Cranford wrestlers win record eighth straight Union County Tournament

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UNION, NJ — The Cranford High School wrestling team had six county champions en route to a record-breaking eighth straight team championship.

However, without the efforts of grapplers Dylan Jones and Quentin Connolly, who placed third; Michael Tona, fourth; and Alex Mueller, fifth, the Cougars might not have been able to beat out upstart Governor Livingston High School for the title for the second year in a row.

“Those kids were huge for us,” Cranford head wrestling coach Pat Gorman said. “They really came through and provided big points for us, which we needed to win again. They deserve a lot of credit for being a big part of our team effort.”

Jones, a sophomore, defeated Aidan Harper, of Westfield High School, 8-6 in the third-place bout at 144 pounds. Connolly, a senior, pinned Adams Jacques, of Union High School, in 2:45 in the 165-pound third-place match.

Tona, a senior, was defeated by David Brearley High School’s Julian McGarry 5-0 in the battle for third at 120 pounds.
Mueller, a junior, pinned Gabriel Hargrove, of Union, in 4:34 to finish fifth at 138 pounds.

One of the reasons for the success of the Cranford wrestling team is that the Cougars do not take winning for granted, insisted the coach. That’s not part of their training. Less than 100 percent focus, he said, is a recipe for disaster.

That’s why there was no reason to be alarmed when they found out that they trailed Governor Livingston in the team standings entering the finals of the county tournament on Saturday, Jan. 21.
Both Cranford, the seven-time defending champion, and Governor Livingston, which finished second in last year’s event, had eight wrestlers reach the finals. Four of the 14 championship bouts pitted Cranford against Governor Livingston, including the first two, with the finals starting right at the top at 106 pounds.

Cranford prevailed in three of the four matches and produced six champions overall to overtake Governor Livingston and capture what is believed to be a record eighth straight Union County Tournament championship.

Cranford finished with 269.50 points, Governor Livingston with 240 points and Westfield was third with 196.50 points. Governor Livingston was second for the second straight season. The Highlanders finished eighth in 2020, so they have made significant progress.

“Winning a seventh in a row last year was a pretty big deal,” said Gorman, now in his 11th season at the helm of the Cougars. “We knew this one would be tight with GL.

“To win three of the four head-to-head matches in the finals and for our other wrestlers to place third and fifth helped put us over the top. We also got help from Westfield and Roselle Park, who knocked off some of GL’s wrestlers in the finals.”

Cranford has won every championship since 2015. There was no tournament in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s event took place at Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark, and this year, for the first time, the event was moved to Kean University. The Union County Tournament used to be contested at Union and, before that, at Elizabeth’s Thomas Dunn Sports Center.

The finals for the 47th annual UCT, which began in 1976, were competed on mats provided by Cranford, Roselle Park and Union high schools. Elizabeth High School mats were used for earlier matches.
Roselle Park High School, with the guidance of head coach Sam Appello, won seven straight UCTs from 1997 to 2003. David Brearley then captured seven in a row, behind head coach Brian Luciani, from 2006 to 2012.

Winning championships for the Cougars, who began the week with a Union County–best record of 14-1, with their only setback being a 32-30 decision at home to powerhouse Phillipsburg High School, were freshmen Mike Daly at 106 pounds and Luke Scholz at 126 pounds; sophomore Jordan Chapman at 157 pounds; and seniors Lucas Esposito at 175 pounds, Shane Kanterman at 190 pounds and Dylan McDonald at 215 pounds. McDonald won his second UCT title, both at 215 pounds, while the others were first-time UCT champs.

Placing second were freshman Ryder Connors at 113 pounds and senior Conor Hoefling at 150 pounds. Hoefling, Chapman, Kanterman and Esposito all finished second a year ago.

Twelve of Cranford’s 14 wrestlers placed. The only weight classes the Cougars were shut out in were 132 pounds and heavyweight.
“In order to win eight in a row, we first had to establish and then have a direction,” Gorman said. “It’s a mindset for the kids to push through.”

