Lancer wrestling team on state playoff bubble

Although the youthful St. John Vianney High School wrestling team is just 3-5 at the moment, coach Matt Shepherd has his eyes set on an NJSIAA Parochial tournament berth.

The Lancers have nine matches remaining before the Jan. 27 cut-off date. Teams must be at .500 or better at the end of competition that day to qualify for the state tourney.

“Our guys are getting the experience they need and they’re wrestling better all the time,” the coach explained. “We have some of the hardest-working kids around and they’re looking to get their share of wins.”

Tom Kevlin, who competes at 152 pounds for the Lancers, took first place in his weight class at the Bayshore Classic. Kevlin, who leads the team with 15 wins, also took second place at the season-opening Icebreaker Invitational at Matawan.

Shepherd notes that he has a solid group of promising grapplers that also includes Mike Murcia (103 pounds), who is 9-5; Mike Kevlin (145), 12-4; Zach Barden (130), 3-5; and Sean O’Connor (215), 1-5 – all four are sophomores – as well as juniors John Stampone (112), 10-5; Chris Falco (135), 6-7; and heavyweight Justin Lazarchick, 6-3.

In addition, seniors such as Dan Aquafreda (140), 6-7; Kyle Patton (160), 8-7; Ryan McNamara (171), 6-7; Ciran Andrews (189), 3-7; and Dan Calabrese (215), 2-1, are emerging as team leaders.

“Our seniors have really stepped up and led the way, and that’s so important when you have so many young wrestlers in the room,” Shepherd said. “They are really setting the foundation for our younger guys to build upon.”

And there are plenty of young guys, including sophomores Ryan Skinner (119), 3-3; and Nick Izo (125), 4-9; as well as freshmen Nick Proto (119), 2-7; and Mike Barden (125), 3-8.

Shepherd’s ultimate goal is to return Vianney to its customary spot as one of the Shore’s traditionally strong wrestling teams. Shepherd competed for the school and is the son of longtime SJV wrestling mentor Jack Shepherd. The younger Shepherd has built a coaching staff consisting entirely of former SJV wrestlers, including Frank Sabatino, Jimmy Reed and Rob Marsh.