Cranford wrestlers, sparked by 4-time champ DiGiovanni, capture 3rd straight UCT title; Union senior Zuena grabs 152 championship

Roselle Park, with Montgomery winning crown at 113 is 2nd; 4th-place Rahway has sophomore champions in Murray at 120 and Royster at 126

PHOTO COURTESY OF UNION WRESTLING TEAM – From left are Union head coach Dino DeBellonia, UCT 152 pound champion senior Nick Zuena of Union and Union assistant coach Dan DeBarbieri.
PHOTO COURTESY OF UNION WRESTLING TEAM – Union senior Nick Zuena’s arm is raised after he captured the Union County Tournament’s 152 pound championship.

UNION – “4 Baby!”
Those were the first words emphatically ushered by Cranford standout senior wrestler Tom DiGiovanni immediately after he held off Summit senior Philip Angelo 2-1 to capture the 138-pound championship.
DiGiovanni became Cranford’s first 4-time Union County Tournament champion Saturday en route to helping lead the heavily-favored Cougars to their third straight team championship.
DiGiovanni, who won his three previous finals bouts also by decision and the first also by the same 2-1 score over Angelo when both were freshmen, wanted championship No. 4 pretty badly.
“This is awesome,” DiGiovanni continued. “We have a great coaching staff, we work hard and we really came through today.”
Cranford stood the tallest again at Saturday’s 42nd annual wrestling Union County Tournament held at Union High School’s Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium. The 6-0 Cougars – exactly one week after a historic 36-32 Saturday night home win over an undefeated Phillipsburg squad – had five champions this time and for the second straight season had both Outstanding Wrestler award winners.
DiGiovanni won the OW for the lower weights, while first-time champion and teammate Vince Concina was the OW selection for the upper weights after winning the 170 crown. Concina, a senior, placed second last year at 145, falling to New Providence senior Tyler Gazaway, who captured his third championship.
Cranford scored 248.5 points and in addition to DiGiovanni and Concina also had champions at 160-senior Brian McGovern, heavyweight-senior Alex Esposito and 132-senior Chris Scorese. McGovern won his second title after winning at 152 last year, Esposito also won his second crown after capturing the 220 title a year ago and Scorese finished as a three-time champ, with his first two titles coming at 126 in 2015 and also at 132 in 2016. Esposito defeated last year’s heavyweight champion Dan Tomlinson 3-1 in overtime. He pinned Tomlinson in 2:11 Wednesday during Cranford’s 57-9 win at GL.
Roselle Park, with sophomore champion Mark Montgomery at 113, was second with 183.5 points. The Panthers finished third behind second-place Governor Livingston the past two years after winning their last crowns in 2013 and 2014.
Cranford won last year with 270 points and the year before with 192.5. The Cougars finished second behind Roselle Park in 2014 by a 160-137 margin.
Rounding out the top five teams on Saturday were Westfield third at 153 points, Rahway fourth at 118 and Scotch Plains fifth at 114. No other team scored 100 points, with GL sixth at 99. Westfield had the second-most champions with three: senior Jack Miller at 195, senior Phil Ricca at 220 and freshman Luke Hoerle at 106.
Rahway had back-to-back champions in sophomore Sabri Murray at 120 and sophomore Rhise Royster at 126. In a battle of two of the eight returning champions, second-seeded Murray defeated Cranford senior Anthony Capece, the top seed, by the score of 3-1. Murray won at 106 a year ago and Capece – who reached the finals all four years – at 113.
Four schools produced one champion, including Scotch Plains with junior Sam Wustefeld at 182, Roselle Park with sophomore Mark Montgomery at 113, Summit with senior Michael Acitelli at 145 and Union with senior Nick Zuena at 152. Wustefeld and Montgomery won as top seeds, while Acitelli was a third seed and Zuena a second seed.
Nine top seeds won and three others – Roselle Park sophomore Gabe Leo, Capece and Roselle Park senior Rene Perez – reached the finals.
Five of the eight returning champions – Murray, DiGiovanni, Scorese, McGovern and Esposito – became champs again. Capece – to Murray – and Tomlinson – to Esposito – were returning champions that lost to other returning champs.
Hoerle was the lowest-seeded wrestler to win a championship, taking 106 as the sixth seed. Hoerle first defeated 11th-seeded Harrison Kelly of GL by pin in just 22 seconds and then ousted third-seeded John Palmer of New Providence by technical fall at 19-2. Hoerle then downed second-seeded Pat Kalnins of Cranford 4-3 in the semifinals before topping top-seeded Gabe Leo of Roselle Park by major decision in the final at 10-3.
DiGiovanni is the UCT’s eighth 4-time champion and the first since Brearley’s Kenny Knapp accomplished the feat during the 2009 tournament at Union.
The other six 4-time winners include Union’s Larry Guarino in 1988, Union’s Dave Bubnowski in 1996, Roselle Park’s Craig Frost in 1999, Roselle Park’s Dan Appello in 2002, Rahway’s Darrion Caldwell in 2006 and Brearley’s Jesse Boyden in 2008.
During this impressive run by Cranford that has seen the Cougars place second in 2014 and first in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Cougars produced seven of the last eight OW award winners.
In 2014 Cranford first-time champion Gavin Murray was the OW for the lower weights at 138, while Brearley senior Joe Balboni was the OW for upper weights after winning at 182 and having the most pins in the least amount of time: three in 4:53.
In 2015 the OWs were Chris Scorese for Cranford as a sophomore at 126 for the lower weights and Murray again, this time as a senior at 152 for the upper weights.
In 2016 the OWs were Anthony Capece for Cranford as a junior at 113 for the lower weights and Alex Esposito for Cranford as a junior at 220 for the upper weights.