Chapman, now 19-3, was seeded second at 157 pounds. He lost to Michael Murphy of Westfield 9-7 in last year’s 157-pound final. He faced top-seeded Jake Kreisberg of Governor Livingston in the 157-pound final on Saturday, Jan. 21. A very motivated Chapman defeated Kreisberg by fall in just 43 seconds.

“We busted Chapman about getting the second seed,” Gorman said.
Chapman won all three of his matches by fall in a total time of just 1 minute, 28 seconds.

“He wanted to dominate, and that’s what he did,” Gorman said.
There have been only nine four-time UCT champions, with the only one from Cranford being Class of 2017 grad Tom DiGiovanni. Cougar freshmen Daly and Scholz are now on their way.

“Mike, Luke and our other freshman, Ryder Connors, all work and train extremely hard,” Gorman said.

Kanterman, closing in on 100 wins, began the week with a record of 18-3. Esposito was at 19-2, McDonald 14-5, Scholz 21-1, Daly 15-1 and Connors 18-3.

“Our PAL program is at 133 kids, and the more success we have, the bigger the program becomes,” Gorman said. “There are ebbs and flows, but we’ve been up more than we’ve been down.”

Cranford will next eye capturing North 2, Group 3. Saturday, Jan. 28, is the cutoff for seeding. Cranford is right there with defending champion Warren Hills High School.

“The culture of Cranford sports is at its peak,” Gorman said. “The football kids come to wrestle and feel unbeatable.

“It’s a renaissance for sports, and to watch it is great.”

Award winners

T. Ralph “Pug” Williams Award: Edward Spatola, referee, Rutgers graduate.

Union County coach of the year: Arien Mase, New Providence.
Outstanding wrestler lower weights: Matthew Griffin, 120-pound champ, Roselle Park.

Outstanding wrestler upper weights: Jordan Chapman, 157-pound champ, Cranford.

2023 UCT wrestling at Kean University


Cranford High School, 269.50 points.
Governor Livingston High School, 240 points.
Westfield High School, 196.50 points.
Roselle Park High School, 133 points.
Rahway High School, 122.5 points.
David Brearley High School, 100 points.
Arthur L. Johnson High School, 86 points.
Plainfield High School, 81 points.
Union High School, 48 points.
Linden High School, 47 points.
New Providence High School, 42.5 points.
Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School, 39 points.
Summit High School, 33 points.
Elizabeth High School, 30.5 points.
Abraham Park High School, 10 points.
Hillside High School, 0 points.


106: Michael Daly, Cranford, dec. Christian Sabatino, Governor Livingston, 5-4.

113: Brandon Rayack, Governor Livingston, pin Ryder Connors, Cranford, 1:41.

120: Matthew Griffin, Roselle Park, pin Henrique Ribeiro, Governor Livingston, 1:03.

126: Luke Scholz, Cranford, pin Tahrae Brown, Plainfield, 5:13.

132: Brandon Ribiero, Westfield, vs. Jack Huss, Governor Livingston, 4:59.

138: Ethan Composto, Westfield, dec. Angel Mejia, Roselle Park, 3-1.

144: Mayson Harms, Roselle Park, dec. Cristian Gioia, Governor Livingston, 6-4.

150: Joey Ortega, Arthur L. Johnson, dec. Conor Hoefling, Cranford, 8-1.

157: Jordan Chapman, Cranford, pin Jake Kreisberg, Governor Livingston, 0:43.

165: Michael Murphy, Westfield, tech. fall Joseph Dasti, Governor Livingston, 17-2, 5:17.

175: Lucas Esposito, Cranford, pin Luke Vaccaro, Westfield, 2:46.

190: Shane Kanterman, Cranford, maj. dec. Nathan Faxon, Governor Livingston, 14-6.

215: Dylan McDonald, Cranford, pin Terrance Avent, Rahway, 2:15.

HWT: Kevin Osorio, Roselle Park, pin Conor Reid, Elizabeth, 0:16.

Photos Courtesy of Pat Gorman and JR Parachini