Manalapan advanced to state wrestling group final

Manalapan High School wrestler Matt Benedetti competes at the Shore Conference Tournament on Jan. 31 at Red Bank Regional High School. Manalapan won its first sectional title since 1992 by defeating Hunterdon Central High School in the finals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 5 Tournament, 38-19.

The goal for the Manalapan High School wrestling team all season was to win the state sectional championship and get a chance to go to the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River to compete for a group championship.

That’s exactly what happened for the Braves, who won their first state sectional championship since 1992 on Feb. 14 in Manalapan against Hunterdon Central Regional High School.

In a rematch of last year’s NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional championship match, Manalapan got its revenge over Hunterdon Central when it rolled to a 38-19 victory in front of its hometown fans to its fourth sectional championship.

Manalapan had fallen to Hunterdon Cenrtal, a perennial state power, 39-24 last year in the sectional title match.

The Braves continued to keep their great run in the state tournament going in the  Group 5 semifinals on Feb. 16 in Toms River when they defeated Watchung Hills Regional High School, 39-36, to give themselves the opportunity to wrestle for a state championship.

Facing off against the defending Group 5 state champion, Southern Regional High School, Manalapan’s run ended in a hard-fought battle.

The Braves stayed neck and neck with the Rams through the first four matches, trailing Southern Regional by only a score of 10-6.

That changed quickly however, with Southern Regional winning the next four bouts, the last two at 132 and 138 pounds via a pin that put Manalapan into a 28-6 hole.

Manalapan tried to rally, but ended up falling to the Rams, 38-24. That result ended Manalapan’s season with a record of 26-4.

Senior Matt Benedetti was nothing but stellar in the tournament for Manalapan. He recorded two pins in the sectional tournament and won his match against Southern Regional’s Colin Boero at 160 pounds by a 15-0 tech fall victory.

Benedetti has 33 victories this season for the Braves.

Teammate Hunter Konstantoulas was 4-1 in the state tournament for Manalapan. Konstantoulas sealed Manalapan’s trip to the state final when he pinned Watchung Steven Brown in their 145-pound bout.

In the state championship match, Konstantoulas rolled to a 10-1 major decision  over Southern Regional’s Leighton Fessman.

Konstantoulas stands at 29-5 on the season.

Manalapan will now switch gears and prepare for the NJSIAA District 20 Tournament that will be held at Red Bank Regional High School on Feb. 22.

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports