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Rafael Lievano

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Patriots send some wrestlers upstate to compete, rest others in loss to Sachem East

Ward Melville's Chris Little battles for dominance. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s wrestling team looked to cap off its undefeated regular season with another win Jan. 12, but with key competitors away at Eastern States Classic, it was a tall order for the Patriots to fill, which fell to Sachem East 51-27 on their home mat.

“We knew it was going to be a little tight,” said Ward Melville head coach Garrett Schnettler, noting his five starters away at the tournament. “Once we got [beyond] 138 pounds we knew it was going to be tight.”

Eastern States Classic tournament

Away at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, All-County senior Rafael Lievano notched his 100th career victory at 132 pounds. Junior Tom Fitzsimmons and senior Richie Munoz also competed.

Ward Melville senior 160-pounder Nabeel Ahmed struck first for his team, winning the opening match 10-6. The Patriots gathered additional points with a pair of Sachem East forfeits at 170 and 182 pounds, and senior Kevin Vera won his match 8-2 at 195 pounds to put his team out front 14-0.

From there, the Patriot lead slowly slipped away, with losses in the 220 and 285-pound weights classes before eighth-grader Christian Lievano started off the lighter weights with a pin at 2:39 over Sachem East’s John Tietjan at 99 pounds.

Sachem East got back in the win column at 106, 113 and 120 pounds to give the Flaming Arrows their first lead of the match, 26-24, and never looked back.

Ward Melville senior Ryan Mc Namara said the loss will have no effect on him or his teammates in preparation for the postseason, even if the win would have set a regular season record.

Ward Melville’s Kevin Vera tries to stay on top of his challenger to avoid letting up any points. Photo by Bill Landon

“Tonight’s loss isn’t going to phase us,” said Mc Namara, who was bumped from 170 to 185 so a junior varsity player could compete. Mc Namara won by forfeit. “We didn’t have as much experience, but they gave it their best. We’ll have everyone back in their spots in the lineup and we’ll give it our all [Wednesday].”

Ward Melville competes in the opening round of the newly created Suffolk County dual championship Jan. 17. Bracket information was not readily available for who the Patriots will compete against. Matches are currently scheduled to take place at 4 p.m.

“The guys at Eastern States, they’re doing pretty well,” said sophomore Dan Cassera, who was able to execute a pair of takedowns to pull away with a 9-6 win at 138 pounds. “We’re going to work hard [to get ready for Wednesday], put in a lot of practice, see what we did wrong and correct those things.”

Away at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, All-County senior Rafael Lievano notched his 100th career victory at 132 pounds. Junior Tom Fitzsimmons and senior Richie Munoz were also away.

“We’re already looking forward,” Schnettler said following the loss. “We take it one match at a time, and now we’re getting ready for the next meet. The guys are focused. We could’ve made tonight’s match closer, but we thought long term — gave some guys the rest who needed it — because round one of the dual meet championship is way more important than us going undefeated in the league.”

Ward Melville’s Christian Lievano attempts to keep his challenger on the mat. Photo by Bill Landon

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Kenny Cracchiola practices with Richie Munoz. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

With a mix of first-year varsity wrestlers and All-County and league champions at its core, returning senior Kenny Cracchiola said his confidence in his Ward Melville wrestling team has never been higher.

“This is my fourth year on varsity and honestly this is the best overall team we’ve had and I think with this year’s team we can knock off [some] of the top teams in the county,” said the four-year starting who is closing in on 100 varsity wins, despite the team losing two county champions to graduation last year. “We lost to Brentwood the last couple of years, but If we could take down Brentwood that would send a message.”

Tom Fitzsimons drops an opponent during practice. Photo by Bill Landon
Tom Fitzsimons drops an opponent during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Cracchiola will be joined by classmate Sean Fitzsimons, who is in his second year at the varsity level and is a returning league finalist and an all county competitor.

Fitzsimons said the feel and the mentality in the practice room has changed this year.

“I feel that we all have something to prove this year — I think some of the other teams are brushing us off and we’ll be looking to knock off a few big names this year,” Fitzsimons said.

The Patriots finished last season 3-3 and are looking make a splash in League I, under first-year head coach Garrett Schnettler.

“There are three teams that are ranked in the county who are ahead of us in our league — Brentwood, Sachem East and Patchogue-Medford — so those are three teams we’d like to go after,” Schnettler said. “We were beaten by those three last year pretty convincingly, but this year we have a really deep team at every weight and we have someone that’s reliable in each class.”

Schnettler said he expects big things from junior Nabeel Ahmed, who got a late start to the season due to the success of the football team that went to the county championship game. Ahmed, a wide receiver and free safety, was injured last season and didn’t see action on the mat, but according to Schnettler, that unknowingness of other teams will work to the Patriots’ advantage.

 Rafael Lievano squares off against Sean Fitzsimons. Photo by Bill Landon
Rafael Lievano squares off against Sean Fitzsimons. Photo by Bill Landon

Rafael Lievano, a junior in his second year on varsity, is a returning All-League and All-County standout who Schnettler expects to have a breakout season.

“In the off season I wrestled five to six times a week to stay sharp, because this is a big year for me and I want to make some noise this year,” Lievano said. “Physically, I’ll keep my weight down, and mentally, I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing and stay confident. I want to make a run this year.”

Schnettler said he couldn’t be more pleased with the progress he’s seen and the commitment from every member of the team.

The Patriots open the season on the road at the Sprig Invitational in East Hampton Dec. 10, which begins at 7:30 a.m.

“We’ll be here at 5 a.m.,” the head coach said, “and the guys will check their weights, anybody over will be in here running and we’ll roll out at 6 a.m.”