“Watch out for us this year, we’re gonna be good.”
That’s what senior wrestler Matteo DeVincenzo had to say about his Port Jefferson high school team, and the New York State champion may be right.
With a 13-4 League VII record over the last three seasons and a slew of All-County wrestlers returning, the Royals have been working hard in the off-season to bring everything they can to the mat this year.
“Last year we had a bunch of holes in our lineup, [but] with all of the guys we have returning, plus the newcomers, we can spread our lineup out if we have to,” Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said. “To fill out 15 weight classes in a small school is almost impossible, and we’re in a good position right now.”
Despite losing several All-County wrestlers to graduation in June, the team still has seven seasoned seniors and plenty of new additions.
Three guys are fighting for the top spot at the 99-, 145- and 152-pound weight classes. One of the 145-pounders is senior Alex Frohmen, who is coming off of a 28-day intensive wrestling camp in Minnesota.
“It’s not just the wrestling aspect when you go to that camp — it’s the amount of discipline you learn [from] being fully immersed in wrestling for 28 days,” Maletta said. “It’s a huge commitment and the expectations are not only for him to place, but to be on top of the podium in February.”
Frohmen also sees his teammates improving, both new and old.
“Some people are really growing and could definitely break through that threshold,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of sprinting, which definitely helps with our conditioning. Port Jefferson prides itself in its ability to wear down people and not be the ones panting at the end of the first period.”
At 106 pounds will be returning varsity starter Robbie Williams, who will build off of his experience from last year, when he wrestled at 99 pounds. Also at 106 pounds will be Joey Collins, whose freshman brother Jack, the quarterback of the football team, will compete at 145 or 152 pounds.
Joey Collins has Down syndrome, but Maletta said the athlete doesn’t let his condition bring him down.
“He brings a special excitement to any match that he wrestles in,” the coach said.
At 113 pounds will be returning county champion Vinny Miceli, who has almost 50 wins as a sophomore. His workout partner, Joe Evangelista, is a two-time All-Country wrestler who will be competing at 120 pounds and also has close to 50 wins.
At 126 or 132 pounds will be seniors DeVincenzo, Sterling Nenninger and Dallas Brett.
DeVincenzo is a three-time All-State wrestler and All-American, and Nenninger, also an All-County wrestler, is looking to improve on his fourth-place finish in the county last season.
“He’s our big gun,” Maletta said of DeVincenzo. “To have him anchoring the team is really exciting.”
Maletta said Brett, who was also named an All-County wrestler, is his wildcard.
“He has a funky style — he can surprise anyone,” Maletta said. “He’s never out of a match with the way he wrestles. He’s got a very unorthodox way of wrestling and sometimes he can surprise a guy with a roll or a throw and he lands on top and he can pin somebody.”
Senior Pedro Nobrega is Maletta’s “160-pound Brazilian import,” in whom he’s seen a vast amount of growth.
Chris LePore, who the head coach said is intense when he gets his motor going, will wrestle at 170. Maletta said he can see that sophomore flipping his record from last season.
Freshman Harry Cona, who Maletta said is willing to learn and attentive in practice, with great body movement for a big guy, will wrestle at 182. His fellow classmate is 152-pounder Sam Caltagirone.
All-County returner Ryan Walsh will compete at 195 and Nick Kafeiti, a junior who is new to the team, will complete the lineup at 220 pounds.
“Last year we were on the cusp of doing great things, so now we’ve been working hard over the off-season and we think we’re at that point where we can perform,” Walsh said. “You can feel the excitement in the wrestling room. It’s very positive.”
The Royals kick off their season with a tournament at Huntington on Saturday and have their first league meet on Wednesday at home against Southampton at 4:30 p.m. On Dec. 16 at 5 p.m., Port Jefferson will host Babylon on its “White Out” night. The team encourages fans to wear white, and the first 150 in attendence will receive “We Are P.J. Nation” T-shirts.
Nenninger said the expectations are high this season, and the team is sticking to its “PJ Nation” motto of not letting anyone cross its borders, while also making the Royals’ presence known despite being a smaller school.
“We face big schools and it’s not like we just give them the win — we’re always going to put up a fight,” Nenninger said. “We have such a small group of guys, but that only inspires us to work harder. We’re a group of strong wrestlers who feel we can take on the world.”