Rahway sophomore Sabri Murray, now with titles at 106 as a freshman last year and at 120 as a sophomore this year, is half way there to becoming the UCT’s ninth 4-time winner and second from Rahway.
DiGiovanni, before facing Angelo in a final for the second time in four years, first defeated eighth-seeded Elvin Guerrero of Roselle Park by major decision at 9-1. He then knocked off fourth-seeded Jack Cannon of Scotch Plains 5-0 in the semifinals.
Against Angelo in Saturday’s final, the first four minutes were scoreless. DiGiovanni then produced his only two points of the bout with 1:13 to go and remained on top of Angelo until Angelo escaped for his only point with 35 seconds remaining.
Both grapplers stood facing each other with 16 seconds left. DiGiovanni held off a last second push by Angelo to make school history and capture his fourth crown.
“I knew he was fast on his feet, but I’m one of the most physical wrestlers,” DiGiovanni said. “I was just able to grind it out. We always train for that.
“The third period is our time.”
Cranford head coach Pat Gorman tried to down-play the fact that DiGiovanni was going for his fourth championship. After the victory he was just as proud of DiGiovanni as he was the past three tournaments.
“Every one of his four titles were earned,” Gorman said. “He works so hard. He’s having a great season.”
It took more than six minutes, but Esposito was able to make a move that paid off in overtime to defeat Tomlinson for a second time in four days.
With the score tied 1-1 after the first three periods, Esposito made his next move 20 seconds into the one-minute overtime period by taking down Tomlinson for two points and the victory.
“I was trying to snap and circle and get an angle,” Esposito said. “I did exactly that.”
Esposito, who will wear a black mask the rest of the season according to Gorman, has overcome hamstring and shoulder injuries from football and 40 stitches to the head after getting a knee to the face during practice.
“He (Tomlinson) kept pulling on me,” Esposito said. “I was not paying attention there for a moment.
“He wore down and got higher and higher and then I popped a single. He was getting banged up and I went in for a reach.”
In a battle of juniors in last year’s finals, Esposito pinned Westfield’s Phil Ricca in 2:14 in the 220 title bout.
“It’s a great thing to win here, this county is always tough,” Esposito said. “I’m proud to have my name on the wall as a two-time champion.”
“This match against Tomlinson was a little tighter,” Gorman said. “GL came out with a different strategy. We’ve been working harder with Alex on his offense and he was able to get the takedown in overtime.”
Last year host Union placed fourth – its highest finish in some time – with 113 points. The Farmers had eight grapplers that placed, but not a single champion. Senior David Brown was the closest to winning, placing second at heavyweight.
Union finished seventh this time with 94.5 points, had five wrestlers place and produced its first champion during present head coach Dino DeBellonia’s tenure, which is now in its eighth season.
After placing third at 145 last year, Union senior Nick Zuena captured Saturday’s 152 pound championship as the second seed.
In the final against fourth-seeded Joe Delia of New Providence, there was plenty of scoring after the first two minutes, with Zuena, now 16-0 on the season, hanging on for a hard-fought 8-6 triumph.
“We haven’t had a champ in a long time, so it feels good to make a name here,” Zuena said.
Delia led 1-0 after the first period, with Zuena coming back to take a 4-1 lead before Delia gained back points at the end of the second period to close to within 4-3.
Delia then quickly tied the match at 4-4 early in the third before Zuena came back with two points for a 6-4 lead with 1:26 to go. Zuena tacked on two more points just four seconds later for an 8-4 advantage.
Delia made it 8-6 with 56 seconds remaining
“I wanted to go out and score as many points as I could,” Zuena said.
Delia took the top position with 34 seconds left, but Zuena kept his composure and rode out the final half-minute to gain the championship victory.
“I thought I wrestled a pretty good tournament,” said Zuena, who also for the first time under DeBellonia’s tutelage Zuena became the first Union grappler to win the Dover and Parsippany tournaments in the same season, accomplishing the feat last month.
After getting a bye, Zuena first defeated seventh-seeded Alex Dorce of Linden by pin in 3:08. Zuena then won a 5-3 decision over third-seeded Charlie Buckley of Brearley in the semifinals.
Zuena called attention to his off-season training as the biggest reason for his success so far this year.
DeBellonia was, obviously, thrilled with Zuena taking home first place honors and also pleased with his team’s seventh-place finish.
“Overall Nick had a very good day,” DeBellonia, last year’s Union County Coach of the Year, said. “This was the toughest competition he’s faced all year.
“To be able to win this against the competition he faced is a major achievement.”
Delia’s semifinal bout saw him defeat top-seeded Mike Nigro of Cranford 4-2.
“The final should always be a tough match,” DeBellonia said. “Nick battled and had to find a way to win. I’m glad he won the way he did. He was forced to dig down deep.”
Union’s other four wrestlers who placed included senior Kyjuan Hutchins third at 126, senior Joram Mrinvil fourth at 160, senior Dellison Nkrahene fifth at 182 and senior Raul Falar fourth at heavyweight.
“Hutchins beat a very good wrestler from Cranford (second-seeded Connor Halpin 5-4) to finish third and that was another good accomplishment for us,” DeBellonia said. “I was surprised and pleased with where we finished as a team.
“Now we need to build off this, starting with a very challenging match Wednesday (at Union) against Brearley.”
Union improved to 5-3 this past Wednesday with a convincing 62-12 home win over Plainfield.

