Rebels edge Jags to win District 21 crown

Grapplers end team reign of Jackson Memorial

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

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The Howell High School wrestling team turned disappointment into triumph on Saturday.

JEFF GRANIT staff Jackson Memorial High School’s Tyler Wilton (r) escapes the grasp of Matawan Regional’s Jordan Long during their 145-pound semifinal bout in the District 21 tournament on Feb. 21. Wilton defeated Long to advance to the finals, where he decisioned Marlboro’s Paul Saraiva and won the district championship.

Reeling from a pair of team tournament losses (to Brick Memorial in the Shore Conference Tournament and to Hunterdon Central in the NJISAA Central Jersey Group IV tournament), coach John Gagliano reminded his wrestlers that all was not lost.

"I told the kids that we still had a team goal," he said.

That goal was winning the NJSIAA District 21 team title at Manalapan High School on Feb. 20-21. In advancing 12 wrestlers to the semifinals and nine wrestlers into the finals, the Rebels put an end to Jackson Memorial High School’s 11-year reign as the District 21 team champions.

Howell defeated the Jaguars, 205.5 to 188, to claim the championship.

JEFF GRANIT staff Jackson Memorial High School’s Derrick Russell (r) has control of Howell’s Brian Wilson during their 130-pound semifinal bout at the District 21 tournament on Feb. 21. Russell defeated Wilson and went on to win the championship in his weight class.

"They had a good tournament," Gagliano said of his team. "It was a total team effort. Getting 12 guys into the semis was a really big thing. It’s very exciting. We have not won this since I’ve been here. It’s something we always wanted. It’s been a long time."

The last time Howell won the district team title was in 1994.

Jesse Holzhaure, one of two Howell matmen to win an individual title in Saturday’s District 21 finals, said the Rebels were driven by their failures this year.

"We always have hard practice, but this week was the hardest," he said. "The coaches were telling us we didn’t win the Battle at the Beach for the first time in three years, we didn’t win at Roselle Park, and we didn’t wrestle well in the states [team tournament] or the Shore Conference [Tournament]. We had a chance to redeem ourselves."

Dominick Carnevale, Howell’s other district winner, said the district title more than made up for what got away during the season.

"The last two weeks, after we lost to Hunterdon Central, we worked so hard just for this," he said. "We wanted this tournament as much if not more than anything."

Carnevale made his contribution to the effort by upsetting defending champion Josh Davis of Freehold High School, 10-8 in overtime on a takedown to capture the 215-pound crown.

"I felt we were both tired but that we both had energy," Carnevale said of the overtime period. "I worked as hard as I could. He’s good. He really pushed me."

Carnevale used what he called his elbow pass to score the winning takedown and his first district title in his senior year.

It was a far cry from last year, he said, when he was a late substitution at 215 pounds for Harry Turner (who moved up to heavyweight) and lost in the first round.

"This means a lot, coming from where I was last year," said Carnevale.

While he gave the Rebels some of the upsets they needed to wrest the title from Jackson Memorial, Carnevale was quick to praise all of his teammates.

"No one can take the credit, it’s a team effort," he said.

Holzhauer, the top seed at 152, held off Jackson Memorial’s Devin Bischaha, 5-4, to win his first district title as a junior. He rallied from a 3-0 deficit heading into the third period.

"I was scared," he said. "I couldn’t do anything, He was blocking everything."

Thoughts of last year’s 1-0 loss to Jackson Memorial’s eventual state champion Sean Byrnes were going through his mind, but that all changed when he scored a point on an escape and then took Bischaha down and added two back points on the move to take a 5-3 lead.

"I got up [escaped] and saw that it [high leg crotch move] was there," he said. "That’s what I wanted."

Holzhauer said the District 21 team championship was further proof that the Rebels are one of New Jersey’s most consistent winning programs.

"This was a rebuilding year; no one expected us to be 23-3 [dual meet record]," he said.

The other Rebels who advanced to the district finals and ended up placing second were Dru Thomas (103), Chris Albanese (112), Joe Esposito (119), Mike Shaughnessy (135), Matt Reed (140), Joe Melon (189) and Jacob Conover (heavyweight).

Conover, a sophomore, was one of the tournament’s biggest surprises. Injured for much of the year, he was only 4-3 and the No. 7 seed. Yet he scored a pair of pins on his way to the final, where he lost to Jackson Liberty High School’s Brendan Kahle, 4-3.

