With four impact-players returning, the Ward Melville wrestling team is hopeful it can rebuild after losing half of the starting squad to graduation.
“It’s hard to project what they’re going to do, but some of the wrestlers did a lot of offseason work and came back much improved from last year,” Ward Melville head coach Bill DeSario said.
The biggest loss from last season is four-time state champion Nick Piccininni.
“It’s impossible to replace Nick,” DeSario said. “But we do have some young guys that are coming up that have impressed me in the first meet that we had. We wrestled Commack on Saturday, and they seem to be learning.”
The Patriots topped Commack, 51-21, and junior 113-pounder Kenny Cracchiola, who was ranked third in the league last season, said his team performed well.
“We won most of our matches,” he said. “We still have a lot of things to work on and improve before our next meet on Friday, but I think, for the first match of the season, it was a pretty good test.”
It was a test to see where the team is, and it’s coming along.
Senior Matt O’Brien, an all-county wrestler — ranked sixth — who will be competing at 160, said he told the underclassmen from last season how he put in the work during the offseason after his sophomore year, and saw how much it paid off.
“I realized I should tell them and pass on how important it is to put in the work in the offseason so they could really impact the team well,” he said. “Me and Christian [Araneo], we’ve been trying to help the other kids with moves and teaching them different things and add on to what the coaches are saying. We’re trying to help the kids learn everything they need to, so I think we have a good up-and-coming team.”
Araneo, a senior 220-pounder who will eventually wrestle at 195 this season, is a retuning New York State champion.
“He’s just a force,” DeSario said. “He’s a monster. He’s our top gun.”
DeSario said the team is missing three wrestlers to injury, and said once they return, it will solidify the lineup. He will also be looking forward to seeing the progression of sophomore Rafael Lievano, who will be taking Piccininni’s spot at 126; classmate Chris Stellwagen, who will be competing at 106; and Tom Fitzsimons, a freshman who will be competing at 99. The head coach will also be looking for solid seasons from juniors Jake Weizenecker at 120, Sean Fitzsimons, Tyler Lynde at 170, Aaron Rettig at 182 and Nadlher Jules at 285.
“I really think we just need to train the freshmen and sophomores more so that we can have a lot of good guys ranked,” O’Brien said of the team this year as he looks even further to next. “We have coaches who have been coaching for a long time, so they have a lot of experience, which I think is our strength. Also, we have a state champ on the team, which really helps out, because he’s also second in the nation, so he can teach us a lot of things.”
While DeSario and coach Kurt Ferraro are retiring at the end of this season, DeSario said they’re hoping to set up an assistant coach to be ready to take over the team, but he also wants to make sure the team is set up for the following year.
“The main goal is to try to develop one of our assistants who we hope will take over the program,” he said. “But with that, our goal is to not only make sure we help him, but to also help the wrestlers to leave him with a good nucleus for next year. I don’t know where we’ll end up in League I this season, because it’s one of the toughest in the state, but I think we’ll do very well outside our league, in tournaments, and we’ll see what happens. We’re also looking this season to send more than one guy up to the state tournament.”