Howell wrestlers win third straight A North

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

When Joey Langel, Cody Fobes and Jason Ecklof were wrestling for the Howell Predators recreation program, they used to go to the high school matches watching the likes of Zac Cunliffe and his teammates win championships. Their goal was to become a varsity wrestler for Howell and be a part of that success.

Last week the trio became part of Rebel history, leading Howell to its third straight ShoreConferenceANorthDivision title. The 51-15 win at home against Marlboro matched the three straight titles that Howell won from1999-2002 led by Cunliffe.

“I wish we could come back next year,” said Ecklof, noting that he and his fellow seniors would like to be a part of the team that set the record.

For now, Langel, Fobes, Ecklof, Harry Turner andMike Bonfig, all of whom were four-year varsity starters for the Rebels, will have to settle for tying the record – and looking for more.

“We’d like to win the Shore Conference, and I think we have a chance at the states,” said Ecklof.

Howell, ranked No. 7 in the state, improved to 12-1 with its title-clinching victory on Jan. 16.

While the Howell seniors concede that the recreation program has been critical to Howell’s success (Fobes noted that it has everyone ready to go from day one at the high school), there is more to this string of success than feeder programs. Coach John Gagliano and his staff do not allow the team to become satisfied with their accomplishments.

“The coaches keep pushing us, and we keep working harder and harder,” said Langel.

Gagliano said it is the willingness of his wrestlers to make the sacrifices required to make themselves better that has made the difference.

“It has a lot to do with the attitude and work ethic,”Gagliano said. “They are a great group of kids. They love to be pushed.”

That work ethic led to a third consecutive undefeated A North campaign.

The clincher began at 135 with the visiting Mustangs grabbing a 3-0 lead on Paul Saraiva’s 5-3 decision over Emanuel Puglisi.

Fobes, bumping up to 140, scored a tech fall over Greg Doukas, 21-6.

Joe Sulkowski followed with a pin, and it was 11-3 Howell.

Youssef Madbouly scored a third-period takedown to beat Brett Tave 7-5 at 152 to cut Howell’s lead to 11-6.

From there it was all Howell. Ecklof (160), wrestling for the first time in more than a week because of a twisted ankle, and Matt Woodward (171) registered falls, and Marlboro forfeited at 189 to JoeMelon.

Turner won a 3-0 decision over Mitch Seigle at 215, and Bonfig won by a fall at heavyweight.

When Marlboro forfeited to Joe Esposito at 103, the score ballooned to 44-6.

Marlboro’s best wrestler, Charlie Frankel, bumped up to 112 to take on Howell’s tough Brian Wilson. Frankel scored a pin that seemed to suggest that he is in fine form looking ahead to the district, region and state championships.

Joey Langel scored a major decision at 119 (11-0), andMike Shaughnessy closed out Howell’s scoring with a decision at 125.

This was Howell’s third championship of the 2007-08 season- lastmonth the Rebels won theBattle at theBeach inDelaware and the Roselle Park Tournament.

The Shore Conference Tournament (which no Howell team has won) begins Jan. 30.

“Things are starting to fall into place,” said Gagliano as he looked ahead to the rest of what could be a big season for his club.

Gagliano pointed out that early in the season, the team’s underclassmen needed mat time. Now that they all have 15 or so matches under them against quality competition, they are seasoned veterans. Top to bottom, it is a very balanced lineup.

For the rest of the regular season, the Rebels will be looking to improve their seeding. Gagliano has his matmen taking on traditional state power Hunterdon Central tonight in Flemington, and on Saturday they’ll be at a quad meet against Randolph, Delbarton and Morris Knolls.

The Rebels registered another impressive victory on Saturday that only strengthened their case for a high SCT seed, by declawing the Point Pleasant Boro Panthers 40-19 at a tri-meet atMonmouth Regional.

The match started at 171 and the Panthers jumped out to a 10-0 lead after two matches.

Turner got things going with his technical fall (17-2), starting a run of five straight Howell wins. Bonfig, Esposito and Wilson all won decisions, and Langel scored a pin. Howell closed out the match with another run of five straight wins from 135-160.

Puglisi won a decision at 135, and Fobes and got a pin. Sulkowski won by a decision, and Ecklof scored a tech fall (17-0). Woodward closed out the statement victorywith a decision at 160. With two wins Saturday, Howell upped its record to 14-1.

The Central Jersey sectional starts on Feb. 12, and the Rebels are currently the third seed in the section, trailing Jackson Memorial and Brick Memorial, two teams that will loom large in the SCT.