SOUTH PLAINFIELD- The best young wrestlers in the state will be laying it all on the line in Atlantic City this weekend. The 2017 NJSIAA state wrestling tournament will kick off at Boardwalk Hall on Friday, and like in many years, South Plainfield High School will be well represented. Here’s a look at how the weekend could go for all seven of the Tigers that qualified for the tournament.
All of South Plainfield’s competing wrestlers will be looking to end their season with a good finish in the tournament, but Joe Heilmann might have the best shot at taking a top 3 spot on the podium. The 120 pound junior will be looking to improve on his 5th place finish from last year’s 106 pound bracket. Heilmann’s diverse takedown arsenal and penchant for scoring back points helped him dominate his way to a District 14 title, a GMC title, and a 39-1 record.
Unfortunately for Heilmann, his one loss came in his last outing which was a Region 4 championship match decision loss to Michael Kelly of St. Peter’s Prep. The loss was certainly a setback for Heilmann --who had been previously ranked as highly as the number two 120-pounder in the state by NJ.com-- but it didn’t hurt his seeding too much since he’ll be entering the tournament at the four spot.
To reach the semifinals Heilmann would probably have to get past Mark Schleifer of East Brunswick, a wrestler that Heilmann edged out 4-3 in the GMC tournament finals. If Heilmann wins that rematch he’ll most likely be paired off against top-seeded Pat Glory of DelBarton. Heilmann and Kelly are on opposite sides of the bracket, so the only way Heilmann could avenge his sole loss of the season would be in either the finals or in a consolation match.
Despite his youth, Zach DelVecchio has been a major force in the 220-pound weight class ever since he first suited up for South Plainfield last year as a freshman. As the only ninth-grader in last year’s state tournament, DelVecchio earned an impressive seventh place finish. In an interview with TapInto last week after the Region 4 tournament, DelVecchio said his improved conditioning will push him to a higher finish this time around.
The sophomore’s cardio and strength has indeed taken him pretty far this season. The young Tiger has amassed a 40-1 record this year, with his one loss coming from out of state competition, and is coming off a decision win in the Region 4 finals over Carteret’s Farhan Kahn.
To place higher this year, DelVecchio, a seventh-seed, would likely have to defeat Sam Mellow of Montclair in the second round, which would set him up with a match against last year’s runner up and second-seeded Robert Melise of Phillipsburg.
Jake Giordano didn’t book his ticket to the tournament they way he likely envisioned, but he still has a chance to make something of his opportunity. After winning conference and district 126-pound titles, the senior co-captain seemed slate to take home a region title last week, but a 3-2 decision loss to Rahway’s Rhise Royster sent Giordano home with a second place finish.
As the tenth-seed, Giordano will have a chance at putting that loss behind him. To do better than his first round exit in last year’s tournament, Giordano would have to beat 23-seed Connor Kraus of St. Augustine Prep. A win in the first round would pair Giordano off against Howell’s seventh-seed Kyle Slendhorn.
Joe Sacco will be making his first ever state tournament appearance in this year’s bracket at 138 pounds. A first place finish in the conference tournament, a second place finish in districts, and a fourth place finish in regions helped the 37-6 sophomore earn the 25th-seed. Sacco would have to pull off an upset against 8th-seeded Matthew Kolonia of Delaware Valley to get past the first round. Sacco lost an 11-1 major decision to the Delaware Valley standout in a dual earlier this season. The task might seem daunting, but Sacco’s wins over ninth-seeded Sean Conley, and 12th-seeded Bob Dinger show he’s capable of stepping up to the challenge against top-flight competition.
Luke Niemeyer has been putting on some impressive performances in his first varsity year for the Tigers, and it’s helped him earn a 25th-seed in the 195 bracket of the state tournament. The sophomore has used his prolific pinning ability to go 35-5 on the season, and earn first place finishes in conference and district tournaments and a fourth place finish in regions. To get past the first round, the sophomore would have to take out eighth-seeded and 34-1 Michael Taulane of Collingswood. Niemeyer has shown throughout this season that he can hang with some of the top guys in his weight class though, as he has a decision win over 10th-seeded Andrew Brazicki of Bishop Ahr and a pin victory over 11th-seeded Rory DeLuca of Hanover Park.
Kyle Bythell will be looking to use his tournament berth to end his senior year on a positive note. The 145 pound senior co-captain is no stranger to Atlantic City, as he qualified for the tournament last year. A 35-8 record and a fourth place finish in regions gave Bythell a 26th-seed spot in this year’s tournament. To improve from his finish in last year’s tournament, Bythell would have to pull of a first-round upset against Garrett Beam of Queen of Peace.
Alex Amato’s first state tournament appearance will see him enter as the 32nd-seed in the 113 pound bracket. The sophomore will likely have the toughest first-round outing out of the Tigers since his first match will be against top-seeded Antonio Mininno of Gateway/Woodbury. The 26-17 Tiger is coming off a fourth place finish in regions.