ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - All season long, Joe Heilmann has been working towards for a chance to bring another individual state wrestling championship to South Plainfield High School. As of Saturday afternoon, Heilmann has just one step left to make that a long awaited goal a reality.
Heilmann tore through the competition during the Saturday rounds of the NJSIAA wrestling tournament and booked his spot in 126-pound championship match. The South Plainfield standout's achievement marks the first time in five years a South Plainfield High School wrestler has earned an appearance in a state championship match. Joining Heilmann on the hunt to bring South Plainfield a medal will be Luke Niemeyer. Niemeyer secured a spot on the 195-pound bracket's podium with his performances in the consolation rounds on Saturday, and will be looking to make it to the third-place match.
Dominance has been the name of the game for the 44-0 Heilmann all season, and Saturday was no different. The second-seeded South Plainfield standout started the day off with a quarterfinal match against seventh-seeded Nicky Cabanillas of DePaul. Heilmann powered through the DePaul grappler, and secured a first period pin off of a scramble.
The semifinals of 126-pound pitted Heilmann against a very familiar opponent in St. Peter's Prep's Michael Kelly. Last week, Heilmann earned a Region 4 title with a 3-2 win over Kelly. That win also served as revenge for 2017's region tournament, where Heilmann suffered a close loss to the St. Peter's Prep wrestler. While Kelly put forth an effort one would expect from a grappler of his caliber, Heilmann's win was more decisive this time around.
After a scoreless first period, Heilmann took bottom position and worked his way to a quick escape in the second period. Heilmann connected on a takedown to make it 3-0 heading into the final period, and then clinched the win by connected on a takedown with 20 seconds left in the match.
The last time South Plainfield secured a spot in the state tournament finals, was when the famed Murderer's Row squad of 2013 advanced Joe's brother Troy Heilmann ( who won an ACC 149-pound title on Saturday for the University of North Carolina), Anthony Ashnault, Scott DelVecchio and Corey Stasenko, to state championship bouts.
The last wrestler standing in Heilmann's way is top-seeded Pat Glory of Delbarton. Glory's name is no stranger to even casual wrestling fans, as the Princeton commit is the top 126-pound high school wrestler in the country according to Flowrestling, and the pound-for-pound best wrestler in the state according to NJ.com. Glory handed Heilmann a tech fall loss in the semifinals of last year's state tournament. The returning state champion did show that he was human on Saturday though, as he was wrapped up in a cradle, allowed back points, and fell behind 5-1 in his quarterfinal matchup against Mark Montgomery of Roselle Park. The Delbarton senior rallied back though and soon after finished a pin on Montgomery.
In the 195-pound bracket, Niemeyer used some key consolation wins to stay alive and secure his first spot on a state tournament podium. The sixth-seeded South Plainfield junior was knocked out of the first place bracket after he suffered a 2-1 ultimate tie breaker loss to Pope John's Jake Brown in the quarterfinals but recovered soon after.
The South Plainfield standout took on Kyle Schaffer of Caldwell in the fourth consolation rounds and made short work of the opposition with a first period pin.
Niemeyer was then matched up against Delsea's Tommy Maxwell in the fourth consolation round. Niemeyer defeated Maxwell in a 3-2 decision during South Plainfield's Group 3 team title win last month, and Niemeyer got the win again on Saturday, this time by a 7-3 margin.
The win over Maxwell moves Niemeyer to the consolation semifinals, where he is slated to take on Robert Gennat of Sparta. A win over Gennat will place Niemeyer in the bout for third place, while a loss will put him into the fifth place bout. The top seven finishers in a weight class earn a spot on the podium.
The last bouts of the tournament begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday with the conclusion of the the consolation rounds, and the championship bouts will start at 3 p.m.