Featured Story

Riverhead wrestlers close out season, honor longtime coach

The Riverhead wrestling team closed out its season on Wednesday night and commemorated an absolute legend in the history of the school before the match against Hampton Bays.

On June 10th, long-time Riverhead wrestling coach Walter Stewart passed away peacefully in his Aquebogue home. He was 98 years old. Stewart was Riverhead’s coach from 1950 to 1985 and was an avid supporter of the program until his passing.

“He was Old Hickory,” current Riverhead coach Jake Benedetto said. “He was as tough as they come but he had a heart of gold.”

The auxiliary gym at Riverhead High School was named in his honor Wednesday. Stewart coached 82 All-County wrestlers and 19 Suffolk County champions during his tenure. Riverhead won 242 dual meets, four dual meet titles, six league tournament titles and the 1963 Suffolk County tournament. In 2002, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Riverhead’s Brody Reister battles at 138 lbs. (photo credit: Bill Landon)

Stewart’s family and many alumni were present Wednesday night as Riverhead fell to Hampton Bays, 45-30 in a non-league match at Riverhead High School.

Though Riverhead’s season didn’t turn out as planned as a team, two wrestlers have as good a shot as anyone to place in the league tournament and even potentially in the county tournament. 

Zachary Gevinksi, a freshman who wrestles at 101 pounds, put together an impressive season even with his limited varsity experience. Gevinski wrestled to a record of 16-8 on the season and has been only getting stronger as the season progresses. Against Hampton Bays, Gevinski pinned his opponent in 22 seconds, starting off the meet with a bang.

Riverhead’s John Lacorte competes at 145 lbs. (photo credit: Bill Landon)

“Gevinski’s year is going to be defined by the league tournament,” Benedetto said. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose anything during the season. This is when it matters. This is when you have to put your best performances together. He only had one league loss so I’d love to see him avenge that one. Even though he’s young, he’s been wrestling for a very long time. This is nothing new to him. Just a different gym.”

Colby Baran, a sophomore in the 160-pound weight class, unfortunately was unable to wrestle against Hampton Bays because of the flu but has also elevated his game over the course of the season. Benedetto expects Baran to be very competitive in the Suffolk County tournament should he place in leagues. He finished 18-8.

Riverhead’s Jared Knight pinned Antoinog Haddock at 131 lbs. (photo credit: Bill Landon)

Jared Knight, one of the team’s only seniors, figures also to be right in the thick of things. Knight pinned his opponent in the third round on Wednesday after jumping out to a commanding 10-0 lead after the first round.

“We get a fresh start in the league tournament,” Knight said, who wrestles at 131 pounds. “For me personally it was always about having confidence and believing in your ability. The team season is over but there’s still time for us to perfect our craft in the individual tournaments.”

In order to make the Suffolk County tournament, the wrestler needs to finish in the top 4 of the league tournament. Each school can send up to two wrestlers per weight class so there could be as many as 12 to face off against. There are no wrestlebacks in the league tournament, meaning if you lose in the first two rounds, you’re out. So if you happen to get a tough draw in the first round, there’s no fighting back in the loser’s bracket like other tournaments. The only way to advance to the County tournament is to make the semi-finals. There is no random draw, either. The matchups will be determined by a seeding decision. The better record the wrestler produced, the higher the seed.

The League I tournament will take place Feb. 3 at Patchogue-Medford High School. 

There’s always surprises in every tournament and Coach Stewart will undoubtedly be looking down in spirit, cheering on the team that he always loved.