By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Northborough – There are takedowns, reversals, near falls and escapes. Matches can be won by technical fall, chokehold, decision, major decision and default. Body weight means everything. Grapplers range in size from 106 to 285 lbs. and are very strictly matched with opponents of identical weight class.
Indeed, the sport of high school wrestling has a vernacular and parameters all its own and perhaps no team gets it more this season than the Algonquin Regional High School varsity wrestling squad. With a regular-season record of 17-6 heading into the final week of the season, it’s been a year to remember for the Tomahawks who now tenaciously prepare for post-season competition.
“I’m very proud of the team this year,” said fifth-year Algonquin head coach Brian Kramer, who is assisted by James Gray. “The talent level has been growing and the numbers have been slowly creeping up. The season’s going very well. We have some real strong athletes.
“These guys have come together quite nicely. That’s the fun part and dynamic of this sport in that you’re competing as a team and practicing as a team and every day beating yourself up in the practice room. You’re working hard together and there’s so much camaraderie in that.”
Wrestling, like some other sports, is individualized yet team-oriented. When it’s you and you alone on the mat struggling to conquer your opponent, it’s one-on-one but keeping the theme of team first is critical, say coaches and athletes. Encouragement and support from teammates makes a difference.
“When I get out on the mat, I’m thinking about myself but I’m also thinking about what’s best for my team,” acknowledged senior co-captain Austin Roche. “Just winning a match may be good for you but not enough for your team when you have to have a pin. There’s a lot of pressure from a team standpoint perspective.
“We’re very close as a team and we put a lot of emphasis on getting each other better. There’s a lot of competition in the room. We all want to be better than each other and it really pushes us to get better that way.”
“We’re with our teammates two hours every day in the practice room and we’re all pushing each other to get better when you’re out there on the mat,” added junior co-captain Drew Cozzolino. “Having someone encouraging you is great because it is mentally tough out there, not just physically. Having your team behind you just gives you that extra mental push.”
While captains Roche, Cozzolino and Bryce Finnegan are diminutive in stature – they range in the 126-138 weight class – there is no mistaking their mental and physical toughness. Handshakes post-meet prove that these are disciplined young men, stronger physically more than their size might project, but also that they have learned to handle the mental rigors of the sport.
“Wrestling is something anyone can get good at if you work hard, you can be a better wrestler and work your way onto the team,” explained Finnegan. “The mental game is key. It’s important to always be one hundred percent mentally confident and prepared for every match. It’s like a switch has to be turned on in your mind and you have to use that to your advantage.”
“The hardest part of being a good wrestler is maintaining the level of skill you want to be at and the level of work you want to put in,” said Cozzolino. “You have to keep putting work in both in-season and off-season and stay solid mentally.”
Injuries occur but are not as pervasive as one might imagine based on the physicality of the sport, according to Kramer.
“There are injuries just like any other sport but surprisingly not as many as you may think only because it’s not high impact like football or soccer players running into each other. In wrestling, two wrestlers who know what they’re doing have controlled movements. We’ve had a couple of concussions this season which happens and everyone’s banged up some going into the tournament, but nothing the kids can’t wrestle through.”
The team has practiced or had matches six days a week, at least two hours a day since the beginning of the season. Sectional competition is looming and although he refuses to predict outcomes, it is clear that Kramer is proud of his young men who compete with determination and intensity.
“I love the core of this team. We have a lot of juniors and it’s awesome to see those guys be successful this year and know they’ll be back next year and be even better and stronger. It’s really cool to see them grow but also help out with the younger kids. When you have the more senior athletes working with your younger athletes, it’s great.”
Members of the 2015-2016 Algonquin Regional High varsity wrestling team are seniors Austin Roche, Garrett Powers, Matt Franks and Ross Grasso along with juniors Bryce Finnegan, Drew Cozzolino, Curtis Clark, Nate Porteus, Angel Aponte, Colin Robinson, Nick Ferreria, Neil Nadgir, Wylie Ith, Connor Truex, Jeff Fontecchio and Joe Vencile.
Underclassmen are sophomores Jack Golden, Jake Kerr, Walker Haskins, Austin Lee, and freshmen James Mahoney, Shea Garand, Milosz Dworakowski, Diggy Khurana, Andrew Goddard and Mark Finnegan.