Rockets hope to develop more state-caliber wrestlers


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By Matthew Rocco

In the wake of a dominating season for the Raritan High School wrestling team, the Rockets hope to translate the squad’s success into postseason medals.

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The Rockets compiled a 26-3 record over the course of the 2016-17 season, led by a talented group of young grapplers. Eleven wrestlers advanced to the Region 5 tournament — a school record — as the Rockets grabbed the team title in District 20. Russell Benson, who won gold at regions, was the only Rocket to earn a spot in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association championships.

Next season, Raritan will make it a priority to send more representatives to Atlantic City.

“When we look back at this season, we’re going to say we had an unbelievable team, but we need to improve ourselves as individuals,” head coach Rob Nucci said. “We’re very team-oriented, but at this stage, we need to branch off and do some things individually. We need to be state-caliber wrestlers.”

The Rockets will be well-equipped to complete their objective. Many of the team’s points this season came from freshmen, sophomores and juniors who will be back next season.

Sophomores Charles Barrale and Justin Acevedo and juniors Robert Taddeo, A.J. Erven, Christian Sookdeo and Ethan Wolf each logged at least 20 wins on the year. Benson, a junior, posted an individual record of 38-3. Sophomore George Burdick joined him in the 30-win club with a 33-6 record.

Jimmy VanFechtmann, Vito Aleo, Joseph Bruncati, Ryan Dickens and Dylan Kansky were the lone seniors on the varsity roster. Only VanFechtmann, Dickens and Kansky were in the starting lineup on most days.

“We have just a few seniors in the lineup, which means we return the second-most wins in the state of New Jersey, I think. So we’re looking forward to next year,” Nucci said.

This season, the Rockets were in the mix for Shore Conference and state championships. Raritan posted the highest ranking (12th) to finish a season in school history, according to Nucci. The Rockets advanced to the Central Jersey, Group II finals, where they fell to Delaware Valley Regional High School for the fourth year in a row. The team also fell one win shy of a Shore Conference Tournament championship. Howell High School won that matchup, 36-24.

A talented team and hard work carried the Rockets to another successful winter.

“We don’t regret anything we’ve done,” Nucci said. “No one puts in more time than us.”

The veteran head coach expects to tweak a few things in the offseason, keeping state individual tournaments in mind.

“What makes us good year after year is what we do in the offseason,” he said.

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