To spread things out a bit, I decided to post my Fox Lane report today. Later this afternoon, I’ll be making my final two stops of the week at Nanuet and then at North Rockland. For updates on those visits, follow me on Twitter @vzmercogliano.
The Foxes lost big names such as state champ Steven Rodrigues, Peter Grippi and John Grecco, but the prevailing feeling in the room was that this team has the potential to be even better than last season’s team, which won a Division 1 section title. There’s a handful of wrestlers who placed at sectionals last season which are returning, and the hope is that Fox Lane will push more through to states than the three that made it last year. Most people in the know still consider the Foxes to be the favorites.
Here are my thoughts on what I saw at Fox Lane’s practice on Tuesday:
- In speaking to the two biggest names coming back for the Foxes, seniors Sam Speno and Danny Ventura, the goal for this year’s team is a state title. Fox Lane placed second in the state last season by having S-Rod, Speno and Ventura each make it to the finals (with S-Rod winning the whole thing). “I think we could probably compete for a state title,” Ventura said. “We had a couple of people last year who didn’t even make it to states, but I think they could have placed up there. We’ve been working out all summer, going to camps and doing whatever we need to do.”
- Coach Joe Amuso wasn’t quite as sold on the whole state title thing, but he did seem to consider it to be a realistic goal if everything falls into place. “We have to get all of the key players up to the states, and they know who they are,” he said. “Last year, Shenendehowa won it, but they had like seven or eight guys make it from their team. Even though they didn’t have any kids in the finals, they had enough kids push through to pick up points. We were up there with three kids last year and had three in the finals, but we need a little more support.”
- That support could come from a variety of wrestlers. Speno and Ventura figure to be the Foxes’ best bets for individual section titles, as they should enter the season as the favorites in their respective weight classes. Amuso also mentioned Matt Pasqualini and Tom Grippi as guys who he expects to compete for section titles. Pasqualini placed second at 145 pounds last season, while Grippi placed second at 135. Giancarlo Morreale and Dan Clune are guys who Amuso said he could see making it to the finals, with Ben Ettlinger, Frank Suarce, Ari Faust and Drew Caico also being returners who made it to sectionals last season.
- Speno and Ventura both talked about being motivated by coming so close to state titles and just missing out. “It motivated me a lot,” said Speno, who is committed to Binghamton. “I went to (John) Degl’s (club) all summer long, and I kept pushing myself because I don’t want to take second again. Everytime I think of that, it makes me want to go even more.”
- Speno plans on wrestling at 128 come sectional time after being at 112 last season, and Ventura will wrestle at 132 after being at 119 last season. They will remain back-to-back in the Foxes lineup — certainly the most lethal combo in the section. Both look like they’ve filled out nicely, with Ventura in particular talking about the benefits of wrestling at a weight in which he feels more comfortable and doesn’t have to worry about cutting as much. He also spoke about making the jump into the middleweight range. “I think you need a challenge,” Ventura said. “Last year, I placed second at 119, and the person who beat me graduated. I think I need the new competition.”
- The biggest concern for Fox Lane is filling out all of the heavyweights with quality wrestlers. From the light to middle weights, there may not be a stronger team in the state. But there are definitely question marks once you get past 170 pounds. The new weight class changes did not exactly work in the Foxes favor. “We’re definitely going to have new people at 183 and 195,” Amuso said. “We’re just going to have to hope that we can teach them a few basic things to get them through. Other teams are going to have new kids there too, so it’s going to depend on matchups on a particular day, and how far we can bump people up if need be.”
- Amuso talked about Clune playing an important role at 220 pounds. “He’s going to be looked upon as a stopper,” Amuso said. “He’s going to be the most experienced guy up there.”
- The only odd thing about the trip to Fox Lane was not seeing Steven Rodrigues in the room. At one point, his father Anthony came up to me and remarked that this is the first time in 12 years that he’s been in the room without his son. Interestingly, S-Rod’s younger brother Scott was in the room as an eighth-grader who was potentially expected to fill the role as a 99-pounder, but he’s suffering from a hand injury. He could be a name to watch later in the season.
- Whereas last season, everyone looked to S-Rod as sort of the face of the program, this year that role is much more spread out. With so many accomplished senior wrestlers in the room, Amuso talked about how these guys will set the example for the younger guys coming up to carry on the tradition. Speno, Ventura, Pasqualini and Morreale are the captains, and they talked about taking a cue from S-Rod. “The whole team kind of looks up to us to set an example,” Ventura said. “Since we lost Steven, some of the newer guys haven’t seen him and don’t know much about him. As captains, we’ve already experienced him and seen how he practices in drills. We basically take from him and apply it to how we run practice.”
- Overall, the feeling in the room was a very confident one. As I’ve said, I have Fox Lane penciled in as the favorite to win another section title. The Foxes could possibly be had in a dual meet format, but I think they have too many wrestlers poised to make runs at section titles to miss out on a team section championship. “Everything feels great,” Speno said. “I think we’re going to be better than last year; that’s just the feeling that I get in the room. I think we’re better as team, closer and working harder.”