126: Kyjuan Hutchins, senior, 3rd
152: Nick Zuena, senior, 1st
160: Joram Mrinvil, senior, 4th
182: Dellison Nkrahene, senior, 5th
HWT: Raul Falar, senior, 4th

NOTES: In the past four tournaments Cranford has produced two champions in 2014, four in 2015, six in 2016 and five more in 2017 for 17 total.
“We want to make sure we’re always going in the right direction,” Gorman said. “We came out and proved that again today. Now we have to get ready for a very tough Roselle Park team (at Cranford) Wednesday.”
Cranford was first sparked by an outstanding freshman class three years ago, with Capece placing second at 106 and McGovern third at 132 as freshmen in the 2014 UCT.


Tom DiGiovanni, Cranford, senior, 138

Vince Concina, Cranford, senior, 170

Fred Stueber, Rahway

Rick Iacono

106: Gabe Leo, Roselle Park, sophomore
Lost in final to 6 seed Luke Hoerle of Westfield.
113: Mark Montgomery, Roselle Park, sophomore
Won his first championship.
120: Anthony Capece, Cranford, senior
Lost in final to 2 seed Sabri Murray of Rahway.
126: Rhise Royster, Rahway, sophomore
Won his first championship.
132: Chris Scorese, Cranford, senior
Won his third championship.
138: Tom DiGiovanni, Cranford, senior
Won his fourth championship.
145: Rene Perez, Roselle Park, senior
Lost in final to 3 seed Michael Acitelli of Summit.
152: Mike Nigro, Cranford, senior
Lost in semis to 4 seed Joe Delia of New Providence.
160: Brian McGovern, Cranford, senior
Won his second championship.
170: Vince Concina, Cranford, senior
Won his first championship.
182: Sam Wustefeld, Scotch Plains, junior
Won his first championship.
195: Jack Miller, Westfield, senior
Won his first championship.
220: Azir Lawson, Elizabeth, senior
Lost in semis to 5 seed Vinny Figueredo of Roselle Park.
HWT: Alex Esposito, Cranford, senior
Won his second championship.


TEAMS: 1-Cranford 248.5. 2-Roselle Park 183.5. 3-Westfield 153. 4-Rahway 118.
5-Scotch Plains 114. 6-Gov. Livingston 99. 7-Union 94.5. 8-New Providence 90.
9-Summit 73.5. 10-Linden 63. 11-Johnson 56. 12-Elizabeth 51, 13-Brearley 43.
14-Plainfield 4.


