A team dinner to kick off a season, or get ready before a big match, is a popular tactic used by coaches to create chemistry and cohesiveness.
This year, Paul Bass took it one step further.
Members of the Westhampton Beach wrestling squad toted their sleeping bags and pillows to the high school gymnasium on November 25, the night before their first official practice of the season. After dinner, their parents went home, and the wrestlers got comfortable on the mat, where they spent the night.
At 4:40, a.m., Bass woke them up—and the 2014/15 wrestling season officially began for the Hurricanes, with practice running from 5 until 7 a.m.
“I wanted us to be the first team in the county to practice,” Bass explained. “So, we started ahead of everybody, and we have to stay ahead of everybody.”
The team dinner and sleepover wasn’t just a bonding experience, Bass said. He explained that it was a microcosm of what his team has to do if it wants to maintain its status as one of the well-respected programs in Suffolk County. Typically, the Hurricanes bring back at least one All-County or All-State wrestler to the team each year.
This season, they aren’t even returning a league finalist.
“If we want to be competitive,” Bass said, “we will have to outwork, out-hustle and be more consistent than everybody we wrestle.”
Bass does not like to give much away when talking about his expectations at the beginning of a season, and he does not like to make bold predictions. But on paper, the Hurricanes—who have 26 wrestlers who are either freshmen or sophomores—do not have much to boast about this year after losing eight seniors to graduation, including four who had advanced to the county tournament.
“My name for this team is, ‘The No-Names,’” he said. “We’re extremely young, and even where we’re not young, we’re inexperienced. We have more question marks than we’ve ever had.”
Another question mark right now is leadership. Bass said that while he’s been happy with the effort his squad has shown during what he says is the most grueling preseason he’s put a team through, clear leaders have yet to emerge. He hopes that changes as the season goes on, but said he won’t be naming permanent captains unless someone steps up and proves he deserves the title.
On a team of “no-names” there are at least two wrestlers who don’t entirely fit that description. While they were not listed among the county’s elite last season, Hunter Hulse and Liam McIntyre did perform well enough that other teams will have them on their radars.
Hulse, a senior, finished third in the league tournament and competed at counties last year. He will compete at either 145 or 152 pounds this season. McIntyre, an eighth-grader, burst onto the scene with a fourth-place finish in leagues at 106 pounds, earning a spot at counties. After a growth spurt, he’ll be somewhere in the 126- to 138-pound range.
“They had a successful year last year, but they’ll have to get a lot better,” Bass said of Hulse and McIntyre.
Westhampton Beach brings back 10 wrestlers who competed in at least 20 varsity matches last year. Senior Chris Chomicki was 28-10 at 195 and 220 pounds, and Bass is hoping for even bigger things from him this year.
Junior Connor Glynn, sophomore Casey Hughes and sophomore Dane Mendoza will compete at the lower weights; junior Alex Kravitz, junior Sean Ebrus, senior Justin Kretsos and sophomore Danny Strebel will compete at the middle weights; and junior Dan McClure and sophomore Ben Osborne will be at the upper weights.
Bass also listed several newcomers he expects to have an impact as well. Junior Matt Tanzman and sophomores Danny Purkis and David Cable will be at the lower weights; sophomore Scott Rementer, junior Billy Campbell and senior Oliver Batcheller will compete at the middle weights; and junior Matt Tobin will be at the upper weights.
Within League VI, John Glenn is the favorite and also expected to be one of the top teams in the county. Shoreham/Wading River is ranked high within the county as well, and Bass said Miller Place should also be formidable, along with Mount Sinai. Bayport/Blue Point, which competed in Division II last year, moved into Division I and League VI, and brings back most of its wrestlers from last year.
Bass said he hopes his young team can battle and finish among the top squads in the league. Getting them ready to do so is a task he’ll share with assistant coaches James Kinder and Ethan Mitchell, as well as volunteer coaches James Owens, Kevin Turbush, Andrew Petroulias and Paul DiLandro.
A change to the postseason format this year has Bass excited. For the first time, there will be a county dual meet tournament, in addition to the league and county tournaments, where individual champions are crowned in each weight class. The top two teams in each league will qualify for the county dual meet tournament, and two other teams from the county will be awarded spots as wildcards. Those wildcard teams will be chosen by the county’s coaches.
Westhampton Beach will open the League VI season at home against Mount Sinai on Friday, December 12, at 4:30 p.m. The Hurricanes will then compete in the Sprig Gardner Tournament in East Hampton on Saturday, December 13.
This season, the Hurricanes are trying to get more from their performances on the mat than just team victories. The team is asking the community to help fill the “pin pot” for a good cause, asking for pledges of a fixed sum of money for every pin that the team earns in matches this season.
The team has averaged 215 pins per season over the last three years, so a donation of 50 cents per pin would mean an overall donation of just over $100 for the season. The money in the pin pot will go to two causes: the Hurricane Mat Club and the Live Your Cor Foundation.
The Live Your Cor Foundation was created in memory of Cory Hubbard, a Westhampton Beach graduate and Hurricane wrestling alum who was killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street in Maryland in January. The goal of the foundation is to “pay it forward” by providing financial assistance to families who have suffered adversity or a personal hardship. To participate, go to whbwrestling.net.