MANALAPAN — Down four starters and facing a solid Manalapan team, Colts Neck showed its depth and balance in delivering a crucial Shore Conference Class A North victory on Saturday.

Junior A.J. Royle came through with a momentum-changing pin at 195 pounds to ignite the shorthanded Cougars’ rally, starting a string of four wins by fall in five bouts that sent Colts Neck, ranked No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 40-26 win over the Braves to remain undefeated.


“We definitely had some adversity there,” said Colts Neck head coach Brett Jankos. “But it’s next man up the whole time. We have a lot of kids in the room and today we threw some guys out there and they got the job done.”

Seniors Steve Barsky and Vinnie Gargiulo followed Royle with pins and junior Joey King also won by fall at 113 pounds. Senior Ben Sammarco clinched the win with a major decision at 145 pounds and senior Dominick Esposito closed out the win with the Cougars’ fifth pin of the match. The Cougars won eight of the 14 bouts with bonus points in six of the victories.

“It’s all about bonus points and winning close matches, that’s the name of high school wrestling,” Jankos said. “We got a couple of close matches and got the bonus points where we needed to.”

Colts Neck began the day without two of its starters as junior 106-pounder Jerry Lleshi and junior 120-pounder Justin Pierre-Louise did not weigh in because of a violation of team rules, according Jankos. Lleshi is 9-1 this season and Pierre-Louise is 11-1. Their absence left to voids in the lower half of Colts Neck’s lineup, forcing the team to weigh junior Dyon Womack down a weight at 120, among other moves.

To make matters worse, the Cougars lost two more starters in the first match of the quadrangular meet at Manalapan. During a 45-19 win over Freehold to start the day, sophomore 182-pounder Michael Jannucci had to be taken the the hospital with what was later revealed to be a broken hand. Jannucci is 11-2 this year. Also, junior 145-pounder Liam Hoagland was poked in the eye badly and had to leave to be further evaluated. Hoagland is 7-3 this year.

Manalapan jumped out to a 12-0 lead with wins in the first three bouts. Senior Ronny Ghaida received a forfeit at 160 pounds before consecutive wins by Jake Staklinski and Justin Obermeyer put the Braves up by double digits. Staklinski won 7-1 over Nick Cilea at 170 pounds to improve to 11-1 and Obermeyer held off Kenny Koenig, 11-2 at 182 pounds, to up his record to 11-2.

That led to the toss-up bout at 195 pounds between Royle and Manalapan senior Steve Byrne. Royle led 3-2 after the first period and 6-4 entering the third period. It was Byrne’s choice for positioning to start the third and he chose neutral. Just under a minute into the period Royle countered a shot by Byrne, catching him on his knees and muscling him to his back for the fall and six crucial points that halved the Cougars’ deficit.

“He left his arm up on the shot and I just took advantage of it,” Royle said. “Coach told me I needed to wrestle the whole match to get the win and that’s what I did.”

“Coming in that’s a toss-up bout and we’re really hoping he pulls it out,” Jankos said. “He was gutting it out the whole time winning, winning and then he caught him on his back and finished him. That was a big swing match that sent momentum out way. We knew we had Steven Barsky coming back, which is huge for our team, and Vinnie Gargiulo got the job done at heavyweight.”

Barsky, who was a standout linebacker for Colts Neck’s football team, made his season debut Saturday with three pins. His fall over Samuel Vayntraub in 1:16 tied the score at 12, and Gargiulo, also a standout linebacker, decked Peter Benedetti in 2:42 to give Colts Neck an 18-12 lead it would not relinquish.  


Manalapan took advantage of the absence of Lleshi at 106 pounds as Colby Glusko win a 17-4 major decision over Vincent Franzone. Colts Neck responded with another pin, however, to stretch its lead to 24-16. Junior standout Joey King built a 15-0 lead against sophomore Paul Santomarco before pinning him in 4:59. King, a state qualifier as a freshman, improved to 13-0 with the win and handed Santomarco just his second loss of the season.  

Womack edged A.J. Sortino, 1-0, at 120 pounds and Anthony Lombardo defeated Kareem Ghaida, 9-5 at 126 pounds, to extend Colts Neck’s advantage to 30-16. Manalapan made it interesting with two straight wins at 132 and 138 to pull to within four points. Josh Goldfarb pinned Joe LaPorta in 4:29 and Alex Baran came up with a huge 12-1 major decision over Steven Kramer. Baran entered the bout with a 9-2 record while Kramer was 12-1.


Colts Neck needed only to win one of the final two bouts by any margin to clinch the victory, and Sammarco took care of that with a 9-1 major decision over Anthony Coposky at 145 pounds. Up 2-0 after the first period, Sammarco scored seven points in the second period and nearly pinned Coposky en route to the deciding victory.

Esposito’s pin at 3:39 over Matt Mustillo at 152 pounds closed out an important win for a Colts Neck team that had plenty of hype entering the season. The Cougars tasted success last season in reaching the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals with the program’s first ever state tournament win and finishing 19-5. With every starter returning the Cougars began the year fifth in the Shore. So far, they’ve proven to be every bit of a top-five team.


Box Score

No. 5 Colts Neck 40, Manalapan 26

160: Ronny Ghaida (M) by forfeit

170: Jake Staklinski (M) d. Nick Cilea 7-1

182: Justin Obermeyer (M) d. Kenny Koenig 8-5

195: A.J. Royle (CN) p. Steve Byrne 5:10

220: Steve Barsky (CN) p. Samuel Vayntraub 1:16

Hwt: Vinnie Gargiulo (CN) p. Peter Benedetti 2:42

106: Colby Glusko (M) md. Vincent Franzone 17-4

113: Joey King (CN) p. Paul Santomarco 4:59

120: Dyon Womack (CN) d. A.J. Sortino 1-0

126: Anthony Lombardo (CN) d. Kareem Ghaida 9-5

132: Josh Goldfarb (M) p. Joe LaPorta 4:29

138: Alex Baran (M) md. Steven Kramer 12-1

145: Ben Sammarco (CN) md. Anthony Coposky 9-1

152: Dominick Esposito (CN) p. Matt Mustillo 5:39

Records: at Manalapan (7-1, 3-1); Colts Neck (15-0, 2-0).


Wrestling 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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