Group Of Shore Conference Wrestlers Finish As Runner-Ups In State Tournament By Pat Ralph


 The New Jersey high school wrestling community comes together at the end of every season in Atlantic City for the NJSIAA State Wrestling Championships. Several Shore Conference teams were represented at the tournament, and its wrestlers did not disappoint, as four wrestlers finished as runner-ups in their respective state finals.  


 After winning the state title at the 138-pound weight class as a junior, Ocean Township senior Jake Benner fell short in his quest to repeat as a state champ against senior Quinn Kinner of Kingsway High School. Despite being the defending champion, Benner had a tall task in the state final. Kinner was a two-time state champion in his high school career and had yet to lose a match this season.  

 While it was a difficult end to the season for Benner, it did not take anything away from his outstanding career at Ocean. During his four years, Benner became Ocean’s all-time wins leader with 146 victories, a state champion in 2017, a two-time state finalist, a two-time Region champion, a three-time Region finalist, and the first ever four-time District champion in school history. Benner finished his senior campaign 39-3.  

 “Jake had a great tournament and an even better career,” Ocean head coach Cip Apicelli said. “He was ready to go and ready to win. Sometimes things just don't go your way. As his coach, it is still hard to look back at what Jake did in his career and not smile. He walked into high school as someone we knew was going to be really good. He is one of the best ever to come through this place and its not opinion, its fact.” 

 Like Benner, Howell senior Kyle Slendorn saw his illustrious high school career end with a second- place finish in the 132 pound state final against Lucas Revano of Camden Catholic. For Slendorn, it would be a second straight runner-up finish in the state final. Similar to Benner, Slendorn established himself as one of the greatest wrestlers in school history during his four years at Howell. Slendorn’s 158 career wins for the Rebels ranks first in school history and is tied for the most in Shore Conference history, too. Slendorn qualified for the state tournament every season and was a Region champion as a junior in 2017. He also was a four-time District champion for Howell and finished his final season with the Rebels 42-2.  

 “He was disappointed that he lost, but he had an outstanding career at Howell,” Howell head coach John Gagliano said. “No kid ever did what he did for us. We’re so proud of him and he’s the most humble kid I’ve ever been around. He handled the loss so well, and he’s been a great model for our younger guys.” 

 Benner and Slendorn are very familiar with wrestling in Atlantic City, but it was a completely new experience for St. John Vianney freshman Dean Peterson. In his first year wrestling at the high school level, Peterson advanced to the 106 pound state final but was defeated by Joey Olivieri of Hanover Park.  

 Despite his season finishing in losing fashion, Peterson’s freshman year could not have gone any better. Peterson is already the most accomplished wrestler in SJV history, as his second- place finish in Atlantic City was the best in school history. Peterson went 37-2 in his freshman season with the Lancers, capturing his first District title at 106 pounds and finishing second in the Region. His first loss did not come until his defeat in the Region final. Having already competed in a state final, Peterson will be a favorite to return to Atlantic City over the next three years to become the first state champion in school history.  

 “He’s got his sights set on that title,” SJV head coach Denny D’Andrea said. “He wants to be a state champ and he’s got more to shoot for next year. But overall he wrestled great this year and this kid works so hard. He knows only one gear, and it’s overdrive.” 

 Another wrestler who is sure to return next season to the state final is junior Robert Kanniard of Wall. Like Benner, Kanniard faced a difficult assignment in the 160 pound state final in Atlantic City, a showdown against three-time state champion Shane Griffith of Bergen Catholic. Kanniard’s second-place finish in the state championship was his first loss of the season, as he finished his junior campaign 45-1. His 45 victories this season is tied for the most in a single season in Shore Conference history.  

 Kanniard’s runner-up finish at 160 pounds was his second state medal, as he placed fourth at the 152-pound weight class as a sophomore in 2017. Kanniard will enter his senior season at Wall with 119 career wins, two Region titles, and three District championships. All that Kanniard is missing now is a state championship. 

“He was disappointed that he fells short of his goal,” Wall head coach Brian Fischer said. “But you had two great wrestlers go toe-to-toe and someone is going to come out on top. It just wasn’t Rob’s day, but he’s going to use it as fuel for next year. He’s progressively gotten better since his freshman year.”

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