TOMS RIVER, NJ - There are very few teams in the state of New Jersey, regardless of sport, that can come close to matching the level of excellence South Plainfield High School wrestling has achieved over the years.
On Sunday evening, at Toms River’s RWJ Barnabus Arena, this year’s Tigers wrestling team furthered that dominance, and etched itself as one of the most notable lineups in program history by earning its fourth consecutive state title, a feat never reached before by the school. The Tigers earned the feat by coming out on top in a battle between defending champions, as South Plainfield, last year's Group 3 champion, knocked off former Group 2 champs High Point , 46-25, in this year's Group 2 finals.
“We talked about this all year, and we’ve been talking about getting four for the past four years, but this one is special,” said first-year South Plainfield coach Steve Johnston. "Coach (Kevin) McCann started it and laid the groundwork…so I’m just glad and grateful I was able to clean it up and finish it off. This goes out to all the seniors and the entire team. They’ve really worked hard all year and battled. This is huge for them.”
One of the biggest wins of the evening came with the state title already well in hand for the Tigers. In the last match of the dual, at 106 pounds, 27-3 freshman Jacob DelVecchio stepped up to take on Clayton Utter, the No. 8 ranked wrestler in the weight class, according to NJ.com.
Utter’s ranking didn’t seem to have much effect on DelVecchio’s mindset coming into the match, and it certainly didn’t affect the outcome. Early in the match, Utter dove in on what seemed to be a well-timed single leg shot, but DelVecchio swiftly countered with a whizzer. DelVecchio made the unconventional move of stepping over the whizzer and then grabbed a headlock to sink in a surprising pin just 26 seconds into the match.
“That’s something you learn in rec to never do, but he was able to make it work,” Johnston said. “Once (DelVecchio) sunk it in, there was nothing Utter could do.”
Having spent much of his time this year at 113 pounds, DelVecchio was used to go against stronger competitors, which proved to be a major advantage in the match.
“Going into the match, I was thinking it could come down to me, so I’ve got to wrestle as hard as I could,” DelVecchio said. “Once he got onto my leg, I knew he wasn’t stronger than me, so I just cranked it.”
As one might expect, South Plainfield’s win came from a complete team effort, in both its wins and losses. David Loniewski went up a weight class to secure a 16-6 major decision win against 21-5 Josh Gervey, which helped the Tigers cut into the 12-6 lead High Point had attained after the opening three matches.
Xavier Santos saved South Plainfield a point by avoiding a pin in a tech fall loss to state qualifier and fifth-ranked 138-pounder Billy Talmadge. Marc Giordano stayed off his back during a third-period rideout to edge out PJ Soldano 6-4, and senior Brenden Hedden helped clinch the win with a first period pin over Sean Van Wingerden in 195 pounds.
Anthony White and Alex Amato recorded pins for the Tigers, while Luke Niemeyer earned a decision, and Joe Sacco and Zach DelVecchio picked up forfeits. Divon Pender fought to only give up a 6-2 decision against Jonathan Morris.
“Everybody stepped up,” said Johnston. “Some of the guys we put out there were in unfortunate situations, but everybody battled. Xavier Santos wrestled an absolute stud and was able save us a point there, which was big. David Loniewski wrestled a real tough kid and got bonus points. Everybody who went out there today did their very best.”
Though it didn't have much effect on the outcome, South Plainfield also benefited from a High Point coaching miscue at 120 pounds, where High Point sent out one of its stars, Devin Flannery, to take a forfeit, before waiting for South Plainfield to send outs its wrestler first. The move helped the Tigers bump up White.
With the group title in the bag, the Tigers will now focus on bringing home yet another district title. South Plainfield will get a chance to extend their state record by winning their 35th straight district title on their home mat.
Our seasons not done. We’re happy with this, but not satisfied. We want individual success now.
“We’re excited to do that, and we want to get as many guys as we can to Atlantic City, and as many guys as we can to the podium,” Johnston said. “Our season is not done. We’re happy with this, but not satisfied. We want individual success now.”