Rams leave their hearts on the mat

Rams leave their hearts on the mat


Rams leave their hearts on the mat



Southern coach John Stout said the goal for his wrestlers in the Region VI Tournament was to leave their hearts out on the wrestling mat.

By the end of Friday night, mat No. 1 on the right side of Pine Belt Arena, was littered with the hearts of the iron-willed Rams.

There were 11 Southern wrestlers in the quarterfinals. Six were seniors. They all won. The first eight Rams won. Only two lost, and both of those were to No. 1 seeds.

Not so many years ago, a Southern wrestler reached a state final at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City seven years in a row.

Today, despite the fact that Southern was ranked among the top seven teams in the state and has been in the state top 10 the past four years, Zach Wilhelm (145) is the only Ram to have placed in states before. And that was three years ago — when he was a freshman.

Wilhelm might be the right wrestler from the right school at the wrong weight. The 145-pound bracket is stacked, but he is one of nine Rams to have advanced into today’s 10 a.m. semifinals.

But while Brick Memorial (three) and Howell and Jackson Memorial and Christian Brothers Academy have kids highly regarded in the state rankings, Southern does not. Not one ranked Ram can be found. It’s as if these kids didn’t know the team season is supposed to be over.

“We’re a family, we don’t have any superstars … but we don’t like to lose,” senior 132-pounder Bryan Brown said.

What Southern has is a team. None of Southern’s nine winner’s gave up anything besides escapes. No takedowns. No reversals. No backpoints.

“What we did tonight seems inpossible but that’s our team,” senior 152-pounder Nick Racanelli said.

“It’s awesome to see how powerful a team we have,” senior 220-pounder Jesse Bauta said. “We equally contributed all year long.”

“State champs don’t come along every day,” Stout said. “We take pride in the fact that we have been able to maintain the level of success in the program. The kids have bought in. The families have bought in. I can’t ask more of anybody associated with the program.”

Southern won four Region VI titles in 1991 and came into its own as a Shore Conference powerhouse. Since that time, the Rams have had 29 region champs. Nobody has had as many. Not Brick Memorial (27) and not Jackson Memorial (28).

Unlikely Ram Chris Serpico (152) won regions from the sixth-seeded position last year. Unlikely perhaps, but not unlucky. Southern’s strong sense of team unity is part of it.

The Wilhelm brothers, Zach and Matt, a junior 138-pounder, are the sons of the school principal

The coach that brought the school to prominence, Gerry Tabbachino, is Stout’s assistant. Former athletic director Kim DeGraw-Cole, now an NJSIAA assistant director, sometimes still shows up to support these kids and this coaching staff.

Six somewhat under the radar seniors wrestled Friday night — and won. For Zach Wilhelm, this is it. After placing eighth at 112 pounds as a freshman in Atlantic City, he did not make it out of regions the last two years.

Wilhelm matched up against a pinner, Middletown South’s cradle machine Garrett Rumsby, at 145.

“I want to win this, I did not come here just to try and place,” said the 23-6 senior. “This was like a team match for us tonight. What a night we had.”

Fifteen Ram District champs have been crowned since Wilhelm placed eighth in 2011. This group of seniors has won the NJSIAA South Group IV title four straight times. Can this hard-working group add a few individual medals to place alongside the school’s success?

Andrew Tonneson (27-2) was the first senior to take the mat. He rode out Neptune’s Nasiyr Brown, the state eighth-place finisher last year at 113, in the third period to advance, 1-0.

“Last year I lost in this round. I want to punch my ticket to Atlantic City. That’s all I want,” Tonneson said.

Brown was next up at 132 pounds. He also pitched a shutout, 4-0, over Wall’s Chad McClelland (24-11).

“I’m here to go to states, I’m not here for anything less,” said Brown, a senior who did not wrestle last year.

Before Zach Wilhelm won at 145, Matt Wilhelm dominated Freehold Township’s Nino Gagliano, 8-1. After the Wilhelm brothers, Racanelli (26-2) shut out Jackson Memorial’s Jarret DiGiantomasso, 2-0, at 152 pounds.

Racanelli was the seventh straight Ram to prevail.

“It seems impossible. When we get on a roll like this, it’s awesome,” Racanelli said.

Next senior up was Gerardo Jorge (25-7) at 170 pounds. He defeated Manalapan’s Steve Chandler 9-3.

“I can hang with anybody in regions, I can beat anybody in regions I can be champ,” Jorge said. “We all want to make it down to the state tournament together.”

At 220 pounds, senior Jesse Bauta defeated Matawan’s Calvin Beaty 3-0.

Also winning for Southern were juniors James Knoeller (113) and Chris Crane (120).

And for one last time, Southern, the team, put on a show. None of the seven unbeaten region wrestlers were Rams. None of the 10 kids with one loss were from Southern. But no other team has as many wrestlers in the semifinals.

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