Rebels win state sectional team title; bow in Group V state final


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The Howell High School wrestling team and Coach John Gagliano won their fifth NJSIAA state sectional tournament team title in eight years on Feb. 9 in Howell against Hunterdon Central Regional High School of Flemington.

Sophomore 138-pounder Giovanni Scafidi pinned Hunterdon Central’s Henry Wilkinson in the final bout of the championship match to lift the Rebels from a 26-25 deficit to a 31-26 victory over the Red Devils.

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The victory over Hunterdon Central advanced the Rebels to the semifinals of the Group V state team tournament and a match against Livingston High School on Feb. 11 in Howell.

The Rebels rolled past Livingston, 41-18, to punch their ticket to their first state team tournament championship match since 2018.

The Group V final matched Howell against Phillipsburg High School on Feb. 13 at Franklin High School in Franklin Township, Somerset County. Howell was seeking its third state team title.

Phillipsburg took control of the final from the start and rolled to a 51-8 victory over the Rebels to be crowned Group V state team champions. The Stateliners won 12 of 14 bouts in the match.

Xavier Ortega (113) and Hunter Mays (165) were the Rebels’ two winners in the Group V final. Each grappler won his bout by a major decision.

Howell finished the 2021-22 season with a dual meet record of 22-5.

“We are happy to win our (state) sectional, but we want to win it all and it was in the cards,” Gagliano said after the Group V final. “We had a good season. We won our section. We have to bounce back and get ready for individuals.”

With the team portion of the season completed, the Rebels will prepare for the individual tournaments that will start with this week’s district competition. The districts will be followed by the regional tournaments and the state tournament.

Mays headlines the group of Howell state tournament hopefuls this season after winning the state championship at 160 pounds in 2020-21. The senior is 29-1 this season.

Xavier Ortega, along with his brother, Sebastian Ortega (120), senior Nick Acque (157) and D.J. Henry (175) will also have a chance to make their mark during the postseason, Gagliano believes.

“We have some guys who can make a nice run if they stay healthy and keep working hard,” the coach said.

The Rebels will compete in the District 22 Tournament at Robbinsville High School in Mercer County later this week.

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