-0, at 106 pounds.

Ethan Liptzin’s pin over Frank Mannino in 2:52 stretched Howell’s lead to 29-10 and Darby Diedrich, a returning state medalist, took a 6-3 decision from state qualifier David Loniewski at 120 pounds to make it 32-10 and clinch the match for Howell. The bout was Diedrich’s first at 120 since opening weekend.

Joe Heilmann, the state third-place finisher at 120 pounds last season, won by 17-6 major decision over Howell state qualifier Luke Rada at 126 pounds.

Slendorn was also down a weight at 132 for the first time since mid-December. After Thomas Fierro surprised him with an early takedown, Slendorn, the 126-pound state runner-up last season, took complete control with two reversals, two sets of three near-fall points, a takedown, a point for stalling, another takedown and finally another set of back points for an 18-3 technical fall that put the Rebels up 37-14.

Esposito finished off the dual with eight takedowns in a 17-9 major decision over state qualifier Alex Amato at 138 pounds.

“It was all 14 tonight,” Gagliano said. “Even the guys who lost made a difference not giving up (many bonus) points.”

The machine that is Howell wrestling continues to motor along as tournament season nears. The Rebels have a solid Piscataway team on Saturday ahead of next week’s first-ever individual version of the Shore Conference Tournament. A meeting with Shore Conference No. 7 Middletown North is on top for Jan. 31 and then it will be time for the Rebels to go for their second straight state title.

Will anyone get in their way? Not if they keep wrestling like they did Thursday night.


Box Score

Howell 41, South Plainfield 14

145: Paul Jakub (H) d. Joe Sacco 8-4

152: Xavier Kelly (H) tf. Mike Marrero 3:54 (15-0)

160: Evan Richard (H) d. Marc Giordano 3-2

170: Shane Reitsma (H) tf. Joe Nardacci 5:26 (24-7)

182: Christian Murphy (H) md. Brenden Hedden 11-2

195: Luke Niemeyer (SP) d. Rashaun Hansford 6-4

220: Zach DelVecchio (SP) md. Joe Sardina 18-6

Hwt: Scott Prendergast (H) d. Julian Medina 3-0

106: Anthony White (SP) d. Jesse Liptzin 4-0

113: Ethan Liptzin (H) p. Frank Mannino 2:52

120: Darby Diedrich (H) d. David Loniewski 6-3

126: Joe Heilmann (SP) md. Luke Rada 17-6

132: Kyle Slendorn (H) tf. Thomas Fierro 3:53 (18-3)

138: Dan Esposito (H) md. Alex Amato 19-9

Records: at Howell (19-0); South Plainfield (12-4).


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at 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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