Rebels win 7th straight A North wrestling crown

Staff Writer

 Howell Howell You don’t set out to win seven consecutive league championships. When it happens, it is a year-by-year accumulation with contributions from many athletes.

When Howell High School defeated Freehold Township High School, 45-22, on Jan. 21, the Rebels clinched their seventh straight Shore Conference A North Division wrestling title. The Rebels have not lost an A North dual meet during a remarkable run that began in 2006.

“We have had a lot of great kids here and a lot of good teams,” said coach John Gagliano, now in his 15th year at his alma mater. “It is just amazing what they have been through the last couple of years. A North is very tough. There are a lot of good teams.”

Howell wrapped up the A North title by winning its final three division matches last week. The run started with a 48-13 victory over longtime rival Manalapan on Jan. 18. On Jan. 20, the Rebels lost just one bout on their way to a 60-6 win at Middletown North, and on Jan. 21 the win over Freehold Township at Ocean Township High School clinched the A North title with a 6-0 record.

While wrestlers have passed through the program over the years, Gagliano has been a constant presence. He surrounds himself with an outstanding coaching staff that has included former Rebels.

Gagliano’s wrestlers take pride in being part of a team that has earned statewide recognition. They learn in the wrestling room that there are no shortcuts, only hard work and dedication. If there is such a thing as “the Rebel way,” they do it year in and year out.

Part of Howell’s success has been Gagliano’s “never look ahead” approach. The Rebels have never been caught napping throughout their A North run because their focus is on that day’s dual meet.

Senior leadership has always been crucial, with different upperclassmen stepping up each season to show the underclassmen what is expected of them.

Of course, there have been a number of individual standouts, like state champion Joey Langel, but dual meets are won by a team, and for seven straight years no team inANorth has been able to match Howell’s depth.

Jan. 21 was a mixed day for the Rebels (14-2) as they lost their second dual meet of the season to undefeated Ocean Township, 28-24, when the Spartans reeled off three straight wins at the end to overcome a 24-19 deficit.

“There were a lot of good matches,” Gagliano said. “There were four bouts that we lost by a point and they won the coin toss” to get the match-ups Ocean wanted.

The Rebels and the Spartans could meet again on Jan. 28 in the semifinals of the Shore Conference Tournament. Ocean (14-0) is the tournament’s No. 2 seed and Howell is the No. 3 seed. The opening round is set for Jan. 26. This year’s Shore Conference team tournament was expanded to 20 teams and began on Jan. 24 with the preliminary round. Colts Neck (6-3), the No. 20 seed, wrestled against No. 13 seed Freehold Township (8-6), and No. 18 seed Freehold (8-4) wrestled against No. 15 seed Central Regional in Bayville.

The pre-quarterfinal and quarterfinal rounds will be held on Jan. 26 at the home of the top four seeds. Jackson Memorial High School, the top-ranked team in New Jersey, is the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament, and Brick Memorial High School is the No. 4 seed.

At home on Jan. 26, Howell will wrestle the winner of the Toms River East vs. Barnegat preliminary at 5 p.m., the same time that No. 11 seed Matawan Regional will meet No. 6 Brick Township.

The winners of those two dual meets will wrestle at 7 p.m. for a spot in the tournament semifinals on Jan. 28 at Long Branch High School.

Manalapan (11-3) is the No. 8 seed and is scheduled to wrestle No. 9 Point Pleasant Boro at Jackson Memorial on Jan. 26. The No. 1 seed Jaguars will face the winner of the Neptune vs. Pinelands Regional preliminaryround match.

The Colts Neck vs. Freehold Township preliminary-round winner will go to Brick Memorial on Jan. 26 for a match with the No. 4 seed Mustangs.

If Freehold won its preliminary-round match against Central Regional, the Colonials would meet No. 2 Ocean Township.

The Shore Conference Tournament semifinals will start at 3 p.m. Jan. 28 at Long Branch High School. The tournament’s championship match will begin at 5:30 p.m.