Despite being the most decorated wrestler in South Plainfield High School history, Anthony Ashnault is selflessly quick to credit anyone but himself for positioning the storied program to reach a prolific milestone.
The Tigers recorded their 800th dual meet victory with a 67-9 win over J.P. Stevens in Edison on Wednesday night.
“I think it’s very exciting for the program,” Ashnault said of South Plainfield improving its all-time record to 800-188-10.
“It’s something for the community that we can all be a part of,” Ashnault said. “We all contributed, whether you were a coach, a wrestler, a student, or a fan during the times of these wins at South Plainfield. This is a total community effort.”
Current South Plainfield head coach Steve Johnston – the sixth varsity mentor in the school’s 60-year history – said the milestone “is a testament to everybody that’s come before us.”
“The wrestlers, the coaches, and assistant coaches,” Johnston said. “They have really helped vault this program to where it’s nationally recognized. People throughout New Jersey and beyond know South Plainfield wrestling.”
South Plainfield has been nationally ranked seven times since 2006 with its best finish a consensus No. 13 ranking in 2013, according to Amateur Wrestling News and Wrestling Insider News Magazine.
The first four-time undefeated state champion in New Jersey, Ashnault anchored that 2012-13 team, regarded among the best in state history.
Teammates Ray Jazikoff, Scott DelVecchio (two-time state champion), Corey Stasenko (2013 state finalist), Dylan Painton (two-time state placewinner) and Troy Heilmann (2013 state finalist) joined Ashnault to form a stretch of the lineup from 126 to 152 pounds as dominant as perhaps any consecutive sextet in New Jersey history.
The group combined for an astounding 233 victories in that 2012-13 season, during which South Plainfield compiled a 30-0 mark and the program’s third No. 1 overall state ranking.
“That’s a class that you’ll never see again — I don’t think — from any school,” Kevin McCann, South Plainfield’s former head coach who is now the school’s athletics director, said at the time.
Since its inception in 1961-62, South Plainfield has won 12 state team titles, 17 team sectional titles, 26 Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament team titles, and a state record 36 consecutive team district titles.
“A lot of momentum has been building into all these wins,” Ashnault said. “Starting at 5 or 6 years old and leading into high school, you always picture yourself wrestling for that program. It’s a testament to always doing things right and continuing to do things right. The goal is to win and dominate and send more guys to (college) wrestling programs, to continue to develop and build the team at South Plainfield.”
South Plainfield’s head coaches include Al Ranger (166 wins), Tom Baker (7 wins), Mike Buggey (114 wins), Bill Pavlak (159 wins), McCann (302 wins) and Johnston (52 wins).
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” Johnston said of his predecessors positioning South Plainfield to win 800 dual meets.
“From coach Ranger all the way through Coach McCann and Coach Pavlak and all the wrestlers in between. Whether you were a state champ, a state placewinner or someone who stayed off your back just to help the team win, everybody contributed.”
Jeff Jacome, Nicky Campagna, Jake DelVecchio, J.J. Giordano, Andrew Loniewski, Tyler Balent, and Julian Irizarry headline this year’s squad, which The Star Ledger currently ranks No. 13 in New Jersey.
No raucous celebration on the mat or public acknowledgment of the program’s 800th victory followed Wednesday night’s win over J.P. Stevens, reflecting a business-as-usual attitude for the Tigers, who take their responsibility of upholding the program’s rich tradition seriously.
“To be able to carry on that legacy is something that’s special to these kids,” Johnston said of his current lineup, which owns a 2-0 record after winning the season-opening Morris Knolls Invitational.
Recent graduate Anthony White, who is now wrestling at Rutgers University, where he is a freshman, was the last South Plainfield grappler to win an individual state title.
The school’s other individual state champions include Joe Lemmo, Steve Giordano, Matt Anderson, Jimmy Conroy, Scott DelVecchio, Zach DelVecchio, McCann, and Ashnault.
“South Plainfield is a great place to live because of our families and our support for one another,” said Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., whose legislative district includes South Plainfield.
“Nothing captures that spirit of unity better than our wrestling program. We are recognized statewide for the amazing year after year success of our wrestlers. As a lifelong resident and a graduate of South Plainfield High School, let me simply say I couldn’t be prouder.”
South Plainfield was ranked the No. 1 team in New Jersey in 2010, 2012 and 2013, according to the New Jersey Wrestling Coaches Association poll. The Tigers were nationally ranked in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2019.
The Tigers have a long way to go to catch up to the state’s winningest programs, four of which have accumulated 1,000 or more victories including Paulsboro, Roselle Park, Hunterdon Central and Phillipsburg. The former commenced its program in 1939, more than two decades before South Plainfield’s inaugural campaign.
“What’s amazing about it is if you look at all the programs in the state, a lot have had success and are doing a lot of great things, but what sets South Plainfield apart is we didn’t start our program until 1961-62,” said McCann, noting the Tigers boast a .810 winning percentage.
“To get to 800 wins that quick goes to show where our program stands in relationship.”
McCann said he “was blessed to be coached through the program (as a state champion), lucky to be an assistant coach and head coach and now be in a capacity (as athletics director) where I can sit back and watch it a little easier.”
“I’m still glad to be a part of it,” said McCann, a member of the New Jersey State Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Of all South Plainfield’s gaudy numbers, the most recent it posted is the one that stands out to Ashnault the most.
“I feel like 800 is a huge number,” Ashnault said. “Just getting to 800 is pretty monumental. I think for South Plainfield, we want wrestling to be successful for a long time.
“We don’t want to stop at 800 wins.”
SOUTH PLAINFIELD 67, J.P. STEVENS 9
126: Julian Irizarry (SP) won by forfeit
132: Andrew Loniewski (SP) pinned Akshat Ananthu, 0:23
138: Daniel Gonzalez-Ross (SP) pinned Syed Jeelani, 1:44
144: J.J. Giordano (SP) technical fall over Kyle Tierney, 3:13
150: Vincent Conselina (SP) won by forfeit
157: Nicholas Campagna (SP) won by forfeit
165: Tyler Balent (SP) pinned Kevin Savoth, 1:47
175: Adam Bowles (SP) pinned Sachit Nigam, 1:29
190: Joshua Juzefyk (JPS) decisioned Manuel Alvaranga, 2-0
215: Aidan MacKenzie (SP) decisioned Jahwill Palmer, 7-4)
285: Kwabena Afrifah (JPS) over Mike Zavala, injury default
106: Nicholas Irizarry (SP) won by forfeit
113: Jeffrey Jacome (SP) won by forfeit
120: Jacob DelVecchio (SP) technical fall over Adolfo Malabanan, 17-1 (4:00)