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PISCATAWAY -- Is the 2023 Southern Regional wrestling team the greatest in program history? It's a conversation at the very least after the Rams finished off a dominant season with an appropriately impressive effort in the NJSIAA Group 5 state championship match.

Southern won 10 of 14 bouts against fellow juggernaut Phillipsburg and trounced the Stateliners, 41-14, to secure the 2023 Group 5 state title on Sunday afternoon at Jersey Mike's Arena on the campus of Rutgers University.

Senior Riley O'Boyle (215), freshman Anthony Mason (!06), freshman Atilla Vigilante (113), sophomore Scottie Sari (120), and senior Conor Collins (126) combined to give Southern a 21-4 lead through the first six bouts and sophomore Wyatt Stout delivered a 5-2 decision over Gavin Hawk at 132 pounds to send the Rams on their way to an emphatic victory. Collins and senior Cole Velardi (165) won by fall, junior Matt Henrich (150) won by technical fall, O'Boyle, Mason, and Sari won by major decision and Vigilante, Stout, sophomore Hayden Hochstrasser (144), and senior Nick Bennet (157) won by decision.

The state championship is Southern's fifth in program history, joining the Group 4 title won in 2005 and Group 5 titles captured in 2016, 2019, and 2020.

"It's the best team I've ever been a part of," Collins said. "It meant everything to go out in my last match and become team state champions. It's all I could ask for.

Robert Badders/Shore Sports Network
Robert Badders/Shore Sports Network

Southern has a long and illustrious history of team and individual success since the program was established in 1961 with 16 state sectional titles and five group championships. The team many in the program regard as the best is the 2007 team, led by three-time state champion, NCAA champion, and Olympian Frank Molinaro, state champion Glenn Carson, and state finalist and current assistant coach Luke Lanno. That team did not win a state title, however, as it ran into a Jackson Memorial team that was No. 1 in the state and top five in the nation. That debate will likely continue amongst the black and gold faithful, but there's no doubt this group is an all-time team.

"It's up there," said Southern head coach Dan Roy, who is in his fourth season as head coach and has been with the program for 20 years. "We've had a lot of good teams but this one ranks up there, probably in the top three."

"I don't really know because I don't remember all those teams," said Stout, whose father, John, was the Rams' head coach for 18 seasons from 2001-2002 through 2018-2019. "Coach Lanno likes to say '07 is the best but I think we could beat them."

Southern's thorough victory was its second win over Phillipsburg this season after a 42-12 triumph during the regular season. But what happened on Jan. 19 meant little if the Rams couldn't do it again with a state title on the line. Losing to Phillipsburg in last season's Group 5 semifinals, 27-25, provided ample motivation.

"Ever since that day we had it marked on our calendar when we were wrestling Phillipsburg again," Collins said. "We felt pain losing to them last year and almost everyone was back. We beat them the first time but we knew we still had to come back and wrestle our best the second time."

There were other forms of motivation, as well.

"Their coach (Brad Gentzle) said 'we don't want to beat Southern at Southern, we want to beat Southern at Rutgers'," Stout said. "We've been thinking about that quote a lot and I feel like we left no doubt who the better team really is."

"Their coach said some things in the newspaper that made us mad and that really just made us work harder," Collins said. "It gave us a little more fire."

Sunday's championship match went almost exactly as the first matchup did. Southern won 10 bouts in both matches and received victories from the same 10 wrestlers. The difference this time was Collins and Stout both down a weight, Collins from 132 to 126 and Stout from 138 to 132. O'Boyle began with an 11-2 major decision over Logan Kries at 215 pounds. Winning 2-0 after the first period, O'Boyle added seven more points in the second period en route to the major decision. At 285, Phillipsburg's John Wargo countered with a 9-1 major decision over Anthony Evangelista. In the first meeting, O'Boyle won by fall and Wargo won by decision, so Phillipsburg was ahead of its prior pace.

Southern quickly swung momentum back in its favor.

Mason had a takedown and three near-fall points in each of the first two periods and added an escape and a takedown in the third period for a 13-0 major decision over Massimo Gonzalez at 106 pounds. Fellow freshman Vigilante scored five takedowns and did not yield an offensive point in a 12-5 win over Dawson McWilliams at 113. Sari continued his productive season with a 19-7 major decision over Julian Ricci at 120, scoring three takedowns in the first period and finishing with eight total takedowns to give Southern a 15-4 lead through five bouts.

At 126 pounds, Collins needed just 54 seconds to build a quick lead and pin Kyle Beenders, pushing Southern's lead to 21-4 through the first six bouts. The Rams were in complete control, but the Stateliners had a lifeline if they could find a way to get a win at 132 pounds with their most accomplished wrestler. Last season, Hawk reached the fourth round of wrestlebacks at the state tournament wrestling at 120 pounds. Stout was also a state qualifier but went 0-2 in Atlantic City after winning district and region titles.

