TOMS RIVER—From the very beginning of the season, the South Plainfield High School wrestling team made bringing home another state title their ultimate mission. The numerous hard matchups they endured this year didn’t certainly didn’t make reaching that goal easy, but the outcome of today’s Group 3 title match certainly made those rough days worth it.
A series of top-notch performances from the Tigers’ wrestlers gave South Plainfield a 48-23 win over their rival Delsea in the Group 3 championship match, and gave the program their third straight state title.
While the team had been talking about a state title since the beginning of the year, Bill Pavlak, the coach of the Tigers, said his athletes’ championship mettle really sunk into him and his coaches after their razor close loss to No. 7 ranked Emerson a few weeks ago.
“That’s where I saw, and I think the coaches realized, that we could do this again if we want to,” the coach sai. “It seemed like in the last three weeks they really were serious. They really picked it up. Practice became better, matches were better, and we got everyone got healthy.”
One of the key factors of South Plainfield’s title win was their ability to get bonus points early. Anthony White started the dual off strongly by securing a a 23-8 tech fall over Asa Walton in the first match at 106 pounds. The Tigers ended up getting bonus points in four out of the first five matches.
Thomas Fierro, Joe Sacco, Marc Giordano, David Loniewski, and Zach DelVecchio all secured pins. Joe Heilmann went up a weight class and earned an impressive 12-3 major decision over John Patteron at 132 pounds.
195-pounder Luke Niemeyer drew one of the toughest outings of the evening when he faced Tommy Maxwell. Maxwell, an 18-3 former state qualifier, suffered a close 3-2 loss to Niemeyer in last year’s title match, and this year was just as close. The two grapplers battled through a scoreless first period and exchanged escapes before Niemeyer secured a single leg takedown with just over a minute remaining in the third period. The South Plainfield junior fought off takedown attempts to secure a well-earned 3-2 victory.
“I was pretty confident that it was going to be a good match,” Niemeyer said. “I knew it could go either way, because we’re both good wrestlers, so we could beat each other any given day. I know I do well in big matches, so I was confident in myself.”
“This (title win) is extra special because we graduated a lot of good seniors last year and we knew that this was going to be a tough one,” Niemeyer added. “I’m just happy we were able to come up on top.”
The road to the title saw South Plainfield suffer four losses to teams ranked in the NJ.com Top 20, and included tough opponents in the Virginia Duals. In the end, that schedule ended up paying dividends. According to Pavlak, going up against all those tough teams erased all sense of fear out of his athletes.
“These kids really don’t fear anybody,” the coach said. “Not that they’re going to beat everybody, it’s that they don’t really fear any team. I think some teams that came in this week to us, I think they kind of feared us and they weren’t ready to come into the South Plainfield atmosphere.”
With the dual season out of the way, all that remains is the individual post-season. The Tigers will begin it by hosting the district tournament. Expectations are high for many of South Plainfield’s grapplers. Niemeyer, a state-qualifier from last year, says his big win over Maxwell has given him a ton of confidence.
“I think it’ll help me going forward,” the junior said. “(Maxwell) is a good wrestler and I know that’s he’s probably going to place. Hopefully I’ll place this year to.”