Howell wrestlers pin down A North title

Rebels 16-0 heading into SCT

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

A berth in this weekend’s Shore Conference Tournament final would be a first for the Howell High School wrestling program.

The Rebels have been to the semifinals before, but they’ve never been in the Saturday finals.

A finals berth, and perhaps a win, would be a sure sign that the 2006-07 Rebels are on their way to being the finest team in school history.

The Rebels completed the first step on the way to that distinction Wednesday in Marlboro, where their 63-9 win clinched the Shore Conference A North Division title for the second straight year. The Rebels went through the division slate at 7-0 and are 16-0 overall.

“That was one of our goals: win our conference” coach John Gagliano said of the division title. “We’re excited. It still means a lot to us. They wanted this title.”

Howell lost just two matches against its Freehold Regional District foe. The upper weights dominated for Howell, with Joe Trost (171), Harry Turner (189) and Joe Tremblay (215) all winning by a pin, and Jason Ecklof started the run of bonus points winning by technical fall at 160.

The heart of the order – Joey Langel (119), Cody Fobes (125), Justin Morello (130), Jimmy Bohn (140) and Tom Tuminelli (145) – all scored easy wins, with Langel and Fobes registering pins. Blaise Supczynski (112) and Joe Sulkowski (152) were Howell’s other winners.

Marlboro (3-9) got a pin from its talented 103-pounder Charlie Frankel and a major decision at 140 by Paul Saraiva.

Howell goes into the SCT on the upswing.

“We really are getting much better,” said Gagliano. “The kids are working extremely hard. They’ve gained a lot since day one of practice.”

For Gagliano, Howell’s road victory against state-ranked Ocean Township and its bevy of state place-winners was the turning point for his team.

They trailed 19-10 in that match and routed the Spartans 26-3 in the final six matches to win it 36-22.

“I’ve seen changes since Ocean,” said Gagliano, “I think we’ve turned the corner. All of the kids have really stepped up. There was a lot on the line in that match.”

Howell takes a 16-0 record into the tournament that includes several impressive wins, among them non-Shore-area wins over Phillipsburg, Hunterdon Central and Absegami, in addition to Ocean and previously undefeated Point Pleasant Boro. The Rebels were expected to get the No. 3 seed behind Jackson and Southern Regional, who were ranked one-two in the state, and they did, thus avoiding top-seed and defending champion Jackson until the final.

Gagliano, however, won’t let his team look that far ahead. Their lone focus was on last night’s first-round match against Middletown North.

“I tell our kids that no team is going to roll over; they’re going to give you everything they have,” he said.

The 16-team SCT field started last with double-headers hosted by the top four seeds. When action was completed, the field was narrowed down to four teams and they will hook up Saturday for the semifinals and final at Southern Regional.

Howell’s path to the semifinals became much tougher than expected when Ocean Township got the sixth seed. The Spartans, who are finally healthy after missing two of its top wrestlers, Jeff Siciliano and Nick Menditto (both of whom finished in the top four in the state in their respective weight classes last year) for much of this season.

Ocean was licking its chops at the opportunity to get another shot at Howell last night.

With a win, Howell would likely face second-seeded Southern Regional in the semifinals on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s semifinal battle, a thrilling 28-26 match won by Southern.

Beyond the SCT, in the latest state power point rankings, the Rebels were No. 4 in Central Jersey Group IV (eight teams make it into the state sectionals). The state tournament begins Feb. 6.

Gagliano, a District and Region champion at Howell, had the distinction of being the school’s all-time winningest wrestler until a fellow named Zac Cunliffe came along. With his team’s pair of wins Saturday (49-8 over previous undefeated Point Pleasant Boro and 63-6 over Monmouth), Gagliano tied the school record for career coaching wins (153) that is held by his former coach Doug Bower. In his 12 years at Howell, Bauer’s teams were 153-52-2.

He surpassed the mark set by Ron Surgent, Howell’s first coach and the one who built the Rebels into a championship program. He was 111-49-2 in 13 years.

Gagliano, who is in his 10th year at Howell, now has a 153-40 record that includes 16-0 this winter.

Last night at the SCT, Gagliano was expected to secure No. 154.