A move to a different league and an abundance of underclassmen on its roster will give the Eastport South Manor wrestling team a fresh start in more ways than one this season.
The Sharks, who finished last season 0-7 in League V and 1-23 overall, had a hard time establishing themselves in a very tough League V, according to head coach Nick Garone, where perennial powerhouse Huntington went undefeated (7-0 in league, 10-0 overall) and early favorite Islip slipped to third place, posting a 5-2 league mark and 8-6 overall.
“People who know the wrestling world know it’s a war zone,” Garone said of League V. “It was tough to get momentum going. When you wrestle the best of the best, there’s no time for confidence building.”
“League V was just crazy,” he continued. “That’s not to take away from League IV. There’ll be tough teams there. It’s just that League V is abnormally tough. I don’t think we’ll see a league as competitive as that in a long, long time.”
Still, there are silver linings for the young program. The new league, said Garone, should allow the team to have greater success this time out. The standout last season was senior two-time league place-winner Jon Mercado (130 pounds), who compiled a 22-15 record and pushed through the postseason for a coveted spot in the Suffolk County Tournament.
Mercado said he agreed that the new league would benefit the team by putting it on more even footing with its competition.
“It’s a relief to know we’ll be the same as other teams,” he said.
Having only lost two wrestlers—Shaun Haverty (152) and A.J Cohen (135)—to graduation, Garone remains hopeful that Mercado and fellow returnees, including juniors Levi Ostler (96 or 103), Kyle Haverty (125)—Shaun’s younger brother—and Brett Spellman (130), will continue the hard work against the new competition. He commended the boys for their hard work during the offseason, when 28 of the program’s wrestlers attended a week-long camp at Ohio State University this summer.
Among the others expected to make an impact this season are sophomore Ryan Cutler (171), who Garone hopes will be able to translate some of his knowledge from playing linebacker this fall on the Sharks football team to the mat, and returning freshman Maverick Passaro (96), who had come up through the junior ranks to compete on the varsity team last season.
Getting experience at the lower levels has been the aim of the program since Garone took the helm four years ago and created its structure with the aid of assistant coach Nate Giagios and Keith Wagner, who heads up the kids program. The program itself also grew this season—it now totals 46 wrestlers, including both the junior varsity and varsity.
Garone said he’s proud of the program he has helped shape, which involves instilling a mindset as much as technique.
“It’s a culture that needs to be homed in on, because you’re not going to have a guy wrestle once or twice a year and be successful. You have to get on the mat and put in your time.”
Hauppauge, which went undefeated last season in League IV (7-0 in league, 22-0 overall), will now compete in League V, leaving West Babylon (6-1 in league, 14-3 overall) at the top of the heap with Deer Park (5-2 in league, 8-5 overall) and Kings Park (4-3 in league, 9-5 overall) in close contention.
ESM was set to scrimmage at East Islip on Wednesday. The Sharks will host Westhampton Beach for a scrimmage on Tuesday at 3 p.m., and will have their first match of the season at East Hampton on December 10 at 4:30 p.m.