160: 1-Brian McGovern, Cranford, pin 3-Sebastian Iakovche, Johnson, 2:54.

170: 1-Vince Concina, Cranford, maj. dec. 2-Quinn Haddad, GL, 11-4.

182: 1-Sam Wustefeld, Scotch Plains, pin 2-Devin Hilburn, Roselle Park, 3:04.

195: 1-Jack Miller, Westfield, dec. 2-Turner Haddad, GL, 3-2.

220: 2-Phil Ricca, Westfield, pin 5-Vinny Figueredo, Roselle Park, 1:46.

HWT: 1-Alex Esposito, Cranford, dec. Dan Tomlinson, GL, 3-1 (OT).

106: 6-Luke Hoerle, Westfield, maj. dec. 1-Gabe Leo, Roselle Park, 10-3.

113: 1-Mark Montgomery, Roselle Park, pin 3-Chris Dalmau, Brearley, 0:33.

120: 2-Sabri Murray, Rahway, dec. 1-Anthony Capece, Cranford, 3-1.

126: 1-Rhise Royster, Rahway, dec. Josh Mejia, Roselle Park, 4-0.

132: 1-Chris Scorese, Cranford, dec. Chris Fuschetto, Johnson, 7-2.

138: 1-Tom DiGiovanni, Cranford, dec. 2-Philip Angelo, Summit, 2-1.

145: 3-Michael Acitelli, Summit, dec. Rene Perez, Roselle Park, 7-4.

152: 2-Nick Zuena, Union, dec. 4-Joe Delia, New Providence, 8-6.


CRANFORD (5): Brian McGovern 160, Vince Concina 170,
Alex Esposito heavyweight, Chris Scorese 132, Tom DiGiovanni 138.
WESTFIELD (3): Jack Miller 195, Phil Ricca 220, Luke Hoerle 106.
RAHWAY (2): Sabri Murray 120, Rhise Royster 126.
SCOTCH PLAINS (1): Sam Wustefeld 182.
ROSELLE PARK (1): Mark Montgomery 113.
SUMMIT (1): Michael Acitelli 145.
UNION (1): Nick Zuena 152.

Brian McGovern, Cranford, 160 – also won at 152 last year
Alex Esposito, Cranford, HWT – also won at 220 last year
Sabri Murray, Rahway, 120 – also won at 106 last year
Chris Scorese, Cranford 132 – also won at 126 two years ago
and at 132 last year
Tom DiGiovanni, Cranford 138 – also won at 113 three years ago
and at 120 two years ago and last year

182: Sam Wustefeld, Scotch Plains, junior
106: Luke Hoerle, Westfield, freshman
113: Mark Montgomery, Roselle Park, sophomore
120: Sabri Murray, Rahway, sophomore
126: Rhise Royster, Rahway, sophomore

Tom DiGiovanni, Cranford, senior
Won at 113 in 2014, at 120 in 2015, at 120 in 2016 and at 138 in 2017.
DiGiovanni became the 8th wrestler to win 4 championships and the first
from Cranford to do so,

Chris Scorese, Cranford, senior
Won at 126 in 2015, at 132 in 2016 and at 132 in 2017.

Anthony Capece, Cranford, senior
Was second at 106 in 2014, second at 106 in 2015,
won at 113 in 2016 and was second at 120 in 2017.

FROM 2017 TO 1990:
2017: Cranford
2016: Cranford
2015: Cranford
2014: Roselle Park
2013: Roselle Park
2012: Brearley
2011: Brearley
2010: Brearley
2009: Brearley
2008: Brearley
2007: Brearley
2006: Brearley
2005: Rahway
2004: Scotch Plains
2003: Roselle Park
2002: Roselle Park
2001: Roselle Park
2000: Roselle Park
1999: Roselle Park
1998: Roselle Park
1997: Roselle Park
1996: Rahway
1995: Rahway
1994: Union
1993: Roselle Park
1992: Roselle Park
1991: Union
1990: Westfield

2 from Union, 2 from Roselle Park,
1 from Rahway, 2 from Brearley, 1 from Cranford

Larry Guarino, Union, class of 1988
1985 – won championship at 158
1986 – won championship at 158
1987 – won championship at 170
1988 – won championship at 171

Dave Bubnowski, Union, class of 1996
1993 – won championship at 103
1994 – won championship at 103
1995 – won championship at 121
1996 – won championship at 135

Craig Frost, Roselle Park, class of 1999
1996: 103 final: dec. Shawn Stueber of Rahway 10-4.
1997: 112 final: maj. dec. Rich Sachsel of New Providence, 21-8.
1998: 130 final: dec. Shawn Stueber of Rahway, 6-0.
1999: 135 final: pinned Jeff Bubnowski of Union in 2:48.

