By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Tony Carratura is a wrestling lifer.
The veteran Kearny High School wrestling coach is so dedicated to the sport that he now has his son, Tony Jr., coaching a middle school program, getting kids involved in wrestling at an early age. Carratura also has his finger on the pulse of the Kearny Recreation program.
So Carratura knows that last year was a building year for the Kardinals on the mat.
“Last year was a bit of a down year for us,” said Carratura, who guided the Kardinals to a 6-15 dual meet record. “But we had a nice turnout this year with about 40 kids. Wrestling is a sport that you have to dedicate yourself to, especially if you want to take it to the next level. I feel comfortable with the way we’re moving forward.”
The Kardinals will begin the 2014-15 campaign Saturday morning with their traditional Holiday Tournament, with seven other teams joining the Kards to begin the mat slate.
Lyndhurst/North Arlington, the local cooperative program, will also begin its season at the Kearny tournament.
“We’re starting at the ground level,” Carratura said. “We have a bunch of talented freshmen. We have seven heavyweights, five are freshmen. There were years when we couldn’t buy a heavyweight. The football program is working hand-inhand with us. We have a bunch of guys from the football team. The whole offensive line is with us.”
That’s good to see the football program, spearheaded by head coach Nick Edwards, is encouraging kids to wrestle in the winter months. Edwards, a former wrestler during his days at St. Peter’s Prep, has encouraged his players to wrestle to keep in shape in the offseason.
“We have a nice little mix,” Carratura sad. “There’s a little bit of competition in the lineup, It all depends upon who wants it.”
The team’s 106-pounder is sophomore Jason DeKerr, a football player despite the lack of size.
“He’s learning and doing fine,” Carratura said of DeKerr. “We have about five guys at that weight as well. Jason is coming along.”
The team’s 113-pounder is senior Diego Poma. “I think he’s finally coming around,” Carratura said of Poma.
“He’s at the right weight now and he’s very committed. He’s one of our captains.”
The 120-pounder is junior Stanley Lliguichuzhca, pronounced exactly as it is spelled. In his spare time, the Kards’ 120-pounder can use his last name as the eye chart at the optometrist office.
“It’s his first year in our lineup,” said Carratura of Stanley, whose name would have been remembered if he were part of the varsity.
The team’s 126-pounder is Josh Guerrero, who was third at the NJSIAA District 16 tournament last year.
“He’s one of our leaders,” Carratura said of Guerrero. “He looks really good so far. I think he’s going to have a good season for us. He has some talent.”
The 132-pounder is returning senior Juan Lamboy, who won more than 15 matches last season and was fourth in the districts in a very tough and competitive weight class.
“I think he’s hungry,” Carratura said. “He’s dedicated himself to the sport and is ready to go to the next level.”
The Kardinals have a battle royale going on in the middle weights, like at 138, 145 and 152 pounds. Carratura believes that the competition in those weights is good for his team and keeps them fresh with a lack of complacency.
The team’s 160-pounder is sophomore Justin Baeza, who won 17 matches last year as a freshman. Last year, Baeza was in a tough weight class. This year, the road to Atlantic City has become a little tougher.
“I still think he’s going to go a long way,” Carratura said.
Sophomore Lukasz Glazewski is another tough wrestler who will find his way into the Kardinal lineup. Sophomore Tomasz Pryzbilski and junior Christian Rodriguez are others who will get a chance to earn time either in the vacant middle weights or at the 172-pound class.
“We may have to get one of them to face the 182-pound class,” Carratura said. “We have four kids battling for three spots.”
The 220-poumd class will be manned by senior Pedro Ugaza.
“He was with us last year and then he broke his arm,” Carrartura said.
The heavyweight bracket will be handled by senior Brian Carpio and freshman Spencer Toledo, both of whom have a ton of promise.
Carratura has a team that will contend later in the season, as the Kards gain experience and confidence.
“I think they’re working very hard,” Carratura said. “We have 40 kids that are always there for practice. I think we’re teaching them the basics a little more. But these kids are hungry. They want it.”
Carratura better feed his team before they take the mats this weekend, just to quench the team’s hunger pains.