By Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s wrestling team had two Patriots, seniors Kenny Cracchiola and Sean Fitzsimmons, pull away undefeated during a multi-team dual meet Jan. 14 at Comsewogue High School. Ward Melville faced off against St. John the Baptist, Riverhead, Bay Shore and Northport.
“This is my fourth year on varsity and honestly this is the best overall team we’ve had,” Cracchiola said. “I think with this year’s team we can knock off [some] of the top teams in the county.”
A four-year varsity starter, Cracchiola won his first three matches against Bay Shore, St. John the Baptist and Riverhead, by technical falls — defeating each opponent by scoring 15 more points than his challenger had on him.
He faced a Northport opponent in the 120-pound finals, and earned his 111th career win, going 4-0.
At 126 pounds, Fitzsimons defeated Bay Shore’s Carlos Espinal, an All-League player who Ward Melville head coach Garrett Schnettler said is a county-ranked wrestler. Fitzsimons pinned him in the first period.
“I’m 3-0 right now,” Fitzsimons said following the win. “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 season.”
Fitzsimons defeated both his Riverhead and St. John the Baptist opponents by technical falls, and also went 4-0.
Junior Rafael Lievano, a returning All-League and All-County standout from last season, was also undefeated heading into the final match of the afternoon.
Preparing for the tournament, the 132-pounder said he worked hard on eating right and going to bed early, knowing he was going to be facing some tough opponents. After winning his first three matches by technical falls, his final match proved to be his biggest challenge.
He and his opponent know each other well.
“I’m going to face a tough kid from Northport — Chris Esposito,” Lievano said. “It’ll be a tough match. We’re good friends.”
Lievano said he beat Esposito 4-3 last year, and the match proved to be another tough one, with the Ward Melville grappler coming out on the losing end this time around.
Despite battling injuries this season, losing key wrestlers and having to forfeit matches in some weight classes, according to Schnettler, his team ended up going 2-2 in the tournament, topping St. John the Baptist and Riverhead.
Ward Melville finished 3-2 in League I this season, and travels to Port Jefferson High School Jan. 21 for the final tournament of the season, the Bob Armstrong Tournament, which will begin at 8 a.m.
The Patriots will continue to rely on key grapplers to get the job done.
“We’ve had some big matches by Kenny Cracchiola, Rafael Lievano and Sean Fitzsimons,” Schnettler said. “Our three core guys that we expect big things from once again come in and get the wins that we need.”