The Howell High School wrestling team has been a rolling train of success throughout the last decade.
Three Shore Conference team championships, six district team titles, four state sectional championships and two state titles paint the picture of great success being put on display on the mat by the Rebels.
That is the case again this season with Howell continuing to dominate on the mat, roaring to a 15-1 record and sitting at No. 3 in the South Jersey, Group 5 power index rankings.
“We have high expectations no matter who is out there on the mat,” said Howell coach John Gagliano. “The guys are really working hard. They all put in a great offseason. We’ve had some really tough matches and the guys have come together to get the win.”
The star power for Howell starts at 170 pounds with senior Shane Reitsma returning after placing second in the state tournament last season.
Going 42-2 as a junior, Reitsma has posted an 18-1 record this season and is considered one of the best pound for pound wrestlers in the state.
Reitsma is a two-time state place finisher, two-time region champion and three-time district champion. He will bid for a state title when the state tournament is wrestled March 5-7 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
The senior is committed to wrestle for Rider University next winter.
Following Reitsma at 182 pounds is junior Nick Cerulli. He, and senior heavyweight Nick Wright help anchor the Rebels in the higher weight classes.
Wright, who placed second at the District 25 tournament and seventh at the Region 7 tournament last season, is 16-3 this winter.
Up top in the lower weights, Howell has senior Ethan Liptzin back to lead things off at 106 pounds. Liptzin went 31-9 last season and is one of the four returning state qualifiers the Rebels have in their lineup.
The other two state qualifiers returning for Howell are juniors Neiko Malone (126 and 132 pounds) and Paul Jakub (152).
Malone has a record of 15-3 this season for the Rebels, including earning a walk-off pin to help Howell defeat another strong team this winter, Toms River High School North, 32-30, in their dual meet on Jan. 2.
Fellow classmate Kyle Nase has been really strong this season at 120 pounds for Howell, said Gagliano.
Jakub has led the way for Howell in the middle of its lineup, standing at 15-4 on the season as he shoots to make another run at qualifying for the state tournament.
“I think the way we’re going, if they guys keep improving and stay healthy, we’ll have a handful of guys competing in Atlantic City,” Gagliano said. “I really believe that their work ethic will pay off in time.”
Howell came up just short of winning its third straight sectional tournament championship last season when it suffered a 30-28 loss to Southern Regional High School in the South Jersey, Group 5 state championship match. Southern Regional went on to win the Group 5 state title.
The ultimate team goal for the Rebels is to be sectional and state champions for the third time in four years.
The state sectional tournament will kick off on Feb. 10. The state group championship matches are scheduled for Feb. 16.
Howell still has a lot of work to do before they can get that point of being ready to compete for both goals, said Gagliano.
Gagliano has made sure his team understands that they need to keep improving and take things one step at a time to be in the best possible position they can be when postseason time arrives.
“The goal every year is to be state champions as a team,” Gagliano said. “That’s our goal from day one. We still have a lot of work to do. We have to keep working.”
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