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Finally, the 2021 Shore Conference wrestling season is here.

And with every new season there is a new set of ranking, so it’s time to debut the Shore Sports Network Preseason Wrestling Top 10. Let’s get right to it.

 

1. Brick Memorial (Last season: 17-4, CJ-4 champion, District 24 champion)

This was a tough decision because Southern is the defending Group 5 champion and has a knack for re-tooling and remain among the state’s best year after year, but it’s hard to look away from the firepower on Brick Memorial’s roster. The Mustangs return five state qualifiers, including state finalists Vincent Santaniello, David Szuba and Anthony Santaniello plus Brick transfer Evan Tallmadge (4th in NJ), Point Boro transfer Lucas Torre and district champion Braden Scott. Brick Memorial also has several middle and upperweights they believe can have breakout seasons. If that happens, Brick Memorial will be an absolute juggernaut.

 

2. Southern (Last season: 20-1, Group 5 champion, District 29 champion)

I went back and forth between Southern and Brick Memorial to open the season at No. 1. To give you an idea of how much weight Southern carries in my mind, it took Brick Memorial having four returning state medalists to put them over the top. The Rams just find a way to insert new starters, develop hammers and thrive every single season and they’ll probably do it again this year. The Rams bring back four state qualifiers, led by state third-place medalist Eddie Hummel along with senior Matt Brielmeier and sophomores Connor Collings and Cole Velardi, plus district champion Stephen Jennings. Circle this date: Southern at Brick Memorial on March 26.

 

3. Howell (Last season: 24-2, SJ-5 finalist, SCT Champ, Class A North champ)

The Rebels bring back three total state qualifiers, including two from last season, have a transfer from Pennsylvania they believe will make an impact and an influx of new talent into the program from the youth level. Senior Neiko Malone and sophomore Colin Bradshaw return as state qualifiers and senior Paul Jakub is a two-time state qualifier. Howell lost a state qualifier when Isaiah Fenton transferred back to Iowa after a successful freshman season but gained junior Hunter Mays, who was a state qualifier in Pennsylvania. There’s also senior Hunter Lino, a returning region medalist, back to anchor the upperweights. Howell has been among the Shore’s best for some time now and that doesn’t figure to change this year.

 

4. Rumson-Fair Haven (Last season: 15-4, CJ-2 finalist, A Central champion)

The first three teams in the rankings are Shore Conference royalty and that’s the status Rumson is hoping to elevate to. The Bulldogs have improved drastically over the last two seasons, going from 2-20 in 2018 to division champs and sectional finalists last season thanks to the tireless work of head coach Bryan Heller and a budding youth program. Their run from 152 pounds through 182 is among New Jersey’s best with senior state qualifier Tyler Brignola, senior state medalist Max Brignola, junior state medalist Shay Addison and senior state medalist Jack Kelly. There’s also junior Aidan Shaughnessy, a returning region champ, at 120 pounds and promising freshman Hudson Skove at 195. The Bulldogs have a challenging division schedule and some great non-division/non-conference matchups schedule, so we’ll see if they can take the next step.

 

5. Christian Brothers Academy (Last season: 10-13, SJ Non-Public A finalist)

The 2020 season showcased the future for CBA, and you’d be wise to put on some sunglasses when taking a glimpse. An outstanding freshman class for the Colts included Region 6 champ Tyler Barrett and fellow state qualifiers Julian George and Zander Silva. George was one win away from a state medal while Barrett reached wrestleback round three. CBA also has a state medalist on its roster with the addition of junior Garrett Totten, who transferred from Northern Burlington after finishing seventh in the state at 113 last season. Add in senior state qualifier Sam Nini, district medalists Vincent Principe, Nicholas Geissler, Nicholas Stump and Mason Garber and you have the makings of a balanced lineup that could dethrone Howell atop Class A North.

