By Tim Morris
Five Howell High School wrestlers survived the gauntlet that was Region 6 and are headed to the state championships.
“It was a great weekend,” Howell head coach John Gagliano said. “Five is the most we’ve had in my 19 years.
“The schedule this season and the competition they faced all year really had them prepared. Every match was a battle.”
The NJSIAA Individual Championships are set for March 4-6 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Leading the pack at the region tournament for Howell were Kris Lindemann (138 pounds) and Eric Keosseian (220), who captured titles. The championships were their first and the 27th and 28th for the Rebels program. Both wrestlers were the No. 1 seeds in their respective weight classes.
The Region 6 Tournament was held Feb. 24 and 26-27 at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
Lindemann (26-1) decisioned No. 2-seed Cole Corrigan from Toms River High School South, 5-3, in the 138 finals. This was the third region medal for the two-time District 21 champion.
Keosseian (37-2), who was Howell’s upper weights stopper during the dual-meet season, had to survive an overtime marathon with Long Branch High School’s No. 3 seed, Joey Jasio, 3-1, in sudden victory (first wrestler to scored a point). This was the junior’s second region medal.
Kyle Slendorn picked up his second region medal, finishing second in the 113-pound weight division to the No. 1 seed from Christian Brothers Academy, Steve Rivera, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. Rivera won by a technical fall, 18-3 (4:15).
Slendorn, who finished third last year, is 31-6.
Winning their all-important third-place consolation matches, which secured a trip to Atlantic City, were Darby Diedrich (106) and Anthony Gagliano (132).
Gagliano, a senior, took third place for the second straight year, beating Wall High School’s Nick Wagner by a major decision, 14-5. He’ll bring a 39-2 record to Atlantic City.
While the other four Rebels have been to Atlantic City before, with Lindemann being a state place-winner (sixth) two years ago, freshman Diedrich will make his debut.
Diedrich, who won the District 21 title like his four teammates, hasn’t wrestled like a freshman. He won his consolation match by a major decision, 10-2, over Southern Regional High School’s Owen Kretschmer. He’s 31-7.
“All five are very competitive and work well with each other,” coach Gagliano said. “They’re very excited to be going [to Atlantic City] together.”
The Rebels’ head coach said the prior experience at Boardwalk Hall will benefit the Rebels.
“It makes a big difference,” he said. “They know what they have to do, and Darby has had a lot of experience. All five are ready to go.”
Freehold Township High School’s Mike Plaska (126) and Manalapan High School’s Joe Marano (220) came up one win shore of Boardwalk Hall, falling in their consolation matches and finishing fourth.
Plaska lost a 4-3 decision to Southern Regional’s Matt Barnett. They were the fourth and seventh seeds, respectively.
Marano, the fifth seed, lost by a major decision to fourth-seed Chris Hayes from Brick Memorial High School, 12-5.
The other District 21 wrestlers who are going to the state championships are St. John Vianney High School’s Luke Ecklof, the champion at 106 who defeated Lacey Township High School’s Hunter Gutierrez, 6-0, in the final; Jackson Memorial High School’s Matt McGowan, the 126 champion who defeated Raritan High School’s Russell Bebon, 3-2, by a tiebreaker; Jackson Liberty High School’s Tyler Kalmowitz, runner-up at 106; Jackson Liberty’s Nicholas Pellegrino, third place at 113; Jackson Memorial’s Mike Spino, third place at 120; and St. John Vianney’s Micah Clarke, third place at heavyweight.