As one of the smallest Division I high school wrestling teams in Suffolk County, Shoreham-Wading River is used to grappling against bigger teams.
“I think the kids relish that challenge,” coach Joe Condon said. “We like competing against the big schools.”
The Wildcats (16-7 last season) face another challenge in 2015-16. Unlike last season’s team, which had seasoned seniors leading the way, the current Wildcats are more of a mixed group.
“I think this is going to be a breakthrough year for a couple of our sophomores and juniors who have broken through the lineup,” said Condon, a former Shoreham wrestler himself who is in his ninth year as the team’s coach. He added, “Hopefully, they’re going to surprise some people because they do work very hard.”
What Jack Taddeo (145 pounds), Kevin Meloni (106) and Jack Del Duca (120) bring to the wrestling mat shouldn’t be a surprise. Those three seniors were among the team’s five League VI champions last season. Taddeo was fourth in the nation, fifth in the state and second in the county. He had the most wins by any Shoreham wrestler last season with a 47-5 record, giving him 141 career wins. Meloni took third in the county, and Del Duca finished sixth in Suffolk.
John Carl Petretti, a sophomore who will wrestle at 140 pounds, was third in the league.
Also looking to win places in the lineup are: Ed Troyano, Nick Donnelly and Eamon Reagan at 99 pounds; Brady Cummings and Jack Tressler at 106; Jake Del Duca and Conor Reagan at 113; Jason Guevara and Peter Delise at 120; Cooper Cummings and Michael Wood at 126; Jordan Domino and Sean DePhillips at 132; Noah Blunnie at 140; Joe Miller and Christian Aliperti at 152; Will Loper at 160; Ryan Condon at 170; Mack Yanucci at 184; Erick Marino and Logan Snyder at 195; Nick Serdock at 220; and Brendan Frances and Nick Johnson at 285.
Condon likes the discipline and commitment his wrestlers have shown.
“Those are the kids that I want around,” he said. He continued: “We’re really lucky to have these kind of kids in the program. They’re very self-motivated.”
When Condon wrestled for the Wildcats, their coach at the time was Wade “Rocky” Davey. Davey became Riverhead’s coach in 1989 and had coached the Blue Waves since then. That is, until this season. Davey, 63, has retired, at least temporarily.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming, too, though.”
Davey hasn’t ruled out possibly returning to coaching someday.
Asked if it will feel strange to be out of the wrestling room, he replied: “It will. In some capacity or other I’ve been coaching since 1975.”
Stepping in for Davey is Tom Riccio, who had served as Davey’s right-hand man and assistant coach for 15 years.
“Rocky was a disciplinarian, but I consider him probably one of the top five coaches in the county, but you had to wrestle Rocky’s way,” said Riccio, who has a former Riverhead wrestler, Edwin Perry, serving as his junior varsity coach. Riccio said: “Rocky is going to be sorely missed. He was the mainstay.”
Condon spoke highly of Davey, saying: “He was an outstanding coach. He was one of the best. He taught us a lot. The people really wanted to win for him.”
The Blue Waves (18-7) may find team wins hard to come by this season, though.
“It’s going to be tough,” Riccio said. “Our biggest problem is we don’t have a kid wrestling program. Wrestling in Riverhead had been down because we don’t have a kid wrestling program. If you want to do anything in wrestling, you need that kid wrestling program.”
Riccio, a former wrestler for Walt Whitman High School and Hofstra University, has 33 wrestlers, many of them freshmen and lacking experience.
Kerry Thomas, a senior who wrestles at 120 pounds, was a League IV champion last season. Justin Hansel, a senior at 220, was second in the league last season. Two other seniors, Mitch Hobbs (152) and Jayden Blom (192), were both fourth. Two other veterans are junior Mark Matyka (100) and senior Jose Blancarde (285).
“I’m expecting them to do well in the leagues, and hopefully we’ll have some county place winners,” said Riccio.
Life in League IV is not going to be easy, though, with North Babylon, expected to be one of the best teams in the county, and other tough opponents like Smithtown East, Smithtown West and Copiague to deal with.
“Dual meets are going to be tough,” said Riccio.
Meanwhile, Riccio is adjusting to life as a varsity head coach for the first time. He has found that there is more to it than meets the eye, especially the paperwork.
“There is a lot of paperwork,” he said. “There is paperwork from the school. There is paperwork from Section XI. There is paperwork from the coaches association.”
And a story of a season that has yet to be written.