When numbers are down like this, it can be a challenge not to get down.
Riverhead High School has a small enough wrestling team as it is with numbers, so when a spate of injuries struck the Blue Waves, they really hurt.
A roster of 19 wrestlers has been reduced further by injuries that have left the team with 15 healthy wrestlers. Fifteen! That’s it.
“It’s kind of depressing,” said senior Ronan Cruz.
As bad as that is, Smithtown West coach Ken Leverich’s team, one of the best in Suffolk County, was in town Thursday for a League III match.
Riverhead had to forfeit 10 bouts. Only five matches were actually wrestled in a contest that was completed in a swift half-hour. Jared Cawley and Cruz accounted for Riverhead’s only points in a 78-9 loss.
“This is probably the fastest dual meet we ever had,” said Cawley.
That’s the current reality for Riverhead (0-5, 0-4) and its new coach, Jake Benedetto. The focus now is on individual accomplishments and on paving the way for a better future.
“It definitely affects training, but I try to stay positive,” Benedetto said of his numbers situation. The important thing now, he said, is for his wrestlers to be “excited about wrestling and having them understand it’s about the bigger picture.”
Coming off a 52-28 loss at Centereach the night before, Riverhead was facing quality as well as quantity in Smithtown West (5-1, 5-0).
“I was tired from yesterday, just not feeling it,” Cruz said, “but before the match you get a burst of adrenaline.”
Cruz used that adrenaline — and a third-period escape and takedown — to score a 3-0 victory over junior Steven Zimmerman at 220 pounds. That raised his record to 8-4.
Because of forfeits and Vinny Zaffarese’s pin of Xavier Moore (14-4) at 5 minutes, 15 seconds of their opening bout at 99 pounds, Smithtown West held a 24-0 lead by the time Cawley stepped onto the mat.
Cawley failed to make weight for the league tournament last winter. “It was a really rough way to end the season,” he said.
In retrospect, Benedetto believes that may have been the best thing to happen to Cawley in terms of motivation.
Who can argue? After opening his senior season 2-4, Cawley won six of his next eight matches, including his pin of Smithtown West senior Jack DeSousa 3:02 into their bout at 126 pounds.
“I think probably this was the best match I wrestled all year,” said Cawley, who has been on the team since he was a seventh-grader, as has senior Dominic Bossey.
After executing an escape, Cawley put DeSousa on his back. “That was the match,” he said.
Benedetto said Cawley “wrestled lights out.” He added, “Cawley has really worked on his technique and really just started focusing on the things he’s great at.”
For one thing, Cawley, who trains with Moore and freshman Cassius Johnson, seems to have found a wrestling weight that works well for him. Last season he wrestled at 122. “I’m feeling really strong, confident, healthy,” he said. “Last year I wasn’t as confident … Now as a senior, I go out there, wrestle. I know what I have to do and I’m going to go out there and do my best.”
Smithtown West senior James Campanelli (132 pounds) pinned his opponent, sophomore Michael Panchak, at 1:14.
Another pin for the Bulls came from sophomore Logan Hutter (138), who stopped freshman Lenny Escobar at 1:49.
At this point in the season, wrestlers are gearing up for the postseason tournaments that in many cases will define their season.
“I just want to make it as far as I can,” Cruz said. “I want to place in the league [tournament]. I want to place in the county.”
Photo caption: Riverhead senior Jared Cawley taking control of his match at 126 pounds against Smithtown West senior Jack DeSousa. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)