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St. John Vianney wrestlers upset Howell to win Shore Conference Tournament

Champions of the Shore Conference wrestling tournament at Red Bank Regional HS in Little Silver pose for a picture on Jan 27. St. John Vianney in Holmdel won the overall team championship.

The 2018 Shore Conference Wrestling Tournament will be remembered when the format turned into an individual showcase.

But what will also be recalled is the shocking championship that Saint John Vianney High School walked away with once the event ended before a crowded gym at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver on Jan. 27.

Saint John Vianney pulled off the upset when it claimed the team title by outscoring Howell High School, the runner-up and the heavy favorite. Saint John Vianney finished on top with 165.5 points, while Howell, the defending Group 5 state tournament champion and ranked among the top teams in the state this winter, followed with 151.5 points.

The Lancers won four individual titles en route to the team championship.

Dean Peterson decisioned Vincent Santaniello of Brick Memorial High School, 4-2, to win the 106-pound class; Nick Caracappa defeated Nick Addison of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School by decision, 8-1, in the 170-pound final; Steven Giannios edged Donavan Catholic High School’s Steven Giannios by decision, 4-2 in overtime, in the 220-pound title bout; and Paul Liseno was declared the heavyweight winner when Kevin Cerruti of Long Branch High School was forced to forfeit due to an injury in the final.

Also contributing for the champion Lancers were Tyler Pepe, who placed second in the 120-pound class, and 132-pound Charles Peterson and 195-pound Josiah Walker, who each finished in third place.

Saint John Vianney’s surge to the top of the conference can be pointed to the guidance of Dennis D’Andrea, a veteran coach in the Shore Conference.

D’Andrea had served as the head man at Manalapan High School and then was the chief assistant under Tony Caravella at Brick Memorial during the 1980s and 1990s when that program was regarded as one of the best in New Jersey. Today, Caravella serves as D’Andrea’s assistant at the parochial school in Holmdel.

Another one of D’Andrea’s assistant coaches, Jason Ecklof, took some thrill in how the Lancers shocked a Howell team that he once wrestled for. Ecklof graduated from Howell in 2008 with 101 career victories on the mats.

“It feels great,” Ecklof said. “My former team is Howell. Coming in here,we’re a program that nobody thought we had a shot. [Howell is] nationally ranked. We were able to come in here and knock them off. That’s something. These kids wrestled a tough schedule, and it shows. The kids wrestled great today. They really had a great tournament.”

Howell won the final Shore Conference title when the tournament was in a dual-meet format. Since 1975 up until last winter, the tournament consisted of dual matches, unlike most of other tournaments throughout New Jersey.

Starting this season, the tournament became an individual format — as is the case for most county and conference tournaments as well as the district and region state tournaments  — and a team champion is determined on the points scored from its wrestlers.

This new system certainly worked toward Saint John Vianney’s strength.

“I love the change for our team,” Ecklof said. “We’re an individual team. We’re not a dual-meet team. We have some dual-meet wins, but this is more our style. This suits us well. I’m pretty pumped about this. This is huge.”

Caracappa revealed that the Lancers were confident entering the tournament.

“It just feels right,” he said. “It’s awesome. We earned this. It just shows that we’re here for a reason. We won this for a reason. We worked all year long for this, and we earned every bit of it.”

Howell

The Rebels claimed two championships in 126-pound Darby Diedrich and 132-pound Kyle Slendorn, who placed second in the 2017 state tournament at 126 pounds.

Slendorn came out of the the tournament as the program’s all-time winningest wrestler when he ended the event with 141 career victories, a total that passed Zac Cunliffe’s previous record at Howell of 138.

A 2017 state tournament champion denied Howell a third title when Ocean Township High School’s Jake Benner decisioned Dan Esposito, 12-0, for the 138-pound crown. Benner won the state title at 138 pounds last March.

Another runner-up for Howell was Christian Murphy, the No. 2 seed at 182 pounds who fell to the top-seeded Nicholas Cofone of Middletown High School North by decision, 1-0, in the title bout.

A top seed for the Rebels, Shane Reitsma, was upset via decision by Addison of Rumson-Fair Haven, 6-4, in the semifinals at 170. Reitsma came back to place third. Addison lost to Saint John Vianney’s Caracappa in the final.

Paul Jakub came through for Howell. As the No. 5 seed, he eventually placed third at 145.

Raritan

Raritan High School did not have an individual champion, but it managed to place fourth with 94.5 points.

Russell Benson fell to Howell’s Slendorn by decision, 4-2, in the final at 132 pounds.

Another Raritan wrestler who ran onto a 2017 state place-winner in the final at the Shore Conference Tournament was Anthony Aquilano, who was pinned by Wall Township High School’s Robert Kanniard in just under three minutes in the title bout at 160. Kanniard placed fourth in the state at 152 in 2017. Aquilano’s trip to the final was impressive since he entered the event as the sixth seed.

Also placing high for Raritan were 182-pound George Burdick and 220-pound Ethan Wolf, who each came in third place. Burdick was a fourth seed while Wolf was a No. 1 seed.

Colts Neck

Colts Neck High School, which placed 12th with 47 points, received a second-place finish from Dyon Womack at 126 pounds. Womack was the third seed in his division.

Another place-winner for Colts Neck was Joseph King, who finished fourth at 120 pounds.

Freehold Township

Freehold Township High School, which tied for 17th place along with Rumson-Fair Haven with 38 points, received a second-place showing from Eric Quartey, a third seed who fell to Long Branch’s Peter Wersinger by decision, 5-3, in the 195-pound final.

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