By Tim Morris
Howell High School’s wrestling team may have the opportunity to get the final word in in their rivalry with Christian Brothers Academy (CBA).
Earlier this year, the two teams hooked up in what has been the meet of the year in the Shore Conference thus far. The Colts came to Howell and snapped the Rebels’ 11-year, 73-meet win streak in the A North Division. They did it by winning the tiebreaker after the teams were tied, 27-27. By virtue of winning eight of the 14 matches, the tiebreaker and 28-27 win went to the Colts.
With CBA entering the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT) this year, the teams could meet again for the SCT crown.
CBA and Howell were seeded first and second by the coaches Jan. 24 and would not see each other until the finals if the seedings hold up.
The SCT begins Jan. 28 with three rounds at the home of the top four seeds, which are CBA, Howell, Wall High School and Jackson Memorial High School.
The semifinals and finals are at Red Bank Regional High School this year Jan. 30.
At Howell, No. 15-seed Manalapan High School will take on No. 18-seed Toms River High School North in a preliminary-round match, with the winner getting Howell at 5:30 p.m. in the round of 16. Howell defeated Manalapan (9-5), 44-21, in their A North match earlier this month.
The other round of 16 match pits No. 7-seed Raritan High School against No. 10-seed Jackson Liberty High School. That winner will wrestle at 7 p.m. against the Howell-Manalapan/Toms River North winner in the quarterfinals.
Colts Neck High School (11-3) was seeded No. 12 and slated to meet its B North Division rival, No. 5-seed Long Branch High School (11-1), in the round of 16 at No. 4-seed Jackson Memorial. The Green Wave edged the Cougars, 33-27, in their B North match this year.
Jackson Memorial wrestled the Brick Township High School (No. 13 seed) vs. Shore Regional High School (No. 20 seed) winner in its round of 16 match.
Since the loss to CBA, Howell (14-3 overall) has been busy taking on a challenging schedule against many of the state’s best teams. The Rebels lost matches to powerhouses South Plainfield High School, 45-20, and Phillipsburg High School, 40-24, which head coach John Gagliano believes will only make his team better.
“We have taken on a lot of good teams, and I feel there is always room for improvement with all of our guys,” he said. “I think our schedule helps them prepare for what’s ahead with the Shore Conference Tournament and state sectionals.”
Howell’s most recent win was a 37-31 victory over Middletown High School North, which had come into the match undefeated in A North.
There is still a chance that Howell could win a co-championship (marking an 11th straight division title) if Middletown North can defeat CBA in their meet scheduled for Jan. 27.
In the dramatic loss to CBA, Howell held a 27-14 lead but could not finish the Colts off. The match concluded at 126 and 132 pounds, where CBA had its closers, Sebastian Rivera (126) and Dylan VanSickell (132), waiting. Rivera won by a major decision and VanSickell scored a decision to forge the 27-27, comeback tie.
Should the teams meet in the finals, it will be interesting to see what lineup changes, if any, the coaches make. The return to the lineup of state place-winner Kris Lindemann (145) gives Rebels head coach Gagliano more options this time around.
“It’s great having Kris Lindemann back,” he said. “It just adds more experience and balance to our lineup.”
Howell is taking aim at a second SCT crown in the last three years. In 2014, the Rebels beat Brick Memorial High School, 28-27, to win their first conference tournament championship.