Wrestling: For Andrew MacGray, return to the sport is a gift

Andrew MacGray is making up for lost time in a hurry.

After the COVID-19 pandemic kept him from wrestling for two years, the Riverhead High School senior has returned with a vengeance, as he is undefeated in five dual meet matches this season.

Win No. 5 came on Tuesday during the Blue Waves’ 47-28 home loss to Sachem East on Tuesday.

MacGray was one of five Riverhead wrestlers who recorded wins in the Suffolk County League I match.

To keep fit during the pandemic, MacGray decided to create a home gym with powerlifting equipment. It turned into more than a hobby as he set state and national powerlifting records in the 132-lb. weight class.

Returning to wrestling this winter, MacGray’s new-found strength has made him a better wrestler for the Blue Waves (0-5, 0-4).

“Every day I would still work out,” he said. “Even though I wasn’t wrestling I would lift weights. So now I’m a lot stronger but the same weight. It just helped me get a lot better since my freshman year.”

As Logan Perotti discovered on Tuesday. MacGray defeated his Sachem opponent in the 138-lb. bout, 16-11, although he expected more from himself.

“I thought I could do better,” he said. “I would have liked to pin him. It keeps me motivated for the next one.”

Like many of his teammates, MacGray needed to show some discipline over the holiday break. That meant not over-eating and continuing to train during Christmas and New Year’s to make sure he could make weight for matches.

“We practice every day at 7:30 [ a.m.],” he said. “It kept me motivated to keep on losing the weight and not binge it over the vacation.”

But it took some sacrifice.

“Christmas night I was 15 pounds over,” MacGray said. “The next morning, I was eight [over] and then my body just kept on going under.”

Just in time to make weight for a holiday tournament on Dec. 30.

“Thursday night I stayed up till like 11 o’clock,” MacGray said. “I was running like five miles with a sauna suit on. I was sweating. I took a Epsom salt bath. That night was definitely hard because I went on like a 24-hour fast, but it was all worth it because I got fourth place the next day. Now my body weight is back to what it should be.”

Riverhead head coach Jake Benedetto certainly liked what he saw on Tuesday.

“I thought it was best he wrestled,” he said. “He wrestled tough. He’s going to score points, keeping the pressure on guys.”

Though his team lost, Benedetto was encouraged by several wrestlers.

“Proud of the way they wrestled tonight,” he said, “even the guys who lost.”

Benedetto noted the performances of Chris Ramos, (108), who pinned Gavin Necko 51 seconds into the second period, Colby Darin (160), who scored a fall of Azariah DeLaCruz with 9.5 seconds left in the first period, Kyle Cuevas (189), who pulled out a pin of John Valdez with only 36.1 seconds to go in his bout, and David Franco (215), who pinned Ryan Lowe 54 seconds into his match.

“Proud of Kyle Cuevas, a first-year guy on varsity,” he said. “David Franco got a nice win. He needed that. Chris Ramos, it was first win at the weight in the league, which is really important. That was his third league match. He had both guys on their back for a full five count and lost it and ended up and on his back both times so that was really important for Ramos.

“I tell them that it’s a steady climb and everything leads towards the leagues and counties. There’s only champions on the walls for leagues counties and states and everything is practice.”

Benedetto’s goals are simple – keeping wrestlers on the squad. The Blue Waves forfeited four weight classes against Sachem (1-2, 1-2) – at 145, 152, 172 and 285 – because they did not have bodies to fill those spots.

“You can see numbers are a little light, but we’re very young,” he said. “It’s not an overnight sport. I probably say my No. 1 team goal is retention, getting every ninth, 10th and 11th grader back next year. And I would like to put five to six guys in the counties and put two or three on the podium.”

If he has his way, Andrew MacGray will find a way to the podium.