Stout jumped on Hawk with a pair of first-period takedowns and avoided some potentially dangerous situations in the third period to hold on for a 5-2 decision and a 24-3 Rams lead halfway through the dual. It was a significant individual victory for Stout that simultaneously tempered what was an already-quiet Phillipsburg bench.

"So happy for Wyatt," Collins said. "I think that was the match that really sealed it for us."

Phillipsburg broke Southern's five-bout winning streak at 138 pounds where state qualifier Luke Geleta (WB3) delivered a 15-6 major decision over David Ferrante. Southern almost pull out a win there, too, when Ferrante tossed Geleta to his back in the third period and nearly had him stuck. Geleta was able to get free with a reversal and three more near-fall points to secure the four team points.

Southern went right back to work at 144 pounds when Hochstrasser scored six points in the third period to win 10-3 over James Day. He also did not allow an offensive point. In nine of Southern's 10 victories, its wrestlers held Phillipsburg's grapplers to zero offensive points. Henrich followed with a 19-4 technical fall over Jonathan Roth at 150 pounds. The standout junior led 13-1 after the first period. At 157 pounds, Bennet officially clinched the state championship with a 3-1 victory over Liam Packer in sudden victory. With the Rams now up 35-8 with three bouts left, the match was over.

Southern did not forfeit the remaining weights, a testament to their relentless approach. Velardi, last season's state fifth-place finisher at 150 pounds, took the mat at 165 and won by fall over returning state qualifier Hunter Cleaver, rebounding from Cleaver scoring a reversal and nearly putting him to his back. Velardi's pin put Soutnern up 41-8 with two bouts left.

Phillipsburg would pick up wins in the final two bouts with Connor Hille winning 6-4 over Mitch Bivona at 175 and Caleb Rivera eking out a 5-3 win over Collin French at 190.

Now the celebration could finally begin. For a program that puts every ounce of its efforts into winning a team state championship, the Rams could finally take their foot off the accelerator.

"It's special," Stout said. "And I feel like it means a little more that we're a public school and grew up wrestling and stuck together. It's pretty much a super team with people from the area. It's about as good as a public school can get."

"I couldn't ask for better teammates," Collins said. "And I feel we have one of the best, if not the best, coaching staffs in the state."

Southern finished with a 19-1 record, its only defeat coming to Delbarton, which was No. 1 in the state until St. Joseph (Montvale) scored a stunning 28-24 upset in Sunday's Non-Public A state final. Along the way, Southern stacked up dominant wins over Group 4 finalist Jackson Memorial, Central Jersey Group 4 finalist Brick Memorial, Group 4 semifinalist Mount Olive, Group 2 state champion High Point, Group 2 semifinalist South Plainfield, plus Kingsway and Phillipsburg, and an epic victory over Christian Brothers Academy in a Shore Conference No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. It was, unquestionably, a season for the ages.

"They've got grit," Roy said of his team. "They've done everything we've asked them to do. The kids usually do, but across the board, a lot of kids sacrificed to make this happen. Going through a tough schedule like we did, it can be tough to stay positive. You might get beat up a few times, kids are cutting weight; everyone trying to make it happen for everybody else. They kept grinding and doing everything we asked them to do from start to finish. I'm very proud of them."


Box Score

Group 5

1-Southern 41, 2-Phillipsburg 14

215Riley O`Boyle (Southern Regional) over Logan Kries (Phillipsburg) Maj 11-2
285John Wargo (Phillipsburg) over Anthony Evangelista (Southern Regional) Maj 9-1
106Anthony Mason (Southern Regional) over Massimo Gonzalez (Phillipsburg) Maj 13-0
113Attila Vigilante (Southern Regional) over Dawson McWilliams (Phillipsburg) Dec 12-5
120Scottie Sari (Southern Regional) over Julian Ricci (Phillipsburg) Maj 19-7
126Conor Collins (Southern Regional) over Kyle Beenders (Phillipsburg) Fall 0:54
132Wyatt Stout (Southern Regional) over Gavin Hawk (Phillipsburg) Dec 5-2
138Luke Geleta (Phillipsburg) over David Ferrante (Southern Regional) Maj 15-6
144Hayden Hochstrasser (Southern Regional) over Patrick Day (Phillipsburg) Dec 10-4
150Matt Henrich (Southern Regional) over Johnathon Roth (Phillipsburg) TF 19-4
157Nick Bennet (Southern Regional) over Liam Packer (Phillipsburg) OT 3-1
165Cole Velardi (Southern Regional) over Hunter Cleaver (Phillipsburg) Fall 6:00
175Connor Hille (Phillipsburg) over Mitch Bivona (Southern Regional) Dec 6-4
190Caleb Rivera (Phillipsburg) over Collin French (Southern Regional) Dec 5-3





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