After winning the past two section titles in Division 2, it’s entirely possible that Nanuet may be putting its best lineup of the last few years on the mat this season. The Golden Knights don’t quite bring everyone back from the 2011-12 squad, but it’s pretty darn close. Nanuet qualified 17 wrestlers for sectionals last season, and 14 of them are back – including all five that qualified for states.
“I think we’re going to be better, but the expectations are definitely through the roof now,” senior Anthony Calvano said. “We’re seniors, it’s our last year, and there are some kids that haven’t done as well as they want as sectionals. They want to be section champs, and they’re all working hard. Me personally, I’ve worked twice as hard as I’ve ever worked.”
While five state qualifiers is an impressive number, none of the five were able to place at states. If the Golden Knights can get all five guys back to states – and possibly more – and have a couple of them place, we could easily be looking at one of the top D2 teams in the state.
“We talk about that all year,” coach Carmine Serra said. “Ultimately, that is our goal. We want to get as many kids to states as possible, and we want to see people on the podium, that way we are a top 10 team in the state.”
• With all of the talent coming back, it’s impossible to label any other team as the favorite for a section title. That’s what has Serra worried. “They know that, too, which is the problem,” he said. “We don’t want them to ever think that it’s going to be handed to them. We know that every time we wrestle, people are coming after us, which is fine. We need the challenge. We can’t walk into matches expecting to be the team that’s going to win every single time.”
• With that being said, it was clear that this is a very enjoyable team for Serra to coach with it being so senior heavy. These guys know what it takes. “It’s a different feel this year simply because there are 10 guys in the room who I don’t have to worry about,” he said. “We try to tell the other kids that those guys are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. You guys now have to start doing that. It’s a lot easier to manage.”
• The seniors have also taken on a big leadership role. Calvano talked about wanting to show the young guys, “what Nanuet is all about,” and Serra has been impressed with the collective attitude. “The best thing I’ve seen from those 10 (seniors) is that if I’m off in the corner, or coach (Roger Banta) is off in the corner, and someone isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, they’ll step in and help them out,” he said. “It’s great when you see somebody like Anthony Calvano – a four-time state qualifier – get on his knees and help an eighth grader do a move correctly. That’s what we need.”
• Out of the five returning state qualifiers, senior Dan Breit came the closest to placing at states last season. He expects to wrestle at 220 pounds this season, and plans on finishing stronger this year. “I was one win away,” he said. “I was tied all the way to the third period, and I let up a late takedown. It was kind of upsetting. I had another match after that, and I lost that after I was winning. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You want to come back and win everything that you can the next year.”
• Breit also stars for the football team, so he said that most of his offseason training was focused on getting stronger for both sports. It showed, as he looks like he’s bulked up. “My offseason consisted of being the gym most of the time,” he said. “A little bit of wrestling, but not much – mostly to get in shape for football and wrestling. Get stronger, bigger, anything I can do.”
• Due to the added strength, Breit doesn’t expect to have any issue making the jump from 195 to 220. “I’m going to be just as big as they are, so I plan on that not being a problem,” he said.
• Calvano is coming off of an odd junior season. He is the most accomplished wrestler in Nanuet’s room, but missed a good portion of last season due to illness. He still managed to win a section title with very few matches under his belt, but you could tell at states that he wasn’t at his peak. “In the beginning of the year, I came out pretty strong,” he said. “It was the North Rockland tournament when I found out that I had mono, so I didn’t really wrestle for awhile. I was hoping I was going to have a big year – I trained really hard. Around counties, I had a relapse, so I had to still out every other tourney before sections. I was a little sluggish at sections, but I ended up doing fine and getting to states.”
• Calvano said that he did everything possible to ensure that his senior season won’t get derailed, and seemed very focused on doing well at the end of the year. “It’s definitely important for me to finish the year strong and come out with a state-place finish or a state title,” he said.
• Along with Calvano and Breit, senior Matt Dillon, junior Joe Dillon and sophomore Vinny Skokos are the Golden Knights’ other returning state qualifiers. Skokos, Calvano and Breit each won section titles, with both of the Dillon brothers falling just short in the finals. Each will be looking to reverse those fortunes this time around.
• I spoke with Serra about how the lineup might shake out, and he seemed to have a pretty good idea. It looks like Calvano may stay at 120 pounds, but both of the Dillons and Skokos definitely got bigger. “Hopefully the way it’s going to work out is that Vinny will be 113, Joe or Anthony will be 120, and the other will go 126,” Serra said. “We have some leeway there, some flexibility, which is nice. From 132 on up, we have a bunch of seniors that we can play around with also. Our lineup is very flexible, which is nice.”
• Nanuet also returns a few other top three finishers from sectionals who may fly a bit more under the radar. Seniors Michael Buhlmann and Kevin Brundage were both section finalists who should also be right up there for section titles, while fellow seniors Eric Boyle and Peter Smith each took third. Have I mentioned that the Golden Knights are deep?
• Not only will Nanuet be strong with its light-to-middle weights, but Serra has plenty of depth among his heavyweights as well. “All of our upper weights (are experienced) – Peter Smith, Michael Buhlmann, Kevin Brundage,” he said. “Our heavyweight, Jason Levine, he didn’t wrestle the last couple of years, but he’s shown some promise. We actually lost our heavyweight from last year (Josh Nelson) – he moved out of the district – so hopefully Jason will be able to step in.”
• While I think that they probably know it would take a massive effort to surpass North Rockland, the Golden Knights will probably be my pick to take second at the county championships. “That’s what we’re working for,” Breit said. “A county title would be great for our team.”
• While Nanuet has a big and talented senior class, there numbers in the room always seem to be strong, and there are plenty of promising underclassmen. Serra said its a testament to what the program has become over a long period of time. “It’s great because the program pretty consistently over the last 20, 30 years always has replenished the talent that they’ve had,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.”
• I’ll give the final word to Calvano, who talked about how tight this group of seniors is and how focused they are on going out on top. “We’ve been on the team since seventh or eighth grade, so it’s a little upsetting to think about,” he said. “It’s our last year together, so we want to finish strong.”