By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Mike Goff is in his second year coaching the Lyndhurst/North Arlington wrestling cooperative program and the young coach is finding things easier to come by during his second go-round.
“It’s definitely a lot easier,” said the 26-year-old Goff. “The kids know me and know how my program works. We were able to step up the tempo this year and progress a lot faster. We’re able to do things differently in practices. They understand my lingo.”
When Goff took over the program last year, he mentioned the understanding of the “lingo,” like he spoke a different language than most wrestling coaches. He wasn’t kidding.
“They understand what I say and what it means,” Goff said.
For example, Goff uses a term called a “sit pop,” which was foreign even to the most knowledgeable of wrestling folk. It’s like a combination of a “sit out” and a “pop-up,” two terms more readily recognizable.
“I think the kids have picked up on my terms,” Goff said. “Like sit pop.”
Not only is the head coach of the program, which combines students from both Lyndhurst and North Arlington, younger than most coaches, the team is comprised of seven sophomores, almost unheard of in a sport where experience reigns supreme.
“Half the lineup is made up of sophomores,” Goff said. “I think they all have a lot more confidence this year than they had last year and I have a lot more confidence in them. I think the year of experience has helped. I think it’s good to have a young team. They’ve had the time to progress and by the time they are seniors, they will have something to show for their hard work.”
The team is already showing major signs of improvement. Lyndhurst/North Arlington owns a 3-2 record in dual meets, after defeating Leonia/ Palisades Park, another cooperative program, 46-27, last Friday night.
The match was held at North Arlington High School, the first time that North Arlington hosted a home wrestling match in more than five years. It was held at North Arlington with the hope that it would draw some interest to the sport and encourage more North Arlington students to get involved in wrestling.
The wrestling mats were transported from Lyndhurst High to North Arlington for the match. A solid crowd attended. It was a great step for the future of the program.
Goff, whose team also defeated Secaucus last week, said that he is pleased with the way his team has responded this season.
“They’ve shown a lot improvement and progression from last year to this year,” Goff said. “I think they’re all a lot more comfortable. I think we have a well-conditioned team and that has helped. We have a lot more kids out and we basically have everyone back from last year.”
Leading the returnees is senior 138-pounder Joey Morreale, who has been a veteran of the Lyndhurst Recreation wrestling program since he was a toddler. Morreale already has 12 wins this season and he’s well on his way to having a spectacular senior campaign.
“I’m counting on him to go pretty far this year,” Goff said of Morreale, who won via a pin over David Lopez in 3:47 Friday night. “I really think he can qualify for the states (in Atlantic City in March). He’s sound on his feet and knows how to ride an opponent. He’s our top wrestler.”
Morreale is also a standout in the pole vault during the spring track season.
Another top returnee is junior 220-pounder Lou LaRegina, who went to the Region 2 tournament a year ago.
“I have high hopes for him,” Goff said of LaRegina, who won via a pin in just 1:05 Friday night.
Sophomore Corey Leclerc is a fixture at 112 pounds. Leclerc already has 10 wins this season.
“He’s been doing pretty well,” Goff said. “I’m definitely counting on him to be a fighter for us. I can count on him to get points to help us. He’s a sound wrestler and he’s very technical.”
Senior Frank Mezzina is the team’s 160-pounder. Mezzina, a standout on the Lyndhurst football team, is one of the strongest wrestlers around. He’s won six matches, including one via pin Friday night.
“He came into the season in excellent shape,” Goff said.
The team is bolstered by the efforts of the Yunis brothers, namely freshman 103-pounder Conor Yunis and 120-pounder Devin.
“Devin Yunis is one of the most improved wrestlers we have,” Goff said. “He’s a lot smarter now and doesn’t give up easy take downs. Conor has been wrestling up a little, taking on guys who are bigger than him. But I definitely like his heart. He has a lot of promise.”
Conor Yunis won via a pin Friday, while Devin earned a win via forfeit.
The middle of the lineup features two wrestlers who are students at North Arlington in sophomore 126-pounder Luis Arzuaga and sophomore 132-pounder Andrew Fernandez.
“I like the way Luis is progressing,” Goff said. “He’s just starting to get it. Andrew is a solid wrestler who can get points when we need them.”
Fernandez won via a majority 18-8 decision Friday night to improve to 8-5 on the young season.
Shayne Cosme is the team’s 145-pounder. Like most of the team, Cosme is a sophomore.
At 152, Miraldo Mora is a freshman who is just learning the sport for the first time. Goff likes the promise of both kids.
Junior Rocco Russamano was slated to be the team’s 171-pounder, but broke his foot in the preseason and is just about ready to return to action.
“He’s a hard worker who will fit into the lineup nicely,” Goff said.
Sophomore Matt DeMarco is the team’s fixture at 182 pounds. DeMarco comes from a long line of wrestlers in his family.
“He has a good background in the sport and has a lot of potential,” Goff said.
Sophomore Michael Cooper is holding forth at 195 pounds. Cooper is another first-year wrestler who is replacing the injured Shane Reed, a junior.
The heavyweight is senior Albert Faiti, another firstyear wrestler.
“He has a lot of pure strength,” Goff said of Faiti. “His muscle helps him.”
So the young coach with the young team provides a ton of promise for a program that brings two neighboring rivals together for one solid cause.
“We were a little injuryprone, but we’re coming around,” Goff said. “Once we get everyone back, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good team.”
One that will make some noise by the end of the season – and then the years to come.