After the 2009 season, during which Shoreham-Wading River crowned a state champion and state runner-up from a team that was among the best in the county, the Wildcats expected to take a step back.
As the losses mounted during 2010, the Wildcats remained focused on the bigger picture, knowing the beatings they took with a young team would pay dividends down the line. Only a year later, the Wildcats were back posting a 16-9 dual meet record while finishing fourth at the League VI Tournament last February.
Now, with the core of the team back this year, the Wildcats are ready to take the next step with a balanced team that features state-caliber heavy hitters and the depth to compete in both dual meets and tournaments.
“All the wrestlers really worked hard as sophomores and freshmen,” said Shoreham-Wading River coach Joe Condon. “They gained a lot of valuable experience and wrestled a lot of good competition and didn’t have the record we had hoped for. But that’s some growing pains and how you get the experience that you need to be successful.”
The Wildcats return a pair of league champions in senior John Keck and junior T.J. Fabian, two wrestlers who come into the season with big expectations.
Keck, wrestling at 152 pounds, was a county finalist last year. His loss in the finals came against the state champion, Kyle Wade of Islip. With Wade gone, Keck enters the season as the favorite at 152. He was ranked No. 1 in the county in preseason rankings.
“He’s just looking fabulous,” Condon said. “He’s beaten numerous high-level contenders.”
At the end of October Keck wrestled at the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, N.C. Keck placed third in his weight class and defeated one wrestler who many considered the best in the country, Condon said.
“He’s very confident, very slick, very seasoned,” he said. “He’s really paid his dues for the past four years. He’s looking to win his third league title, he wants to win the county title. He’s really determined.”
Fabian, who bumps up from 112 to 120, enters the season in pursuit of his third league title. Condon said Fabian’s goal this season is to get to the state tournament.
A year-round wrestler, he’s put in the work in the offseason, which included a fourth-place finish at the sophomore nationals.
“He wrestled very well in the offseason,” Condon said. “He’s dedicated himself week in and week out since the season ended. He’s done everything he had to do to improve.”
At 120 Fabian will compete in one of the tougher weight classes in the county this season. Sean McCabe, the preseason No. 1, finished third in the state last year. Mark West of Hauppauge is ranked second. He finished fourth in the county last year. Matt Leshinger of Sayville and Travis Passaro of Eastport-South Manor are also both ranked ahead of Fabian to begin the season.
“He’s right there with them,” Condon said. “When he wrestles well he can beat any of these guys.”
The Wildcats also return all-county wrestler Zak Mullen, who placed fifth in the county last year at 135. A senior, Mullen bumps up to 160 this year where he’s ranked second in the county.
“I think he’ll be very tough to beat,” Condon said. “If he continues to work hard and refine everything he does, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him win Suffolk County.”
Mullen and Keck have been training partners for nearly the last three years, Condon said.
“Like many great wrestlers they’re only as good as their partner that pushes them,” he said. “They really complement each other and help each other out.”
The Wildcats have plenty of depth down the lineup, including all-league finishers Joe Bennett at 170 and David Keith at 126.
Freshman James Szymanski, who wrestled on varsity as an eighth-grader last year, returns at 99. Sophomore Troy Miller returns at 132. Tom Valentine will wrestle 145, Ryan Stern at 138 and Tom Pirraglia at 184.
Eighth-grader Jack Taddeo will wrestle his first season on varsity at 113.
Back in League VI, the Wildcats will face the same tough competition they’ve come to expect against teams like John Glenn and Rocky Point. Sayville also joins the league this year to add to the competition along with strong teams like Mount Sinai and Miller Place.
The Wildcats open the season Dec. 10 at a tournament at Walt Whitman. Their first dual meet is a non-league at Hampton Bays Dec. 14.