SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The South Plainfield High School wrestling team has reached and attained many, many milestones and accomplishments in the 54 years it’s been around. Tonight, in front of a home crowd in their dual season opener, the Tigers (1-0) made history once again.
Led by head coach Bill Pavlak, the South Plainfield nine team stepped out onto their home mat and dominated division rival East Brunswick 52-16 and picked up their 700th win in the program’s history, as well as the first team win of the season.
“It feels great to get the 700th,” said South Plainfield co-captain Kyle Bythell. “Everybody here’s been a part of this. It feels great for them too. It’s just a great accomplishment to have.”
There were plenty of strong performances in South Plainfield’s historic win, but two wrestlers who stood out were 120 pounder Joe Heilmann, and 220 pounder Scott DelVecchio. Both grapplers finished last year’s season with high finishes in the state Championship tournament, and both did not disappoint tonight.
DelVecchio, a sophomore who finished seventh in the state tournament last year, matched up against East Brunswick’s Taylor Tiongson. It didn’t take long for DelVecchio’s talent to show, as the standout sophomore bullied his way to an early takedown and then went on to secure a pin with an armbar with about 30 seconds remaining in the first period.
Last year, Heilmann made himself known through his ability to secure multiple takedowns during a match; sometimes even up to 7 or 8 before a tech fall. In today’s match the 120 pound standout junior only needed two takedowns. The multiple back points Heilmann got through tilts earned him a 15-0 tech fall over Louis LaRocca at the 1:13 mark of the second period.
Delvecchio and Heilmann weren’t the only Tigers that impressed tonight, though. Heavyweight Julio Gonzalez gutted out a 2-1 triple overtime win in his match against Axelis Olivera. Bythell picked up a pin in just over a minute in his 145 pound matchup with Salvator Fricano, while Mike Marrero, and Joe Sacco picked up pins of their own.
Co-captain Jake Giordano also put forth a gutsy performances in a losing effort against East Brunswick’s 6th place state winner Mark Schliefer.
“EB has three or four tough kids, but we hung in there every match,” said Pavlak. “We had to bounce the lineup and everyone did their job, so we’ve got to be happy with the performance tonight.”
The coach also spoke highly of the work ethic all his wrestlers have shown, both in preseason, and in tonight’s matches.
“DelVecchiio, Heilman, Giordano, Sacco, Bythell, Marston and Lundy, they’re all hard workers,” Pavlak said. “I’ve been impressed since the first day of practice. It shows how hard they work. They can go six minutes with anybody. That’s up and down the lineup. I mean, they’re not going to win every match all of these guys, but they’re all going to be in it for six minutes.”
In addition to the 700-win milestone, the Tigers’ victory tonight marked the first time in 14 years that the team competed in a dual without their former head coach Kevin McCann. McCann --who stepped down from his coaching position earlier this year to become the South Plainfield’s athletic director, went 302-40 in his 14 years at the helm of the program, picking up seven state titles, and 14 district titles.
While those are some very big shoes to fill, if anyone has the credentials to do it, its Pavlak. A longtime coach himself, Pavlak originally started his coaching career at South Plainfield back in 1994, and picked up a 110-14-3 record before handing the program off to McCann in 2002. In his first stint with the Tigers, Pavlak picked up two group titles and four sectional titles.
The highly respected coach is also the reigning GMC coach of the year, as he led Piscataway High School to a 17-6 record last year.
Pavlak’s history with the South Plainfield program made the accomplishment extra special for him.
“It feels great,” he said. “It feels great for alumni people to be here, and former coaches to be here. For me to be back, and for it to happen, it’s a terrific feeling.”
Judging from tonight’s performance, and the five individual titles his team won in last weekends’ Morris Knolls tournament, Pavlak’s second stint with the Tigers is starting off well. South Plainfield’s wrestlers say that Pavlak brings the same kind of mindset to the program that they’re accustomed to.
“Most everything’s been the same,” Bythell said when discussing practices under the new coach. “Just come in, work hard and wrestle good and that’s about it.”
The Tigers will get back to wrestling next week Wednesday, when they take part in a 9 a.m. quad meet at Woodbridge High School against the Barrons, North Plainfield, and Seton Hall Prep.
South Plainfield (SOPL) 52.00 East Brunswick H.S. (EBHS) 16.00
160: Ben Lundy (SOPL) over Mina Meshriky (EBHS) (MD 11-2) 170: Jason Minikel (EBHS) over Brenden Hedden (SOPL) (Dec 4-0) 182: Ryan Marston (SOPL) over Kerolos Danyal (EBHS) (MD 18-4) 195: Luke Niemeyer (SOPL) over (EBHS) (For.) 220: Zach DelVecchio (SOPL) over Taylor Tiongson (EBHS) (Fall 1:35) 285: Julio Gonzalez (SOPL) over Axelis Olevra (EBHS) (TB-1 2-1) 106: Matt Wendell (EBHS) over (SOPL) (For.) 113: Alex Amato (SOPL) over Andrew Zuckerman (EBHS) (Fall 1:28) 120: Joe Heilmann (SOPL) over Louis LaRocca (EBHS) (TF 15-0 2:47) 126: Mark Schleifer (EBHS) over Jake Giordano (SOPL) (Dec 3-1) 132: Alec Gleason (EBHS) over Jacob Painton (SOPL) (MD 10-0) 138: Joe Sacco (SOPL) over Trent Stocki (EBHS) (Fall 2:25) 145: Kyle Bythell (SOPL) over Christian Perrine (EBHS) (Fall 3:44) 152: Mike Marrero (SOPL) over Nader Lasheen (EBHS) (Fall 2:46)