By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Nutley High School wrestling team is getting the opportunity of a lifetime as the season begins this weekend.
The Maroon Raiders will head to the Grapple at the Garden tournament this weekend at Clarkstown South High School in Nyack, N.Y.
The top two finishers at the tourney Saturday will then head to Madison Square Garden on Sunday to be part of the Grapple at the Garden festivities.
“I was approached a few years ago about this tournament,” said Nutley head coach Frank DiPiano, who has elevated the Nutley program to elite status in recent years. “It’s a little different, but it’s a great opportunity. It’s a great day of wrestling at Madison Square Garden and it’s a great day for the sport.”
There will be collegiate wrestling going on that day at the Garden, as well as the introduction of professional wrestling – and not the kind seen at the WWE Smackdown. But traditional wrestling is now being moved into the professional ranks.
In any case, Nutley will be a part of it.
“We’re really fortunate to get this chance,” DiPiano said. “It’s a great start to the season.”
DiPiano is excited about his team’s chances this season and whether the Maroon Raiders can add another NJSIAA District 14 team championship. Nutley has captured the last three district titles.
“We have more depth than we’ve ever had,” DiPiano said. “It’s a good problem to have. We’ve never had numbers before. We’re almost two-deep at every weight class. It’s the most experienced team we’ve had in the past several years. We only have two kids with zero experience.”
The Maroon Raiders will use either freshman Frank Gabriele or freshman Jimmy Quinn at 106 pounds. At 112, Quinn might get a shot, along with freshman Kyle Conca.
At 120 pounds, freshman Frank DeMaio is showing signs of developing into a solid wrestler.
“He has some experience on the rec (recreation) level and knows how to wrestle,” DiPiano said. “He’s going to do well there.”
Senior Tom Hickey is also a solid wrestler at the lighter weight classes. Senior Joe Ferinde is the team’s mainstay at 126 pounds. Ferinde finished eighth in the entire state last year in Atlantic City, winning 32 matches.
“He’s ready to have another solid year for us,” DiPiano said of Ferinde, who has a chance to be at the podium once again in Atlantic City come March.
Senior Kenny Pena is another solid wrestler in the lighter class. Pena finished second in the districts last year.
“I have to be creative how I use them,” DiPiano said of Ferinde and Pena. “I need to move one up and one down.”
Junior Robert Duxbury is a solid wrestler at 130 pounds. Duxbury won more than 20 matches last season and was a District 14 champion.
The 138-pound duties will be shared by senior John Zarro and sophomore Joe DiPasquale.
Junior Darwin Pena (cousin to Kenny) is the team’s 145-pounder. Darwin Pena was second in the district last year and competed in the region tournament.
The 160-pound class is being shared by seniors Andrew Aiello and Kevin Goudie, the latter coming off a solid football campaign.
Senior Jason Castellanos is a solid 171-pounder.
“He was hurt last year, breaking his hip,” DiPiano said. “But he’s healthy now. He was having a good season when he got hurt.”
The 182-pound class will be shared by junior Gerard D’Alessio and junior Lou Long.
At 195 pounds, the battle will be between senior Vin Scherer and junior Justin Bivona. At 220 pounds, sophomore Brian Mercado, a transfer from Illinois, will hold fort.
The team’s heavyweight is senior Adam Touah.
The Maroon Raiders were 10-17 in dual matches last year. DiPiano scheduled some tough teams because he thought he had the makings of a great group, but was hurt by some transfers.
“We went through the ringer a little last year,” DiPiano said. “But that got us ready for the District (14) and we saw them get at it a little and win. It was our third in a row and I was very pleased with it.”
DiPiano likes the makeup of this year’s team.
“I think we’re going to be better,” DiPiano said. “From what I see, we have a good group of hard working guys. I think that’s going to make us better come tournament time. We’re going to be much more competitive than we were last year.”
That’s good news for Nutley wrestling followers. From start to finish, it should be an exciting year.