I spent my afternoon in Rockland today, checking out defending Division 2 champ Nanuet and defending county champ North Rockland. I’ll post the recap of my visit with the Red Raiders tomorrow, and tonight I’ll give you my thoughts on the Golden Knights.
Nanuet lost four state qualifiers from last season’s team which ran away with the D2 section title, but the theme today was tradition and how the program has a new group of wrestlers who are ready to carry it on. There are a few wrestlers who placed second at sectionals last season, and can make up for the lost points by taking that next step. This junior class is loaded with 13 wrestlers, many of which are strong contenders. That means that the Golden Knights will continue to be a major player.
Here are my observations from Wednesday’s visit:
- Nanuet has won four of the past nine D2 section titles, so they are the first team that everyone mentions among the small schools. Coach Carmine Serra talked about how that success has made it easier to continue recruiting talented athletes. “It’s self-perpetuating,” he said. “Whatever we do in terms of recruiting and getting kids here, they know by the time they get to high school what is expected of them. They’ve seen the success of other kids, and they want to emulate it.”
- With the loss of state qualifiers Anthony Paratore, Jesse Rahimzadeh, Rich Berkery and Greg Caneparo, there are some big shoes to fill. With only two seniors on the team, juniors Anthony Calvano and Matt Dillon have assumed the captain roles. They’ve suddenly gone from talented underclassmen to leadership roles. The junior class is loaded, and Serra has put the pressure on them to maintain the program’s level of success. “All of those guys are juniors, so they really didn’t have to lead the team in the past,” Serra said. “We’ve been telling all year, ‘It’s your time to step up. This is your team now.’ “
- The prevailing sentiment was that the points lost from those four state qualifiers can be made up if many of the wrestlers in the room continue their progression. Juniors Calvano, Dillon and Dan Breit (who should wrestle at either 195 or 220) each placed second at sectionals last season, and each are aiming to win championships this time around. If they do so, Nanuet has an excellent shot of retaining its title. “A lot of the people that we lost from last year won section titles,” Dillon said. “A few of us took second, so if we step up I think it will be the same as last year.”
- Calvano is probably the most talented wrestler in the room. It was a big deal when Dillon beat him in a drill which tallies points for ankle and knee taps. Apparently, it doesn’t happen often. Calvano won section titles in 2008-09 and 2009-10, but lost in the 112-pound final last season to Ardsley’s Drew Longo. He has over 100 career wins already, and seems to be refocused after the way that last season ended. “I think personally, everyone needs a big loss like that to really change their momentum around,” he said. “That was it for me. I put in 10 times the amount of work after that. I think I benefited from it; it was a learning experience.”
- Calvano plans to wrestle at 120 pounds this season. “He’s a guy who we are hoping not only wins the section and gets to states, but gets on the platform at states,” Serra said. “A couple of other guys have shots as well, but after what Anthony has done in eighth, ninth and tenth grade, he’s one of the kids that people are looking to not just in the county, but in the section and the state as well.”
- Matt Dillon should wrestle right behind Calvano at 126. He lost to Dobbs Ferry’s Jimmy Kyreakedes in the last season’s 119 section final, and spoke about training all offseason at Olympic Wrestling Club in N.J. “I feel like I have a lot more moves,” Dillon said. “I just feel better overall because I’ve practiced a lot more this offseason than I did last year.”
- The most competitive matchup in the room was Dillon v. Calvano. Since they are so close in weight, they serve as excellent teaching tools for each other. “That’s one of the keys to our room, and any room,” Serra said. “If you have a great workout partner, that makes you that much better. Those two have been pushing each other since eighth grade, and they also have some kids who they’ve made better because they wrestle them constantly.”
- Dillon’s younger brother Joe is the only defending section champ in the room. He won a title as a freshman at 96 pounds, and will remain the lightest guy in the Golden Knights’ lineup to fill the 99-pound spot this season. “Now that he’s a section champ, people are going to be aiming for him,” Matt said. “He has to work harder than all of them.”
- Other names who were mentioned include Peter Smith (fourth in the section last season), Kevin Brundage, Mike Buhlman and Sergio Ventura. Serra said that while this lineup may not have as many big names as last season’s, it’s probably the deepest that he’s had. “I think we’re going to fill all of our weight classes, which we haven’t done in my three years here,” Serra said. “I think it shakes out in the middle pretty well for us because we have a lot of good middleweights.”
- Watch out for Nanuet’s freshmen class, which features 15 wrestlers.
- One thing I’ll say about Nanuet’s practice, is that it features constant movement. The Golden Knights began with a half hour run before practice, and then they went right into about 40 minutes of non-stop wrestling. Literally, every wrestler in the room was sparring the entire time. It’s a bit cramped, but Serra ensures that his team’s conditioning will be on par with any in the section.
- When I asked Serra about their biggest competition in D2, he pointed to Edgemont. He called the Panthers, “the favorites,” but I think he also knows that his team in capable of retaining its title. “Just in terms of numbers, they have everybody back,” Serra said. “And they’ve always wrestled well. They’ve traditionally been a strong program. … They’re probably the team I would say most people think is the best (D2) team in the section.”