Dan Appello, Roselle Park, class of 2002
1999: 103 final: dec. Dare Ajibade of Union , 8-3
2000: 112 final: tech. fall Tom McDermott of Johnson 21-6 (3:08).
2001: 119 final: maj. dec. William Banks of Elizabeth, 17-5.
2002: 125 final: dec. William Banks of Elizabeth 11-4.

Darrion Caldwell, Rahway, class of 2006
2003: 103 final: pin Rob Mench of Westfield in 1:05.
2004: 119 final: pin Ross Baldwin of New Providence in 2:44.
2005: 135 final: pin Steve Mineo of Scotch Plains in :54.
2006: 160 final: pin Hany Elshiekh of Brearley in 1:26.

Jesse Boyden, Brearley, class of 2008
2005: 215 final: dec. Julio Loperena of Linden, 10-4.
2006: 215 final: pin Trevor Martin of New Providence in :43.
2007: 215 final: major dec. Richard Tabor of Elizabeth, 12-3.
2008: 215 final: dec. Mike Lefano of Roselle Park, 5-2.

Kenny Knapp, Brearley, class of 2009
2006: 103 final: pin Juan Herrera of Rahway, 3:46.
2007: 103 final: pin Anthony Casselli of Roselle Park, 4:23.
2008: 119 final: pin Anthony Zangari of Roselle Park, 3:40.
2009: 130 final: maj. dec. John Barnes of Westfield, 9-1.

Tom DiGiovanni, Cranford, class of 2017
2014: 113 final: dec. Philip Angelo, Summit, 2-1
2015: 120 final: dec. Carmine Boccellari, New Providence, 5-0.
2016: 120 final: dec. Nic Mele, Gov. Livingston, 4-3
(3-3 UTB – Ultimate Tie Breaker)
2017: 138 final: dec. Philip Angelo, Summit, 2-1

106: Pat Kalnins, Cranford
113: CJ Composto, Westfield
120: Jon Mejia, Roselle Park
126: Kyjuan Hutchins, Union
132: Dylan Camilo, Roselle Park
138: Anthony Santigate, Gov. Livingston
145: A.J. Bencivenga, Cranford
152: Charlie Buckley, Brearley
160: Chris Reynolds, New Providence
170: Isaiah Reese, Westfield
182: Doug Chacon, New Providence
195: Dylan Budnik, Cranford
220: Azir Lawson, Elizabeth
HWT: Danny Petrela, Summit

106: Rebecca Pizuto, Brearley
113: Brando Castelan, Elizabeth
120: Zach Rabinowitz, Westfield
126: Connor Halpin, Cranford
132: Kevin Bazan, Elizabeth
138: Jack Cannon, Scotch Plains
145: James Snyder, Gov. Livingston
152: Mike Nigro, Cranford
160: Joram Mrinvil, Union
170: Michael Afolabi, Linden
182: Tyler Stoeckle, Brearley
195: Andrew Joachim, New Providence
220: Anthony Ramirez, Cranford
HWT: Raul Falar, Union

106: John Ojeda, Linden
113: Evan Kanterman, Cranford
120: Justin Sidebottom, Scotch Plains
126: Quinn Halper, Summit
132: Tony Dalmau, Rahway
138: Elvin Guerrero, Roselle Park
145: Owen Smith, New Providence
152: Nick Palazzolo, Scotch Plains
160: Alex Oslislo, Scotch Plains
170: Emilio Cordova, Rahway
182: Dellison Nkrahene, Union
195: Eddie Smith, Scotch Plains
220: Bobby Mount, Scotch Plains
HWT: Dan Olenick, Johnson

106: Michael Fleck, Scotch Plains
113: Emanuel Montero, Brearley
120: David Vill, Gov. Livingston
126: Jacob Perrone, Scotch Plains
132: Luke Scanlan, Westfield
138: Emmett Smith, Westfield
145: Jason Winters, Rahway
152: Alex Dorce, Linden
160: Malachi Dye, Elizabeth
170: Abel Crespo, Roselle Park
182: Traivon Hodge, Linden
195: Sebastian Morales, Linden
220: Vladimir Lee, Rahway
HWT: Alex Brown, Rahway