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HOLMDEL – Seven years ago, Brian Heller returned to his alma mater with a vision of turning Rumson-Fair Haven’s wrestling team into a championship contender. There was no quick fix, however. This was going to take a commitment to the process by everyone in the program.

In Heller’s first season the Bulldogs did not win a dual meet, but they did have one of the Shore Conference’s best wrestlers to hang their hat on. Marcus Iwama, then a junior, won a Region 6 title to become Rumson’s first region champion since Heller and Patrick Berger did it in 2003. Since then, it’s been a steady climb upward with more team success, individual championships and this season, a top-10 ranking in the Shore.

Now, Rumson feels it has the goods to win team championships and on Monday night took a huge step toward its first of that kind in nearly two decades.

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, won eight of 14 bouts with bonus points in all eight to defeat St. John Vianney, 46-30, and clear their final major hurdle toward clinching the Class A Central division title.

“We knew they were scrappy and have guys who are dangerous. They have enough guys who can win a dual meet for them,” Heller said. “Our kids trained hard and they got the job done.”

Rumson’s last division title came in 2003 when Heller helped lead the Bulldogs to the Class B Central championship. Rumson needs to defeat Manasquan (2-13) and Monmouth Regional (6-6) in its final two division matches to officially clinch the title.

“It’s a tough division; beating Raritan, Holmdel has a strong team this year, SJV is always dangerous,” Heller said. “We had goals at the beginning of the season and this wasn’t necessarily on the list but we’re happy to get this step out of the way while we’re in the hunt for a sectional title. That’s really what the focus is on but nevertheless this feels good because it’s been a while.”

It was a quick-moving match Monday with SJV’s Dante Miranda scoring a 3-0 decision over James Greeley at heavyweight and Dan Herndon receiving a forfeit at 106 to stake the Lancers (4-3, 1-2) to a 9-0 lead. Rumson answered with consecutive falls by Aidan Shaughnessy over Joe Giordano at 113 and Tristan Izzo over Nick Cammarano at 120 to take a 12-9 lead.

St. John Vianney junior Dean Peterson, a returning state champion and the No. 1 pound-for-pound wrestler in the state according to, weighed in at 126 pounds but did not wrestle. Nico Diaz, a state top-12 finisher last season, won by fall over Murphy McCarthy at 126 and Seth Rotondella backed him up with another pin at 132 as the Lancers jumped out to a 21-12 lead. At 138 pounds, Isaac Holt shut out Nick Costello, 6-0, to make it 24-12.

Any team that wrestles Rumson knows that if the Bulldogs are within striking distance when the match gets to the middle and upper weights, business is about to pick up. Undefeated junior Max Brignola received a forfeit at 145 pounds to make it 24-18 and from there the Bulldogs were off and running. Tyler Brignola followed with a 10-2 major decision over Gabe Jones at 152 and Mike Ponenti used a tilt to pin Isaac Montalvo at 5:00 at 160, giving Rumson the lead for good at 28-24 with four bouts left.

Unbeaten sophomore Shay Addison locked in a cradle to pin Michael Foley in 1:07 at 170 pounds and Jack Kelly did the same to David O’Keefe late in the first period at 182 pounds, pushing Rumson’s lead to 40-24 and clinching the win. The only result that prevented Rumson from winning the final seven bouts was SJV’s Blake Clayton coming out of a scramble on top and pinning Liam Horan in 2:29 at 195 pounds. It was the best individual matchup of the night with Clayton entering at 16-4 with a third-place finish at the Mustang Classic and a second-place finish at the Sam Cali Memorial Tournament, while Horan was 14-1 with a pair of top-two tournament finishes.

Justin Kuo received a forfeit at 220 pounds to close out the dual.

“Shaughnessy and Izzo down low are both dangerous and have a lot of Ws and are beating good guys,” Heller said. “We can count on those guys and it kind of breaks it up, but once Max comes around the guys know. It’s our Murderer’s Row and you see it in the room. Those guys are beating the crap out of each other every single day. There’s no safe zone where you can take one off. Those guys make it happen and we know we can count on all of them to get it done.”

A division title is nice, but what Rumson is really looking for is a state sectional championship. South Plainfield needs no introduction as a team (12 state titles, 16 sectional titles) and although the Tigers aren’t the powerhouse they’ve been over the past five years, they are still the favorite in Central Jersey Group 2. Rumson, Point Boro, Holmdel, Delran and Raritan headline the group chasing them. The Bulldogs have their flaws, but also have the firepower to make a run at a sectional crown. Considering the program has just two state tournament wins ever, the fact that they are even in the conversation shows the kind of progress they’ve made over the last seven years.

“That’s what we’re training for every day and we talk about it all the time with the kids,” Heller said. “We definitely believe we have what it takes. We talk about ‘Where can you find your eight wins?’ and we think we have eight winners against most teams in the state.”


Box Score

No. 7 Rumson-Fair Haven 46, St. John Vianney 30

Dante Miranda (St John Vianney) over James Greeley (Rumson-Fair Haven) (Dec 3-0)
Daniel Herndon (St John Vianney) over Unknown (For.)
Aiden Shaughnessy (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Joseph Giordano (St John Vianney) (Fall 1:42)
Tristan Izzo (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Nick Cammarano (St John Vianney) (Fall 0:33)
Nicholas Diaz (St John Vianney) over Murphy McCarty (Rumson-Fair Haven) (Fall 1:21)
Seth Rotondella (St John Vianney) over Tyler Izzo (Rumson-Fair Haven) (Fall 3:01)
Isaac Holt (St John Vianney) over Nick Costello (Rumson-Fair Haven) (Dec 6-0)
Max Brignola (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Unknown (For.)
Tyler Brignola (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Gabe Jones (St John Vianney) (MD 10-2)
Michael Ponenti (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Isaac Montalvo (St John Vianney) (Fall 5:00)
Shay Addison (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Michael Foley (St John Vianney) (Fall 1:07)
Jack Kelly (Rumson-Fair Haven) over David O`Keefe (St John Vianney) (Fall 1:54)
Blake Clayton (St John Vianney) over Liam Horan (Rumson-Fair Haven) (Fall 2:29)
Justin Kuo (Rumson-Fair Haven) over Unknown (For.)



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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