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In the first Shore Sports Network Wrestling Top 10 of 2020, the team that ended last season atop the rankings starts the year in the very same spot.

With four state qualifiers returning from last season’s NJSIAA Group 5 championship squad along with a high-caliber transfer and several impact freshman, Southern Regional is the No. 1 team in the Shore. The Rams have the depth and balance to once again hoist major hardware but will be challenged by several teams, especially in a loaded Class A South division that has three teams ranked in the state top 20.

Another top-10 team in the state, Howell, along with A-South stalwarts Toms River North and Brick Memorial comprise the top four. The surprise team in the top five is Manalapan, which earned a huge early-season win over Long Branch to thrust itself into the top half of the rankings.

Jackson Memorial, Rumson-Fair Haven, Middletown North, Long Branch and St. John Vianney round out the top 10 with teams like Point Boro and Middletown South knocking on the door.

 

1. Southern (5-0)

The Rams won the Robin Leff Tournament and Hunterdon Central Invitational team titles and own dual-meet victories over Jackson Memorial, Toms River East, Mount Olive, Paramus and West Morris. Junior Eddie Hummel, a transfer from Roselle Park who was sixth in the state last season, has added a hammer to the middle of the lineup. He is undefeated along with senior Robert Woodcock while freshmen Conor Collins (106) and Cole Velardi (152) and seniors Ben LoParo (182) and JT Cornelius (Hwt) each have only one loss. This week: The Rams take on Brick on Tuesday before hosting No. 4 Brick Memorial in a marquee dual on Thursday.

 

2. Howell (5-0)

Howell had a strong showing at the Paulsboro Tournament with eight champions and 15 total top-three finishers to open the season. Highlighting the Rebels’ dual-meet wins is a thrilling 32-30 comeback win over No. 3 Toms River North where a pin by junior Nieko Malone in the final bout capped the furious rally. Howell also has wins over CBA and Freehold in Class A North and St. Thomas Aquinas (formerly Bishop Ahr) and Bound Brook in nonconference matches. The Rebels also participated in the Powerade Tournament which had juggernaut fields at every weight. Senior Shane Reitsma was remarkable in finishing second while seniors Ethan Liptzin (106) and Justin Wright (Hwt) finished fourth and sixth, respectively. This week: Howell has a pair of big-time matches starting with a road match at High Point on Tuesday. The Rebels will host Freehold Township on Thursday before welcoming No. 6 Jackson Memorial to town on Friday night. They’ll close out a busy week hosting a tri-match with Clifton and Pascack Valley on Saturday.

 

3. Toms River North (6-2)

The Mariners' schedule gave them plenty of opportunities to make a statement early in the season, and despite two losses they have done precisely that. North won the CBA Colt Classic team title before going 3-0 at the Woodstown Duals and defeating Brick in an A-South match. Following a 32-30 loss to Howell, the Mariners competed in the Henry Boresch Duals and sandwiched wins over Group 2 champion South Plainfield and Group 1 champion Paulsboro around a loss to reigning Group 4 champion Kingsway. This week: The Mariners host district rival Toms River South on Tuesday before a big road match against No. 6 Jackson Memorial on Wednesday. On Saturday they will participate in a quad at Holmdel with Lacey and Raritan.

 

4. Brick Memorial (4-0) 

The Mustangs opened the season by winning the team title at the TCNJ Pride Tournament and then had a strong showing at their own Mustang Classic with Anthony Santaniello (106), Vincent Santaniello (120) and David Szuba (195) winning titles and Michael Richardson (126) and Joe Colon (170) finishing second. They have yet to be tested in a dual with wins over Toms River South, Cranford, Allentown and Cedar Grove but that changes in a big way on Thursday. This week: Brick Memorial hosts Central on Tuesday before traveling to No. 1 Southern on Thursday for a huge Class A South match. The Mustangs will participate in the Williamstown Duals on Saturday.

 

5. Manalapan (9-0) 

The Braves hasn’t been ranked this high in quite a while but earned a top-five spot thanks to a 40-21 victory over Long Branch that marked them as the main challenger to Howell in Class A North. Manalapan also has wins over Freehold, Marlboro, Holmdel, Kearny, Sayreville, Jackson Liberty, Old Bridge and Lakewood. Manalapan was second at the Nottingham Invitational with Matt Benedetti (170), Dylan Waller (182) and Gavin Claro (195) winning titles. Senior transfers Justin and Jason Schifter, a pair of district runners-up who came over from Freehold Township, have given the lower half of the lineup a boost and the consecutive trio of Benedetti, Waller and Claro from 170-195 is arguably the best in the Shore. This week: Manalapan travels to CBA for an A-North dual on Wednesday and then has a quad with Mendham, Old Tappan and host Dumont on Saturday.