 

6. St. John Vianney (Last season: 10-7)

The Lancers will not have two-time state champion Dean Peterson this season as he is recovering from nasal surgery, and that’s obviously a major blow. SJV does, however, return four state qualifiers and three additional district medalists, including senior Blake Clayton, who was third in the state at 182 pounds last season. Joining Clayton, sophomore Joseph Giordano and junior Nico Diaz as returning state qualifiers is senior Harrison Gordon, who transferred in from Marlboro where he was 37-7 last season. Seniors Seth Rotondella and Nick Cammarano and sophomore Michael Foley both reached the Region 5 Tournament last season with Rotondella being a two-time district medalist. Also keep an eye on senior Joey Butler, who is committed to The Citadel. Butler was a district finalist in 2018 but missed all of last season with injuries.

 

7. Ocean (Last season: 16-7, CJ-3 champion, District 24 champion)

The Spartans lost a pair of outstanding seniors to graduation in Alex Poniros and Jack Nies but return seven district medalists from their sectional championship squad, including state qualifiers Blake Tarnowski, Demetri Poniros, Joe Teresi and Jared Tracy. With those four plus Gio Poniros, AJ Benner, Tay-Jay Phillips and the addition of Monmouth Regional transfers Kevin and Shane Cartagena-Walsh and some promising freshman, the Spartans look to have a balanced lineup with a lot of flexibility. The race for the Class A Central should be a tight one with St. John Vianney, Rumson-Fair Haven and an always-tough Raritan squad and Ocean is right there as a title contender.

 

8. Jackson Memorial (Last season: 12-9, CJ-4 finalist, District 28 champion)

The Jags lost some big-time studs to graduation, including state medalist Kyle Epperly and state qualifiers Hunter Smith and Brad Galassi, but return eight starters and a total of six district medalists. Plus, this is Jackson Memorial we’re talking about, one of the Shore’s wrestling blue bloods. They are always relevant at the absolute least. Senior Luke Temple leads the cast of returners after earning a state tournament berth last season and is joined by senior Nick White and junior Mike Rauch, both of whom were district champions last year, plus seniors Brett Blaess and Rob Lagravenis and sophomore Lucas Lipari. On paper it doesn’t look like the Jaguars can match Brick Memorial and Southern in Class A South, but it would be foolish to count out a program with their pedigree.

 

9. Middletown South (Last season: 16-9)

Head coach Anton Atterbury has done a great job building the Eagles’ program over the past four seasons to the point where they are now among the Shore Conference 10 best for the first time in ages. I, for one, can’t ever remember having them ranked in the top 10. Middletown South enters 2021 with a talented and balanced roster that features eight returning district medalists. The hammer is sophomore Jack Zaleski, who was 42-6, a district and region champion and fifth in the state at 106 last season. Sophomore David Hussey is also a returning district champ and state qualifier while senior Owen Fitzgerald is a returning district champ. With those plus senior Sean Fitzpatrick and juniors Nick Holland, Jack Willi, Matt Cody and Robert Generelli, the Eagles can certainly make some noise this season.

 

10. Wall (15-5, CJ-3 finalist, District 21 champion)

A number of teams were in contention for the 10th and final spot to open the season but I decided to go with the Crimson Knights because of their reliability and consistency in recent years. Wall won’t have senior Jake Whitworth this year as the returning state medalist is likely to miss the entire year with an injury. That is a major loss, of course, and it could end up being the difference between being a top-10 team or not once all is said and done. That being said, Wall returns two state qualifiers and a total of five district medalists. Seniors Nicolas Zamaloff and Brendan Newbury each made their way to Atlantic City last season while seniors Jack Kinsella and Michael Bruno, junior Lou Pilla and sophomore Kei’sun Sanders were district finalists. After some years of having little to no depth but plenty of stars, Wall now has a good amount of wrestlers in the room and is more of a balanced squad. We’ll see how that translates to dual meets.

 

Keep an eye on:

Lacey

Colts Neck

Matawan

Manalapan

Toms River North

Raritan

 

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