A year ago, lack of varsity experience was something the John Jay wrestling team had to overcome.
And for the most part, the Indians did just that en route to a season that was far more successful than anybody could have hoped for.
This year the season begins on a different note. The Indians return just about every wrestler from a year ago, and expectations are high going into Saturday’s opener at the Rye Tournament.
“The kids have been really working hard in practice. They’ll be ready,” said head coach Bill Swertfager. “We’re going to be solid. I have no real superstar kids, but I have a lot of really good kids.”
John Jay has talent at every weight class, except for 99 pounds. The Indians are particularly strong from 120 pounds and up.
“There might be a little weak spot somewhere. We’re going to be pretty darn solid. All the kids will be over .500. My goal is to see how many kids I can qualify for sectionals,” said Swertfager.
In addition to that depth, the team has 11 seniors — another good sign.
Last year, the Indians had to replace eight All-Section wrestlers. They finished at 10-13 but came on strong at the end, placing third at the division championships and sending eight wrestlers to the Section 1 championships.
The team graduated its two best wrestlers in Mike Rosenthal (32-9 at 182 pounds) and Declan Myer (29-13 at 170 pounds), both division champs last year.
But it returns five section qualifiers in senior Alex Lambiotte, Louis Talia, Billy Gossett and Ethan Smith, and junior Alex Beresin.
Lambiotte, John Jay’s first-ever two-time captain, finished last season at 29-16 at 126 pounds.
Talia was 20-12 at 285 pounds, Gossett went 27-18 at 182, Smith was 23-16 at 220, and Beresin was 10-6 at 106, having missed the first half of the season due to injury.
This year, Lambiotte will wrestle at 132, Talia at 220, Gossett at 195, Smith at 220 and Beresin at 120.
Other returning seniors are Giancarlo Geniso (12-19 last season) at 160, Sam Gordon (152), Ben Jadow (10-23 last season) at 152/160), and Harrison Monico (8-22 last year) at 138.
The team also returns junior captain Graham Bocklet, who will wrestle at 152 and 160, after going 18-18 at 138 pounds last year.
Other key returners are sophomores Ari Fay (14-26 last year) at 138 or 145 pounds, and Brian Kershner (19-24 last year) at 126.
Several other wrestlers could crack the starting lineup this season.
Senior Josh Bauer, who didn’t wrestle last year, is back at the 138-145 weight range.
Junior Damien Franco, who won the JV section title last year at 160 pounds, is getting time at 170/180. Another returning junior is Andrew O’Connor at 152.
Sophomores Billy Patti (fifth at the JV section championships last year) and Billy Greene, are wrestling at 182. Other sophomores are Dan Schwartz (126), Ryan Tassone (145), Billy Raiford (152) and Zak Bauer (160).
The Indians have many strong newcomers, including freshmen Nikolai Degenhart (106/113), Chris Kelly (113), Eion Nohilly (113/120), Chris Holze (126) and Dulin Stathis; sophomores Dru Paduletti (132), Miles Frank (152), Tiago Leonardo (182), John Pasalic (182) and Sawyer Fischer (182); and junior Chris Hill (145).
“I think we’re going to have a good dual-meet team. As far as tournament team, we may not be as good,” said Swertfager, who still feels the Indians will make some noise at sectionals.
“I should have, legitimately, four or five kids who are top five in the section. I may have nobody in the finals. It may happen, but I’m going to have a bunch of All-Section kids this year.”
Notes: Wrestling with John Jay this season is one wrestler from the Harvey School, senior Buddy Rice; and five wrestlers from North Salem: Freshman Jordan Bond, sophomores Teddy Fleming and Calvin Wongus, and juniors Chris Marino and Matthew Powell.