Passaic Valley wrestling preview
As the 2016-2017 wrestling season nears, the Passaic Valley High grapplers are looking for big things again, while also knowing that the upcoming campaign will have a different look to it.
The Hornets began practice earlier this week, as head coach Joe Benvenuti has an experienced squad returning in the hopes of winning a second straight NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 championship.
Passaic Valley had a tremendous campaign last winter, finishing 14-9 and winning a state sectional title, as well as the District 13 championship for the third time in the last five years. This winter, a District 13 title will be out of the question, because a massive change in the distinct and region format now has Passaic Valley as a member of District 8, in Region 2. Passaic Valley will host the District 8 championships this season. The Region 2 championships were originally scheduled to be held at Bergen Community College, but Benvenuti noted that the site has been changed to Mount Olive High School.
“Big changes, for sure,” said Benvenuti, who was named president of Region 2, the same title he had held for a few years in Region 4. “Having it at Mount Olive will be good, in that we can use four mats. It will be much better.”
Region 2 will be a big challenge for the Hornets. Among the schools in the region are state power Bergen Catholic as well as Roxbury, DePaul, Wayne Valley, Paramus, Clifton, Passaic Tech, Cedar Grove, Lodi and Morris Knolls.
PV’s regular season schedule will also have a new look. The Hornets have opened the past few seasons at the Hopatcong Tournament, but this year, the season opener is set for the Morris Knolls Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 17. On Dec. 23, the Hornets visit Nutley in its first regular season dual match.
“We’ve had a good rivalry with Nutley over the years,” said Benvenuti. “They’re not in our region anymore, but they are back in our state section again, so that will be a good early season test for us. (Nutley head coach) Mike (DiPiano) has a great team and he and I are good friends. We enjoy competing against each other and they’re always exciting matches.”
The Hornets began practice on Nov. 21, with the traditional one mile run. The team also worked on some grueling hills and were slated for an early morning practice, before taking the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving.
“Come Nov. 28, we’re off and running, for sure,” said Benvenuti. “It’s good to get some work in before Thanksgiving. Administratively, I’ll know all the paper work is completed for eligibility, the kids will get some conditionig work in and they’ll know what to expect next Monday.”
The coach is expecting a good turnout of wrestlers for the program.
“We’re looking at 35 to 40 kids coming out,” said Benvenuti. “That’s pretty good. The last time we were together as a team, we were getting our state championship rings last April. That’s something which carries over well to a new season. The kids got a chance to win a state title and a district championship and they want to continue that this year.”
The Hornets lost some talented wrestlers to graduation, but the team returns 11 experienced athletes to the mat this winter.
“We’ve got kids who know what it takes to be successful in this sport,” the coach said. “They’ll push each other to get better, with each practice, and then the scrimmages, before we open at Morris Knolls.”
The team captains are seniors Nick DeNora and Kenny Kerwin.
“Nicky and Kenny are both seasoned wrestlers who are expecting big things from themselves and the team,” said Benvenuti.
Some of the other experienced wrestlers include Tom Marretta, who qualified for the state tournament last year as a heavyweight but will probably wrestle at 220 this year, Yousef Karmi, a heavyweight, Hunter Fortier, Vin Brigati, Jeremy Galletta and Greg Sabbak.
“We’ll have some good scrimmages before the season begins,” said Benvenuti. “It goes by so fast. It seemed like we were just finishing last season, and here it is again. We’re looking forward to a good year.”