It had been six years between county champions for Riverhead when Ed Matyka pulled off an improbable comeback in the Section XI Championships in February 2015. Matyka, then a senior, went on to place fourth in the state and earned all-American honors.
The next time a Blue Wave wrestler stands atop the podium as a county champion, the name might sound strikingly familiar. Matyka’s younger brother, Mark, is now a junior and poised to carry the tradition set by his older brother. In preseason rankings posted by the Long Island Wrestling Association, the younger Matyka ranked fourth in his weight at 99 pounds. But Riverhead coach Tom Riccio noted there’s more to that story.
The top three wrestlers — and five out of six — listed in those preseason rankings didn’t end up certifying for the 99-pound weight. That should pave the way for Matyka to be considered among the favorites at the lowest weight heading into the 2016-17 season. (A second round of preseason rankings posted Dec. 1 did not include the 99-pound weight.)
While the Blue Waves are a mostly young team without much experience, Matyka represents what Riccio sees as a bright future. A kids wrestling program will return this month in Riverhead after it stopped years ago. Matyka is a year-round wrestler, the kind of athletes the Blue Waves hope to see more of with the addition of kids’ wrestling.
“My phone and my computer are loaded with phone calls and emails,” Riccio said of interest in the program.
For Matyka, Riccio said his goals are clear: “County champion.”
“He’s our big gun,” Riccio said.
Matyka wrestles a similar style to his brother and will use any weapon he can during a match.
“He does most anything you can think of,” Riccio said.
Matyka placed third in the League III Championships last year to earn a trip to the county meet. He won his first match in the county tournament before falling in the second round.
Outside of Matyka, there’s limited experience returning. Riverhead’s league champion last year, Justin Hansel, graduated, as did several of the top wrestlers from a year ago in Kerry Thomas and Mitch Hobbs.
Riccio said the team has 18 freshmen and only one senior.
A surprise standout last year was freshman Dan Ortez, who placed fourth at 106 in the league tournament to advance to the county meet. Riccio said he’s hopeful Ortez will continue wrestling this year, but he’s unsure where he stands at the start of the year.
Adam Harnig, who wrestled 126 last year, is returning along with Ralph Gray, who wrestled 138, and Dean Chapman, who wrestled 113.
“These are the kids I expect to win matches,” Riccio said. “They’re the guys who have the experience.”
Harnig and Gray are both expected to bump up one weight and Chapman will move up to 138.
The Blue Waves bump back up to League II this year after competing in League III last year.
Photo caption: Mark Matyka wrestles against Shorheam-Wading River’s Ed Troyano at a scrimmage last week. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)
Inexperience is a word rarely tossed around in the Shoreham-Wading River wrestling room. In recent years, the Wildcats have entered nearly every season with at least one wrestler primed to make a deep run with a goal of placing in the state tournament.
That could change this year.
After the graduation of all-state wrestlers Jack Taddeo and Kevin Meloni, the Wildcats enter this year without a wrestler ranked in the top-two in the county.
“I have a really good young group,” said Shoreham coach Joe Condon. “It’s going to be a challenging schedule. We have a mix of inexperienced and also experienced, veteran wrestlers. Some of the weights didn’t fall where we would have liked, but that’s sort of beyond the kids’ control.”
If any Wildcat makes the kind of deep run the team has gotten used to in recent years, the likely candidate is John Carl Petretti. A junior, Petretti is ranked third at 145 pounds in the latest preseason rankings, although Condon noted he’ll likely be wrestling at 152. Petretti won the League VI title at 138 pounds last year and earned Most Outstanding Wrestler honors. But his season came to an end after his first match of the county tournament when he lost to Dorian Albanese, 8-4.
Petretti now enters the season with a goal of winning his first county title. He’s advanced to the county tournament each of the past three years and has a 1-3 record in those matches.
“He has the ability to do it,” Condon said. “He definitely could win the league again and he definitely has a shot to win the county title. I think he’s going into the season expecting that. He expects a lot of himself and he works hard year-round.”
Condon’s son, Ryan, is the only other Shoreham wrestler listed in the top-six of preseason rankings. He’s ranked sixth at 182. Ryan was a third-place finisher in the league last year at 170.
Condon said it’s a challenge for any parent to coach his son.
“[Former coach] Don Jantzen used to tell me, ‘Be a coach at practice and be a dad at home,’ ” he said. “I try to reasonably follow that.”
The Wildcats also expect a big season from Ed Troyano, a sophomore who will wrestle 106. Dylan Meloni, an all-league wrestler last year and now a senior, returns at 113. Rounding up the lineup the Wildcats have Brady Cummings (120), Peter Delise (126), Cooper Cummings (132), Sean DePhillips (138), Noah Blunnie (145), Christian Aliperti (160), Joe Miller (170), Logan Snyder (195), Nick Serdock (220) and Nick Johnson (285).
The Wildcats will be in a challenging league once again in League VI, which features John Glenn as the favorite. Glenn actually has the enrollment of a Division II school but opted up to compete in Division I, Condon said.