By Matthew Rocco
A young Raritan High School wrestling team had a successful campaign last season, going 17-5 and winning the Shore Conference Class A Central Division title. With a year of valuable experience under their belt, the Rockets look ready to take off in 2017.
The Rockets are going to the mat with nearly the same lineup as last season in the lower weight classes, and the team expects big contributions from its newcomers. Last season, in addition to winning the division, Raritan took fourth place in the District 22 tournament and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II finals. Looking at the talent and experience that Raritan can offer this season, it’s easy to see the team remaining a force in the postseason.
“We have a special team this season. We’re no longer young,” head coach Rob Nucci said.
Nucci, who is coaching his 17th year at Raritan, believes this squad may be the most talented he’s seen.
“This is the most driven team I’ve coached. We outwork everyone in the offseason, as far as the number of dual meets we wrestle,” he said. “As a team, we have balance. Individually, they want to make some noise in Atlantic City.”
Russell Benson (132 pounds) stands out at the lower end of Raritan’s lineup. The junior had an individual record of 33-5, took first place in the District 22 tournament and placed second against Region 6 competition last season. Senior Vito Aleo (160), sophomore Anthony Aquilano (152) and juniors A.J. Erven (126) and Christian Sookdeo (138) all surpassed the 20-win plateau a year ago. Raritan also has senior captain Jimmy VanFechtmann (145) back in action.
Sophomore Charles Barrale moves up a class to 113 this season and is coming off a 24-7 showing and a silver medal at districts. The starting nod at 106 goes to talented junior Robert Taddeo, who was behind Barrale on the depth chart as a sophomore.
Among the first-year starters are Alex Dalmau and Dylan Kansky — two seniors who will take over the heavyweight slot. The Rockets have another new starter in sophomore George Burdick (182), who is a Keansburg High School transfer who won 25 matches as a 170-pound grappler last season. Senior Ryan Dickens (195) and junior Ethan Wolf (220) are two returning starters up top.
As usual, the Rockets will get thrown into the fire this season.
Raritan kicks things off in the Carlucci Duals at Port Chester High School in New York. The two-day event, which begins Dec. 16, includes the powerhouse of Monroe-Woodbury High School.
From there, Raritan must contend with A Central rival St. John Vianney High School. The Rockets are going for their 12th A Central crown in 13 years, and their matchup with the Lancers Jan. 18 could prove to be the deciding factor in the division.
Raritan has non-divisional bouts with Colts Neck High School, Long Branch High School and Wall High School. The schedule also has big names from outside the Shore Conference, including Camden Catholic High School and North Hunterdon High School.
The Rockets won’t get many breaks in the schedule this winter. But that’s exactly what Raritan expects, as the team prepares itself for what lies ahead.
“Throughout the season, every week there’s a big match,” Nucci said. “We want to be battle tested. Our guys are going to know where they stand right from the get-go.”
Raritan’s first home matchup of the season is slated for Dec. 19 against Holmdel High School at 6:30 p.m.