Cunliffe, Morello lead Super-Region qualifiers


one-step away

for local wrestlers


Zach Cunliffe of Howell High School controls Rumson-Fair Haven’s Bryan Heller in the Region VI bout at Brick Memorial High School on Saturday. Cunliffe went on to finish second in the region.


ach Cunliffe was called the best freshman to ever wrestle at Howell High School by no less an authority than his Coach John Gagliano, himself one of the Rebels’ all-time greats. From his first tournament win, the Neptune Classic back in December, to his District 21 championship, Cunliffe has proven his coach to be a superb prognosticator.

With his second-place finish at the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association Region VI Championships at Brick Memorial over the weekend, Cunliffe is going where no other Rebel freshman has before. He was in action at Red Bank Regional High School at the Super Region last night where he was one win away from the Meadowlands, the site of this year’s state wrestling championships and the goal of every high school wrestler.

Cunliffe’s 7-3 loss in the 103 final to top-seeded Marc Rosenfeld of Brick Memorial was just his second of the year and the first at 103 (he lost in a dual meet when he moved up in weight). With his two wins over the weekend, Cunliffe is now 29-2 in his freshman year and well on his way to what could be a memorable career.

Cunliffe was seeded No. 2 in his weight class and in his semifinal had to dispose of Manalapan’s Mike Cassiliano, 9-1, for the fifth time this year. The two had wrestled the previous week for the District 21 championship, won by the Rebel.

Cunliffe was not the only Freehold District wrestler to get through to a final on Saturday. Freehold Township’s Rob Morello didn’t let his lack of matches get in the way, advancing to the 130-pound final where he fell to Jack Deaver of Lacey, 9-5.

Morello, a transfer from Red Bank Catholic, missed the first 30 days of the wrestling season waiting for his eligibility. He only had just 12 matches under his belt when the District championships began, and was a sort of forgotten wrestler seeded No. 3. But his win in the District final announced that he had never gone anywhere.

Despite his District win, Morello was only seeded sixth in his weight division. He went out and won by a major decision over No. 3 seed Andy Semprivivo of Pinelands, 10-1, in the quarterfinal. In the semifinals, he ran into No. 2 Charlie Wiggins of Christian Brothers Academy, who had beaten him during the regular season. The rematch went to Morello, 8-4.

One wrestler that Morello couldn’t get through was the top-seeded Deaver.

Morello said that his goal was to prove that he belonged and he has certainly achieved that adding a second-place in the Region to his District 21 title. He is 13-5.

Third place finishers at the Region VI tournament were winners as well, as they advanced to the Super Region, too.

Cassiliano rallied from his semifinal loss to Cunliffe to outscore Frank Pontoriero of Toms River East, 17-11 in the consolation. His teammate Alex Pal, the District 21 112 champion, also punched his ticket to Red Bank edging Brick’s Brian LoBue, 13-11 in overtime for third place. Pal is 24-4 and Cassiliano is 21-7.

Lou Giordano extended his marvelous season by winning a rematch of the District 21 title tilt over Manalapan’s Derek Thompson. Giordano’s 4-2 win gave him the bronze medal and the trip to the Super Region. He was seeded No. 2 but lost his semifinal match to Point Pleasant Beach’s Jake Butler, the three seed, by a technical fall, 16-0. He came back to beat Thompson for the third time this year. Giordano improved to 25-4 with his consolation win.

Also going to Red Bank is Manalapan’s Jordan Nice, who did it the hard way. A District runner-up, he had to wrestle in a preliminary match on Feb. 29 just to get to the quarterfinals on Friday. Two more wins put him in third place and to the Super Region.

In the semifinals, Nice ran into his District 21 nemesis, the undefeated Nick Vinciguerra. The Jaguar ended dreams Nice may have had of rolling to the Region title, pinning him in the semi’s. Nice then won by forfeit in the consolation match to extend his season. He’s 18-10.

Howell’s Dave Olson lost his third-place consolation match to a familiar foe, Phil Lewis of Jackson.

The week before with the District 21 title on the line, Olson stunned Lewis with a reversal and near fall in the final 30 seconds to beat the returning champion, 7-5.

On Saturday, the stakes were for third place and the continuation of their seasons. Lewis gained his revenge with an 8-4 decision. Olson ended the season with a fine 27-4 record.

The Super Region will combine Regions V and VI. All Region champions will receive first-round byes while the second and third-place finishers will square off in the preliminaries. That will be followed by the first round.

Everyone who gets to the first round will go to the Meadowlands where the state championships will be held on Friday and Saturday.