Four current Shore Conference high school wrestlers and one eighth grade standout from Ocean County will wrestle for team New Jersey at the Pinning Down Autism All-Star Duals on Saturday at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale.

The event will feature all-star teams from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania competing in three duals scheduled for 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Bergen County school, raising money and awareness for local autism charities.

Brick Memorial senior Gianni Ghione at 132 pounds, Ocean junior Jake Benner at 138, Wall sophomore Rob Kanniard at 152 and Howell senior Eric Keosseian at 220 will all participate, as will Dean Peterson, an eighth-grade student at Brackman Middle School in Barnegat who is among the best youth wrestlers in the country, at 99 pounds.

Brick Memorial senior Gianni Ghione is one of five Shore area wrestlers who will represent Team New Jersey at the Pinning Down Autism All-Star Duals. (Photo by Ray Richardson).
Brick Memorial senior Gianni Ghione is one of five Shore area wrestlers who will represent Team New Jersey at the Pinning Down Autism All-Star Duals. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

A 99-pound weight class is included in the event since New York has that weight class at the varsity level where it allows eighth graders to participate. Since New Jersey does not it has typically looked to the middle school level to fill a spot for the event.

Peterson, whose older brother, Charles, a junior, wrestles for St. John Vianney, is a multiple-time New Jersey state champion, a Tulsa National champion, a two-time Reno Worlds champion and Super 32 champion.

Ghione is coming off a year where he capped a standout career by finishing third in the state tournament for his third state medal.  Ghione was second in the state as a sophomore at 113 pounds and fourth at 120 pounds as a junior. He finished this season 38-1 for a career record of 134-15, recording 23 pins and four major decisions while receiving six forfeits. Ghione was a three-time district champ and four-time finalist and also a three-time Region 6 champ and four-time finalist. He will continue his career at the Division I level at the University of Pennsylvania.

Benner was selected as the Shore Sports Network Wrestler of the Year and was the co-Most Outstanding Wrestler at the state tournament where he won the 138-pound NJSIAA state title in epic fashion by hitting a five-point move in the third period to stun Bergen Catholic’s Gerard Angelo, 7-6. He set the program record for wins in a season by going 42-1, recording a Shore Conference-leading 29 pins plus three major decisions. He won his third district title by pinning Monmouth’s Tyler Flynn in the District 24 final and dominated at the Region 6 Tournament to win his first title. He verbally committed to Rutgers University following the season and has a 107-10 career record.

After a standout freshman campaign where he qualified for the state tournament, Kanniard announced his presence as one of the state’s best sophomores with district and region championships and a fourth-place finish in Atlantic City, finishing with a 40-3 record. Kanniard won his second district title at District 23, then captured his first region title by winning Region VI. Kanniard was a bonus-point machine with 18 pins, seven technical falls and five major decisions and will bring a 74-9 record into his junior season.

2017 was a dream season for the Howell and Keosseian was front and center from start to finish. He became Howell’s third state champion in program history when he pinned Don Bosco Prep’s Peter Acciardi early in the second period to become Howell’s third state champion and first since Joey Langel in 2008. He finished the season with a 42-2 record, tying the program record for wins in a season. Among his victories were 22 wins by fall, two technical falls and four major decisions. He helped Howell to a banner season as the Rebels won the Class A North division title, the Shore Conference Tournament and, for the first time, an NJSIAA state title. It was Keosseian’s last-second takedown to win 4-3 over Victor Lacombe that fueled Howell’s 28-27 win over Hunterdon Central in the Group V final. That win also avenged Keosseian’s only loss in New Jersey, as Lacombe won 5-1 when the Red Devils beat the Rebels during the regular season. Keosseian’s only other loss was to Florida 3A state champ Chei Hill (South Dade) in the finals of the Chase Life Invitational. Keosseian won his second district championship and claimed his second Region 6 this year. A two-time state medalist and three state state qualifier, Keosseian’s 133 career wins are second all-time at Howell. He will continue his career at Army West Point.

Pennsylvania's lineup has not been announced yet, but against New York Peterson is slated to face state champion Anthony Noto. Ghione is schedule to take on Vito Arujau, a multiple-time state champion, Fargo freestyle champion and cadet freestyle world runner-up who is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 138 pounds by FloWrestling.

Benner will face state third-place finisher Matt Swanson and Kanniard will take on state runner-up Ross MacFarland, who was also an NHSCA nationals runner-up. Keosseian could face state third-place finisher Ryan Ellefson, but Team New Jersey also has Acciardi at 220 and, assuming each wrestles one bout, Keosseian could instead wrestle against Team Pennsylvania.

Team New Jersey lineup

99 - Dean Peterson (Brackman Middle School, Barnegat)
106 - Samuel Alvarez (St. Joseph-Montvale)
113 - Antonio Mininno (Gateway)
120 - Joseph Aragona (Pope John)/ Joe Heilmann (South Plainfield)
126 - Nick Raimo (Hanover Park)
132 - Gianni Ghione (Brick Memorial)
138 - Jake Benner (Ocean)
145 - Nick Palumbo (Lenape Valley)
152 - Robert Kanniard (Wall)
160 - Andrew Merola (Blair Aademy)
170 - Jacob Cardenas (Queen of Peace)
182 - Sam Wustefeld (Scotch Plains-Fanwood)
195 - Kyle Lightner (Delaware Valley)
220 - Eric Keosseian (Howell)/ Peter Acciardi (Don Bosco Prep)
285 - Parker Fox (Montville)

Team New York lineup

99 - Anthony Noto
106 - Zach Redding
113 - Greg Diakomihalis
120 - Orion Anderson
126 - Jon Gomez
132 - Vito Arujau
138 - Matt Swanson
145 - Jake Silverstein
152 - Ross MacFarland
160 - Kyle Jasenski
170 - Tyler Barnes
182 - Kyle Davis
195 - Sam Schuyler
220 - Ryan Ellefson
285 - Deonte Wilson


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. 


More From Shore Sports Network