SOUTH PLAINFIELD-- Maintaining a top of the line high school athletic program year after year certainly isn’t easy, but from the outside looking in, the South Plainfield High School wrestling team certainly has a way of making it look that way.
The Tigers had a little bit of a different look heading into the 2016-2017 wrestling season as longtime head coach Kevin McCann stepped down from his position and was replaced by his predecessor Bill Pavlak. Expectations for this season were still as high as ever though, and in many ways those expectations were met and even exceeded.
Led by a veteran coaching staff and a solid roster of wrestlers, the Tigers roared through the season to pick up conference, district and group titles, and a 30-1 record, before ending the year in style as the top-ranked public school in the state of New Jersey.
One of the defining aspects of this year’s South Plainfield team was their ability to win the battle of the bonus points. Pavlak stressed the importance of winning that battle all year, and from their first match of the season to their Group 3 title win, the Tigers were able to routinely come through in their tougher duals because they didn’t give up many points in losses and consistently picked them up with wins via pin, major decision, or tech fall.
That aspect of their game came in handy during South Plainfield’s many duals against top-flight schools, and by the end of the season, the Tigers had a 6-0 record against opponents that were featured in NJ.com’s Top 20 team rankings.
South Plainfield’s first battle against a top-ranked team came during their second dual of the season, which was against their surging conference rival Monroe. Bonus points from sophomores Zach DelVecchio and Luke Niemeyer, junior Joe Heilmann, and senior Jake Giordano helped the Tigers notch a 38-27 victory against their Greater Middlesex Conference rival.
That win also helped the Tigers establish another year of dominance in their conference. South Plainfield rolled through East Brunswick, Monroe, Woodbridge, Edison, Perth Amboy, Piscataway, South Brunswick, Old Bridge and Bishop Ahr en-route to picking up another red division title, and also dominated in the GMC tournament to pick up six individual titles, and their program’s ninth straight conference title, their 24th overall.
South Plainfield also extended their state-record consecutive district team title streak as they won their 33rd straight title in their newly reformed District 14, while Heilmann, Giordano, DelVecchio, and Niemeyer all took home individual titles.
The Tigers ended their dual season by taking home their tenth Group 3 title with a 38-23 win over one of their fiercest rivals, Delsea. The title match started off with a pin from senior Jacob Painton and was finished with big wins by Heilmann and Giordano.
The Tigers finished their team season undefeated against New Jersey competition ( their one loss came at the hands of South Dade (Fl.) during the Virginia Duals) and as the second ranked team in NJ.com’s top 20, and the third ranked team in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Association's Top 20. In both polls South Plainfield was the highest ranked public school.
As always, the Tigers stellar team performance was accompanied by strong individual seasons.
Heilmann dominated his competition at 120 pounds throughout the year, and picked up his third GMC and District titles, and his 100th career win, before taking his first loss of the season in the finals of the Region 4 tournament. The junior standout recovered from the setback quickly and made a strong run in the NJSIAA state tournament that ended with him taking home a third-place finish, which is the best state tournament finish for a South Plainfield wrestler since 2014.
DelVecchio had a lot of momentum coming in from his stellar freshman season last year, and he used it to great effect. The sophomore 220-pounder came up strong in dual competition, as his first and only loss during a dual came during the Virginia Duals. In tournament competition, DelVecchio once again took home titles in conference, district, and region 220 pound brackets. . The sophomore standout also improved on his seventh-place finish from last year’s state tournament. As a seventh-seed DelVecchio took a fourth place finish in Atlantic City.
Giordano, and sophomore Niemeyer both took home GMC and district titles. Senior Kyle Bythell earned a spot in South Plainfield’s 100 win club, by picking up a victory in the state tournament. 106-pounder Tommy Fierro won a conference title in his first year as a Tiger.
Here’s a roundup of how the varsity wrestlers did individually:
106: Sophomore Tommy Fierro: 18-4 on the season, 1st place at GMC Tournament, 2nd place at District 14 tournament.
113: Sophomore Alex Amato: 26-19 on the season, 5th place at GMC tournament, 2nd place District 14 tournament, 4th place at Region 4 tournament, state tournament qualifier.
120: Junior Joe Heilmann: 44-2 on the season,1st place at GMC tournament, 1st place at District 14 tournament, 2nd place at Region 4 tournament, 3rd place at state tournament.
126: Senior Jake Giordano: 39-5 on the season, 1st place at GMC tournament, 1st place at District 14 tournament, 2nd place at Region 4 tournament, state tournament qualifier
132: Senior Jacob Painton: 17-22 on the season, 4th place at GMC tournament, 2nd place at District 14 tournament.
138: Sophomore Joe Sacco: 40-8 on the season, 1st place st GMC tournament, 2nd place at District 14 tournament, 4th place at Region 4 tournament, state tournament qualifier.
145: Senior Kyle Bythell: 38-9 on the season, 4th place at GMC tournament, 2nd place at District 14 tournament, 4th place at Region 4 tournament, state tournament qualifier.
152: Senior Jake Hoffman (First year varsity) 14-11 on the season, 7th place at GMC tournament, 3rd place at Region 4 tournament.
160: Senior Ben Lundy: 29-13 on the season, 3rd place at GMC tournament, 3rd place a District 14 tournament, 6th place at Region 4 tournament.
170: Sophomore Brenden Hedden: 10-19 on the season, 4th place at District 14 tournament.
182: Senior Ryan Marston: 26-12 on the season, 3rd place at GMC tournament, 4th place at District 14 tournament.
195: Sophomore Luke Niemeyer: 36-7 on the season, 1st place at GMC tournament, 1st place at District 14 tournament, 4th place at Region 4 tournament, state tournament qualifier.
220 Sophomore Zach DelVecchio: 44-3 on the season, 1st place at GMC tournament, 1st place at District 14 tournament, 1st place at Region 4 tournament, 4th place at state tournament.
285: Senior Julio Gonzalez: 6-8 on the season.