UCT wrestling is back at Union High School for the first time in four years

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UNION, NJ — Now that the Louis J. Rettino gymnasium is fully functional, following the rainstorm in September 2021 that tried its hardest to almost permanently destroy it, one of Union County’s oldest tournaments is back where it belongs.

The wrestling Union County Tournament is returning to Union High School for the first time in four years.

The 48th annual event is scheduled to take place at Rettino gym at UHS on Saturday, Jan. 20, with competition scheduled to commence around 9 a.m.

The one-day tournament should see the finals begin at about 3 p.m., if all goes well.

Union High School Athletic Director Ron Zieser confirmed that the UCT will take place at his gym for the first time since 2020.

There was no UCT in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022 UCT took place on a Sunday at Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark.

Last year’s tournament was contested on a Saturday in January at Kean University’s Harwood Arena in Union for the first time. Mats for the finals were provided by Roselle Park, Cranford and Union high schools. Elizabeth High School mats were used for earlier matches.

After a long stint at the Thomas Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth High School, the UCT was moved to Union High School, where it was still a two-day event before it was cut to one.

The Cranford Cougars won the last six tournaments at UHS from 2015-2020 and then won again in 2022 at Arthur L. Johnson High School and in 2023 at Kean University to set what is believed to be a record of eight titles in a row.

Again not only one of the top programs in Union County but the entire state, Cranford High School is perhaps the favorite to claim a ninth straight crown. Governor Livingston High School, second to Cranford the past two seasons, might still have a say in that.

The top records in Union County as of Friday, Dec. 29, were: Rahway High School, 5-0; Cranford High School, 2-0; Governor Livingston High School, 4-1; Union High School, 3-2; Westfield High School, 2-1; and New Providence High School, 4-4.

The seven schools situated in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division include: Cranford High School, Rahway High School, Governor Livingston High School, Westfield High School, Arthur L. Johnson High School, Roselle Park High School and Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School.

Cranford won the division last year. The only Cougar setbacks in a 23-4 season were all out of county, to Phillipsburg High School, Old Bridge High School, Warren Hills High School in the North 2, Group 3 final and West Essex High School.

Governor Livingston finished 17-4 overall, 12-0 at home, and its only loss in the division and to a Union County opponent was at Cranford, 46-18. The Highlanders won North 2, Group 2 and then reached the Group 2 final, falling to Sussex County’s High Point High School, 36-34.

After a successful stint as head coach by Ricky Ortega, following Rick Iacono, Governor Livingston is now guided by first-year head coach Matthew Liberato, son of longtime football and wrestling coach John Liberato.

Cranford; Westfield, which finished 21-6 overall; and Rahway, 15-6, all went 10-1 in home matches a season ago.

The eight schools in the UCC’s Mountain Division are: New Providence High School, David Brearley High School, Plainfield High School, Union High School, Elizabeth High School – Frank J. Cicarell Academy, Linden High School, Abraham Clark High School and Summit High School. Arthur L. Johnson was 16-9 overall and 8-4 at home last year, the best overall and home records of the schools from the Mountain Division. The Crusaders were undefeated against division opponents to place first in the Mountain Division.

Plainfield was 12-11 overall and 7-4 in the division. Other teams with winning records at home in the division were Linden and Union, both 6-4. Linden finished 9-12 overall and Union 12-17.

Wrestlers who won UCT championships last year that were not seniors in 2023 include Cranford sophomore Mike Daly, who won at 106; Governor Livingston junior Brandon Rayack, who won at 113; Cranford junior Luke Scholz, who won at 126; Arthur L. Johnson senior Joey Ortega, who won at 150; and Cranford junior Jordan Chapman who won at 157.

The 2023 UCT champions and what grade they were a year ago

• 106: Mike Daly, Cranford, freshman

• 113: Brandon Rayack, Governor Livingston, sophomore

• 120: Matthew Griffin, Roselle Park, senior – OW for lower weights

• 126: Luke Scholz, Cranford, sophomore

• 132: Brandon Ribiero, Westfield, senior

• 138: Ethan Composto, Westfield, senior

• 144: Mayson Harms, Roselle Park, senior

• 150: Joey Ortega, Arthur L. Johnson, junior

• 157: Jordan Chapman, Cranford, sophomore – OW for upper weights

• 165: Michael Murphy, Westfield, senior

• 175: Lucas Esposito, Cranford, senior

• 190: Shane Kanterman, Cranford, senior

• 215: Dylan McDonald, Cranford, senior

• HWT: Kevin Osorio, Roselle Park, senior

Union results from Parsippany Hills, Dec. 28 and 29:

Farmers place third and have champs in Hargrove, Azeredo

The Farmers competed in a two-day event at Parsippany Hills on Thursday, Dec. 28, and Friday, Dec. 29, and came in third as a team with two champions.

“It was the best finish in my tenure as head coach,” said Union’s Dino DeBellonia.

Winning their weight classes were junior Gabriel Hargrove at 132 and sophomore Ariel Azeredo at 138.

Placing second at 215 was Nick Bertolotti and third at 175 was senior Dan Collin.

Four Union grapplers placed fourth, including Jeremy Rivas at 106, sophomore Aidan Cross at 144, Aviel Hernandez at 190 and junior Mark Belfleur at heavyweight.

When Union finished fifth at the Dover Tournament on Tuesday, Dec. 19, Gabriel won at 132 and Bertolotti at 215.

Union’s wins have come at home against Hillside, 71-12, on Wednesday, Dec. 15; at Summit, 55-18, on Wednesday, Dec. 20; and against Elizabeth, 48-30, on Saturday, Dec. 23. Union was defeated by Rahway, 48-28, and by New Providence, 42-30, also on Saturday, Dec. 23. The matches on Saturday, Dec. 23, took place at New Providence High School.

Photo by JR Parachini and Courtesy of Union Head Wrestling Coach Dino DeBellonia