Improved Spartans hopeful for big season on the mats

By Warren Rappleyea

With six wins in its first eight meets, Ocean Township High School’s wrestling team is halfway to equaling its victory total for last season.

Ocean Township is coming off a 12-13 campaign — the team’s first sub.-500 finish since 1995. The Spartans were, however, quite competitive: seven of those losses were by four or fewer points. Nine starters from that team have graduated, five of whom posted 20 or more wins.

Sixth-year coach Cip Apicelli said his team has the talent for a big season.

“If everything falls into place and the newcomers make an immediate impact, we could be a top 10 team,” he said.

The Spartans are coming off a split in a tri-meet Jan. 7. Ocean Township downed Hopewell Valley Central High School, 34-30, and fell, 42-19, to Middletown High School North. Apicelli’s grapplers have also scored wins over Middletown High School South, Red Bank High School Catholic, Point Pleasant Borough High School, Manasquan High School and Monmouth Regional High School. Its other loss came against Long Branch High School.

In tournament action, Ocean Township won the team title at the Kearney Tournament Dec. 12, as seven competitors earned first place in their respective weight classes.

The team’s main strengths are at the lower end of the lineup — from 106 through 145 pounds. Jake Brenner has been Ocean Township’s top performer. The 138-pounder is 12-0 thus far with first-place finishes in Kearney and at the Mustang Classic. A year ago, the junior posted a 36-3 mark and took first place at the District 22 competition and second in Region 6. Including this season, Brenner has 77 victories to his credit.

Senior Nick Villapiano is 8-2 at 132 pounds, and sophomore Anthony Esposito is 5-6 in the same weight class. John Santos, who was 12-17 last season, worked hard during the offseason and has won seven of his nine bouts at 113 pounds. Junior Adam Manzo is 7-4 between 120 and 126 pounds and is coming off an 18-win season. Saif Ali, another junior, is 7-4 at 145 pounds. Santos and Villapiano both won in Kearney.

Two freshmen have made an immediate impact for the Spartans. Jack Nies is 11-2 at 106 pounds, while Alex Poniros is 11-1, mostly at 126 pounds. Both won at the Kearney tournament.

Clayton Oates (220) and Esteban Bernard (195) have also started quickly, and the seniors were winners in Kearney as well. Oates paid his dues a year ago when he went 11-18 and is 9-2 this time around. Bernard, who picked up nine wins last winter, has seven thus far. Apicelli is also counting on the duo, along with Santos, to provide senior leadership and help out the newcomers.

The Spartans’ lineup also includes seniors Muhammed Ali (170) and Will Pintro (heavyweight); junior Christian Wilson (heavyweight); and sophomores Will Tisony (113), Dereck Benitez (138), Lorenzo Smith (145), Emerson Derose (152) and Evan Romein (182).

“This group has the potential to surprise a lot of people,” Apicelli said.

Ocean Township was looking to improve its win total when it visited Wall High School Jan 11. The Spartans will be at Matawan Regional High School Jan. 14 for a tri-meet with the host school and Allentown High School.