Brian Wilson (130), Kyle Lamirande (160) and Mike Handoga (171) completed the list of 12 Rebels who got past the quarterfinals and into the semifinals. Of those 12 wrestlers, nine are expected to return next year.

In addition to crowning a team champion, the District 21 tournament was significant because it was the first step toward the individual state tournament to be held in Atlantic City. The regional tournaments will be up next for the matmen, to be followed by the state tournament.

Two wrestlers who came into the District 21 tournament with undefeated records left that way.

Matawan Regional High School’s Cesare Antista improved to 27-0, pinning Shaughnessy in the 135 final. Antista said the perfect record is not something he was dwelling on.

"Once you get on the mat, it’s all instincts; you forget about your record," he said. "I don’t think any match is that easy. I wrestle them one match at a time."

Antista highlighted what was a very good tournament for the Huskies. Matawan finished third in the team standings (104.5) behind Howell and Jackson Memorial.

St. John Vianney’s Mike Kevlin is now 36-0 after his impressive foray through the competition. He scored two falls and a technical fall on the way to his first district title. Kevlin pinned Marlboro’s Greg Doukas in the 160 final.

Kahle’s heavyweight victory was historic: he became Jackson Liberty’s first district champion.

"In 20 years when I look up at the [banners on the] wall, I’ll be there as the first. It feels great," he said.

For Kahle, the importance of the win is what it means to Jackson Liberty’s program.

"Making school history will prove our school will soon be on the rise. It makes us look better now," he said.

Jackson Liberty’s fourth-place finish in the team standings (84.5) has certainly made everyone aware that the Lions are a program on the move.

The Lions’ coach, Mike Eddy, was selected by his peers as the District 21 Coach of the Year.

In the other District 21 finals, stateranked Tyler Fraley of Colts Neck High School improved to 35-1 with a 4-2 win over Thomas.

Marlboro’s Vinnie Leone won the 112 title. Leone, the No. 4 seed, upset St. John Vianney’s Mike Murcia (29-1), the top seed, 9-7, in overtime in the semifinals. Leone beat Albanese, 6-2, in the final. The Mustang sophomore is now 32-5 heading for the regionals.

Jackson Memorial’s Zachary Huxford scored an impressive 19-7 win over Esposito in the 119 final.

The 125 final was one of the best matches of the day as Jackson Memorial’s B.J. Young edged Freehold Township’s Gene Accardi, 4-3, to claim the crown. Accardi was the top seed in the weight class. Young was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.

Jackson Memorial’s Derrick Russell won his third straight district championship, besting Jackson Liberty’s Chris Zak, 4-1, in the 130 final.

Despite surrendering the team title to Howell, it was still a good tournament for the Jaguars, who were without defending state champion Tyler Biscaha. The Jaguars had the most individual champions (5). In addition to Huxford, Young and Russell, Douglas Hamann won by a fall over Reed at 140 and Tyler Wilton won his second straight district crown by decisioning Marlboro’s Paul Saraiva, 4-2, in the 145 final.

Freehold Township’s Kyle Kasten captured the 171 crown. The No. 2 seed squeaked past No. 1 seed Matt Kimball of Jackson Memorial, 2-1. Kasten, a senior, more than made up for his fourth-place finish in 2008.

Colts Neck’s William Somma followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Jimmy, who was a District 21 champion, by outlasting No. 1 seed Melon in the 189 title match. These two battled back and forth for six minutes and were tied at 7-7. Somma scored a takedown in overtime to win, 9-7. Somma, the No. 2 seed, is 20-2 heading into the regionals.

The top three finishers in each weight division will advance to this weekend’s NJSIAA Region VI Tournament at the Ritacco Center in Toms River. Region VI action started last night and will continue on Friday and Saturday.

The third-place finishers in District 21 were: Thomas Nulty, Freehold (103), Murcia, SJV (112), Ken Brophy, Freehold Township (119), Johnny Short, Matawan (125), Vincent Signoriello, Manalapan (130), Josh Baker, Jackson Memorial (135), Ryan King, Colts Neck (140), Jordan Long, Matawan (145), Joe Mammalello, Manalapan (152), Robert Hennings, Jackson Liberty (160), Keenan Sayers, Jackson Liberty (171), Robert Rivera, Matawan (189), Justin Georgiano, Jackson Memorial (215), and Chris Howley, Matawan (heavyweight).