The Kearny High School wrestling program suffered a gigantic loss last year, when veteran head coach and wrestling lifer Tony Carratura died after a battle with cancer.
So when the time came to look for a replacement to the coaching legend, it made sense to look no further than the Carratura living room.
Tony Carratura Jr. was the obvious and logical choice to replace his late father as the head coach of the Kardinals.
The younger Carratura had his finger on the pulse of the high school program, considering that he has been coaching the Kearny Recreation feeder program for years and he also serves as a guidance counselor for the district’s eighth graders.
“I like to think I knew the kids well,” Carratura, Jr. said. “We try to be like one big family. I feel like we have a cohesive group. We always had the Rec kids come to the high school practices, get to see what it’s all about. I remember when I was a kid growing up, it meant so much to me to be able to go to the high school practices. All I wanted to do was to get the chance to wear that Kearny singlet one day. So that’s definitely the plan now.”
Carratura, Jr. said that he had a good feeling about taking over the program that his father headed for the last two decades.
“I loved working with the younger guys and my Dad had the high school,” Carratura, Jr. said. “So when the time came, I didn’t want it to be someone outside of our group to take over. I had to step up. We have a great group of guys helping out and working with all of our kids. I wouldn’t be able to do it without their help.”
Carratura, Jr. said that he felt great going out on the mat the first day of practice.
“It reminded me of my father,” Carratura, Jr. said. “It works out well.”
Carratura, Jr. said that he is getting incredible assistance from coaches like Rich Stacey, Miguel Matos, Joe Chew and Nick Machado. They all bounce back and forth between the Kearny Recreation program and the high school team, making it a true feeder system.
The Kearny Recreation program also has coaches in Matt McCurrie, Owen Gonzalez, Rob DiGravina and brother John DiGravina.
“It’s really been a simple transition,” Carratura, Jr. said. “I’ve been able to spend time with all of the kids.”
The Kardinals fared well in their annual Holiday Tournament to begin the season two weeks ago, a nine-team gathering that packed the Kearny High gym.
The Kardinals were always one of the busiest teams in northern New Jersey under the tutelage of the elder Carratura and that system will not change with his son in charge. The Kardinals have already defeated Columbia in a dual meet and dropped a dual meet to Butler.
By the time the district tournament rolls around in late February, the Kardinals will have competed in as many as 25 dual meets weather permitting. The elder Carratura believed that the Kardinals became better wrestlers competing against other teams instead of practices with themselves. The younger Carratura feels the same way.
“We’re going to go after everyone,” Carratura, Jr. said. “That’s the Kearny way.”
Going through the Kardinals’ lineup, lightweights through heavyweights, freshman Daniel Silvera is the 106-pounder.
“Daniel has been one of our guys from the Rec program,” Carratura, Jr. said. “He’s been wrestling for a while now. He took fourth place in our tournament. He’s a little light for the weight class, but he moves well. He just needs a little more muscle.”
Freshman Jacob Baeza is the Kards’ 113-pounder. His older brother Justin was a standout with the Kardinals in recent years.
“I expect big things from him,” Carratura, Jr. said. “He was a state place finisher twice for the Rec program. He moves well and is one of our more consistent wrestlers.”
Junior Steven Silva is a returnee from a year ago. Silva is the team’s 120-pounder. He won more than 20 matches last year.
“He has all the tools to be a good one,” Carratura, Jr. said. “He’s chiseled.”
Silva finished second in the Kearny Holiday tournament, losing a tough bout in the finals.
“I expect big things from him as well,” Carratura, Jr. said.
Sophomore Vin Ruccatano is the team’s 126-pounder. Ruccatano was fourth in the districts last year and was fourth in the recent Kearny tourney.
Sophomore Matt Molina is the team’s 132-pounder.
“Matt put in a lot of time in the offseason, dropping from 152 (pounds),” Carratura, Jr. said. “He’s done well so far.”
Sophomore Kyle Osanti is the team’s 138-pounder. Carratura, Jr. is high on Osanti.
“He has all the talent in the world,” Carratura, Jr. said. “He takes the nicest shots and has very strong legs.”
Osanti was fourth in the Kearny tournament.
Sophomore David Duran is another returnee from last year. The 145-pound Duran won 20 matches last year.
“He’s just a great coachable kid,” Carratura, Jr. said of Duran, who has been hobbled somewhat by an ankle injury.
There are two Kardinals battling for mat time at 152 pounds in senior Artie Smith and sophomore Adam Chew.
Junior Travis Witt, one of the best athletes in the school, considering he’s the quarterback for the football team in the fall and a solid baseball player in the spring, holds fort at 160 pounds. Witt also won more than 20 matches last year and was fourth at the districts. He took second in the Kearny tournament to start the new season.
Senior Chris Lopez is the Kards’ 170-pounder. Lopez won 12 matches last year and started the new year strong with a third place finish in the Kearny tourney.
“He needs to be more of a leader in the room for us,” Carratura, Jr. said. “He’s one of the only ones that I didn’t have before.”
Junior Noah Ramadan is the team’s 182-pounder. Ramadan has transferred to Kearny from St. Peter’s Prep, where he didn’t wrestle last year.
“He’s a ju jitsu guy,” Carratura, Jr. said. “He’s wrestling very well right now.”
Ramadan was third at the Kearny tournament.
The Kards have twin brothers occupying the 195-pound and 220-pound slots.
Sophomore Matthew Mauricio is the 195-pounder.
“He wrestled awesomely at the (Kearny Holiday) tournament,” Carratura, Jr. said. “He had more wins in the first weekend than he had all of last year.”
Twin brother Andrew is the 220-pounder. Both brothers took third place in the season opening tourney.
“They both wrestled excellently,” Carratura, Jr. said.
Senior Paul Fadeski is the team’s heavyweight.
“He just needs to get a little more confidence,” Carratura said of Fadeski, who was also a member of the Kearny football team in the fall. “He can dominate. He just needs to get that into his head. He dominated in scrimmages. We need to get that out of him in matches.”
Needless to say, Carratura is excited to be in control of the program that his father so adored.
“I love seeing the progress the kids are making,” Carratura said. “The kids we have love wrestling. We have a lot of kids that are interested in wrestling.”