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.”
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, 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.”