 

6. Jackson Memorial (2-2)

A tough early-season schedule has the Jaguars with a .500 record through four duals. After suffering a 31-30 loss to Westfield to open the season, Jackson bounced back by winning the Walter Woods Tournament team title and sweeping a tri-match with Cherokee and Monroe. The Jags fell to Southern, 41-24, in a Class A South match before finishing 10th at the Sam Cali Invitational. Senior Kyle Epperly, who was seventh in the state last season, placed second at 195. This week: Another week of tough matches has Jackson hosting No. 4 Toms River North on Wednesday and traveling to No. 2 Howell on Friday. The Jags will also have a tri-match with Colts Neck and CBA on Saturday.

 

7. Rumson-Fair Haven (4-0)

Rumson has been on an upward trajectory for a few years now and 2020 looks like the year they will finally break through. The Bulldogs are the favorite to win the Class A Central, which would be the program’s first since winning B-Central in 2003. They were second at both the Caldwell Tournament and Holmdel Christmas Tournament and opened their dual season with a 45-27 win over Red Bank Catholic. Their big day came this past Saturday when they swept a quad with Lacey, Colts Neck and Manchester. Junior Max Brignola (145) and sophomore Shay Addison (160) are both undefeated while juniors Jack Kelly (170) and Tyler Brignola (151) and seniors Liam Horan (195) and Mike Ponenti (152) have only one loss apiece. This week: Rumson has a key Class A Central match with Holmdel on Wednesday and will host a quad with Seton Hall Prep, Livingston and Mahwah on Saturday.

 

8. Middletown North (3-0)

The Lions wrestled a pair of duals on opening night and earned wins over Middlesex and Notre Dame, then didn’t wrestle another dual until Monday when they beat Red Bank. In between, Middletown North fared well in three tournaments – Battle at the Bay, Mustang Classic and Sam Cali Invitational. The Lions have a great stretch from 113-126 with seniors Tyler Klinsky, Fred Luchs and Thomas O’Keefe and junior Nico Cerbo has looked great at 220 pounds. There is some uncertainty throughout the lineup, but with major firepower down low, a hammer up top and veteran Eddie Farrell anchoring the middle, the Lions are a dangerous team. This week: The Lions defeated Red Bank, 46-21, on Monday. They will face Matawan on Wednesday before hosting Ocean in a crucial Class B North match on Thursday.

 

9. Long Branch (4-1) 

The Green Wave’s lone loss came via a 40-21 defeat at the hands of No. 5 Manalapan, dropping them out of contention for the A-North division title unless they can somehow shock Howell and hope for Howell to then beast Manalapan. Long Branch has completed entirely within the division so far with wins over Freehold Township, CBA, Freehold and Marlboro along with the loss to Manalapan. The Wave were second at the Battle at the Bay Tournament, as well. The biggest story surrounding the program so far has been the work of senior Ryan Zimmerman, who is undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the state at 138 pounds thanks to his pin of state runner-up Jacob Eli-Perez (Paulsboro) in the Mustang Classic final. This week: Long Branch has its annual rivalry dual with Raritan on Wednesday and heads north for a quad on Saturday with St. Benedict’s Prep, Millburn and Kearny.

 

10. St. John Vianney (1-0)

The Lancers are being solely judged off their tournament performances and the composition of their lineup at this point since their only dual meet was a 72-6 win over St. Rose. Junior Dean Peterson is a returning state champion and one of the best 120-pounders in the country, and he furthered that belief by winning the Beast of the Beast and the Sam Cali Invitational. Junior Blake Clayton was third at the Mustang Classic and second at the Sam Cali and freshman Joe Giordano has been impressive with second-place finishes at both aforementioned tournaments. The records don’t jump off the page for standouts like Nico Diaz and Seth Rotondella but consider the three tournaments the team has wrestled in before making any snap judgments. It remains to be seen how the entire lineup will fare in its dual schedule but where the Lancers are good they are very good. This week: SJV faces Manasquan on Wednesday in its only action of the week.

 

Keep an eye on: 

Point Boro 

Ocean 

Lacey 

Middletown South

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.