In an exercise that I’ve done in recent years for my baseball and boys soccer blogs, I’ve taken each division and come up with five categories to layout the preseason section title outlook. Before I release any power rankings, this is a great way to breakdown how I see the fields looking in Division 1 and Division 2 just a few days before the season begins on Friday. I’ll be getting my first look at the weight class certifications tomorrow, so I’ll be back with my initial reaction after I receive those. For now, here are the five categories that I came up with for this exercise:
The Champ — Pretty self-explanatory.
The Favorite — A team that seems to have the most championship buzz surrounding it entering the season.
The Contender — A team that finished last season strong and seems to have enough significant pieces coming back to compete for a title.
Old Reliable — A team with a tradition of success that should never be counted out.
The Sleeper — A team that a lot of coaches seem to be high on and is expected to take a step forward this season.
The Champ: Fox Lane – After winning four of the last five section titles, the Foxes are ushering in a new era this season. Longtime assistant Anthony Rodrigues has taken over for the retired Joe Amuso, who would certainly be one of the faces you’d choose if you were putting together a Mount Rushmore for Section 1 wrestling coaches. While that change alone gives this team a different feel, the bigger impact will be felt from all of the accomplished wrestlers that have been lost to graduation. Fox Lane will look to replace all three wrestlers that placed in the state – Sam Speno, Danny Ventura and Matt Pasqualini – along with two others that placed at sectionals and four more on top of that who qualified. In other words, the Foxes lost the best senior class in section from last season. Senior Tom Grippi is the only high-end returner, which will make winning a third straight title a tall order, but a top five finish should be considered within reach. This is a proud room that has some young talent coming up.
The Favorite: North Rockland – It’s been said many times (mostly by me) that the Red Raiders have a very real opportunity to get it done this season. They finished behind Fox Lane by just three and a half points last season, and when you factor in all that the Foxes lost and all that North Rockland has coming back, it paints a pretty clear picture. The Red Raiders have three legitimate section title contenders in Blaise Benderoth, Jake DiMarsico and Matt Caputo, plus three others coming back that placed last season. Not only does that give new coach Jeff Swick six guys who are expected to place again – at the very least – but the depth in this program sets them up for years to come. There are many others coming back with varsity experience, and the JV team won a section title last season. Barring injury, it’s impossible to put any other team in this spot.
The Contender: Yorktown – If there is any other team bringing back the kind of high-end talent that North Rockland is, it’s the Huskers. No other team can boast four returning section finalists, which Yorktown has in seniors Joe Mastro, Thomas Murray, Steven Sabella and David Varian. Sabella and Varian won titles last season, but if all four can get it done, watch out. Those guys make the Huskers the biggest threat to North Rockland for a team title, but they’ll have to prove that they can match the Red Raiders’ depth to bring home the hardware. Jimmy Kaishian is another returner who placed last season, but coach John Tornambe will need that total number to increase for his team to accomplish its ultimate goal. Yorktown and North Rockland seem to form a pretty clear top two in the section… on paper.
Old Reliable: New Rochelle – The Huguenots have finished in the top three at sectionals in each of the past two seasons, which makes them as reliable as any team other than Fox Lane recently. Like the Foxes, New Ro has a lot of work to do. Eddie Ortiz has replaced longtime coach Jim Guccione, and his familiarity with the program should bode well. But the Huguenots were loaded with seniors last year, and enter this season with their youngest lineup in quite some time. Junior Nick Barbaria placed at states last season and represents the team’s top individual talent, but senior Justin Douglas also put himself on the radar with a section finals appearance last year. Other than those two, New Ro will be looking for some unknowns to make names for themselves. Ortiz will have a chance to mold this program in his image right away with expectations somewhat lessened.
The Sleeper: The Dutchess Big Three – All three of Dutchess county’s largest schools seem to be on the rise. Arlington, John Jay-East Fishkill and RC Ketcham all look like top 10 teams on paper entering the season. Each is bringing back more sectional qualifiers than it lost, with JJEF’s Dale White having a real chance to do damage at the state level. They’ll be toughened up for the postseason by battling each other in the county throughout the season, and each team should be a threat against anyone in a dual meet format. If things fall into place, I could see any one of these three teams jumping into the top three – or higher.
Others to watch: Brewster, the Clarkstowns (North and South), Mahopac, Somers, Tappan Zee.
The Champ: Nanuet – The Golden Knights have established themselves as the premier D2 program with back-to-back team section titles. Nanuet had three wrestlers win section titles last season in Vinny Skokos, Anthony Calvano and Dan Breit, plus two others that qualified for states in the Dillon brothers, Matt and Joe. This team has pretty much dominated D2 competition in recent seasons, and has shown that it can handle many strong D1 teams. Coach Carmine Serra has built this program to last, which is why you see the Golden Knights listed again below.
The Favorite: Nanuet – Guess where all five of those state qualifiers from last year’s team are now? They’re still in the Nanuet wrestling room, which gives this team a decided early season edge. No other D2 team can match that kind of returning firepower, and that’s why the Golden Knights are a heavy favorite to make it a three-peat. This senior class is loaded with two other returning section finalists in Mike Buhlmann and Kevin Brundage, but there is also some young talent coming up. A strong sophomore class led by Skokos should ensure that Nanuet remains a strong contender for years to come.
The Contender: Edgemont – All of the talk leading up to sectionals last season was about whether or not the Panthers had enough in the tank to overtake Nanuet. The answer proved to be no, but Edgemont will make another run at the champs this year. Coach Pete Jacobson returns most of his key wrestlers from that team that finished second, which once again gives us a pretty clear top two. The Aslanian brothers, Trey and Tyler, are both returning section champs, but there are four other section finalists that are hoping to take the next step this season. The Panthers will need to improve top-to-bottom to steal a championship from Nanuet’s grasp, but they have the talent to do it.
Old Reliable: Putnam Valley – Nanuet has obviously been the most reliable team in D2 with Edgemont right behind, but the Tigers have finished third two years in a row. Coach Will Carano has quietly developed the type of depth that has made Put Valley a sleeper in recent seasons, but this team probably won’t be sneaking up on anyone anymore. The Tigers return their only section champ from last season in John Messinger, but there are four guys who took third and others who placed – many of which are coming back. Out of all of the teams that could push Nanuet and Edgemont, Put Valley seems to be the most likely challenger.
The Sleeper: Irvington – The Bulldogs have been on an upward trend in recent seasons, and I expect that to continue this season. A top five finish last season was a step in the right direction, but this year’s group has an opportunity to improve on that finish. Both of Irvington’s section finalists are back in Brett Pastore and Anthony DiNardo, and each looks like a favorite this season. The key will be the depth behind those two, which has been improving. The Bulldogs look like Putnam Valley’s biggest threat for third place.
Others to watch: Ardsley, Croton-Harmon, Pawling, Pleasantville, Westlake