BUTLER — The ability to reload its wrestling lineup every year has put Butler in the same conversation with some of the top small-school teams in New Jersey.
While depth is a constant issue for many Group 1 programs, the Bulldogs continue to reinvent themselves and have come up with a model and blueprint that is working.
“We’re a little bit younger this year compared to some of our team’s in the past,” coach Jason Luciani said. “Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to plug guys in where we lost others. We have some young guys and depth and I’m very happy with our junior varsity wrestlers. The kids in our feeder and recreation programs throughout Butler and Bloomingdale are committed to the sport. They compete for their rec programs, their clubs and they train in the offseason.”
On Wednesday night, the Bulldogs and their future was on full display in a convincing 51-15 home win over Cresskill. In a battle between two of the top teams in NJIC-Division 4, Butler jumped out to an early lead and never looked back.
Jordan Ortiz clinched the match for the Bulldogs in the 10th bout of the night with a 3-2 decision at 170-pounds to put Butler up 36-9 with four matches to go. The latest victory moves the Bulldogs to 9-0 on the young season and 2-0 in the NJIC, while Cresskill falls to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the division.
This is Butler wrestling’s best start.
“The past couple of years we’ve had some really good records and starts, but also had some early season losses to some tough teams,” said Luciani, whose Bulldogs are competing in their new division for the first time this year. “The difference this year is that we’ve happened to squeak out a couple of close wins that we couldn’t in the past. Tonight was a good test for us against a conference opponent. We showed balance from bottom up.”
Butler benefited early from two Cresskill forfeits in the first three bouts as the Bulldogs jumped out to an early 12-6 lead. The closest the Cougars would get was when senior Kenny Spadaccini earned a 7-5 victory over junior Jake Luciani at 152 to cut Butler’s lead at 27-9.
Butler seniors Zach Kareivis (220) and John Gonzales-Zuniga (285) put the final touches on the match with falls in the final two bouts of the night.
“We’re a tight group and a lot of us worked hard over the summer and during the offseason,” said senior captain Ben Bariso, who recently committed to Roger Williams University and is within 10 wins of reaching 100 for his career. “Our commitment to the sport and team is the biggest reason why we’ve had success over the last few years.”
Late last month, Butler participated in the annual Mountain Lakes Holiday Tournament and turned in several impressive performances.
Bariso claimed the 120-pound title with a 6-2 decision over rival Jake Bursese of Hanover Park. Two years ago, Bariso lost to Bursese in the Morris County Tournament third-place bout.
Butler junior Julian Amadio (126) took third, as did Jake Luciani.
“I feel great and I’m comfortable competing at a heavier weight,” said Bariso, who won 26 matches in 2018. “I wrestled at 106 over the last three years. I’m stronger and I’m looking forward to what we can do as a team the rest of the way.”
Over the last three seasons, the Bulldogs reached the North 1, Group 1 sectional final once and made two semifinal appearances.