Kearny wrestling team reloads for shortened season

The truncated and shifted high school wrestling season has had an effect on the entire Kearny High School wrestling program.

“It’s definitely different,” said Tony Carratura, Jr., who is in third season, taking over the program nurtured by his late father Tony, Sr. “Since I can remember, wrestling would go through Christmas. We had our own tournament then. We don’t have the numbers we had in the past. I think kids are just not comfortable coming out for wrestling in a pandemic.”

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the reason why wrestling didn’t begin practices in November for matches in December, followed by Christmas tournaments like the Kearny Invitational, one of the biggest and best local wrestling tournaments around.

The NJSIAA devised a plan that they are convinced is the safest approach, so the high school wrestling season is jammed into a six-week period from now until late April. There are no tri-matches or quad-matches to be held this time, just straight head-to-head opponents with a maximum of 15 matches. There are no district tournaments, only regions with 16 wrestlers in each weight class, based on rankings, will be invited to participate.

So there is a lot going on to get this wrestling season going. Of course, health and safety regulations are in place, like washing the mat clean after every bout and wrestlers being checked before and after matches for the virus.

After all, the national CDC has asked the general public to remain six feet apart and wear a mask at all times. That simply can’t be done during a wrestling match. Talk about your close to the partner idea. Wrestlers are literally on top of each other.

“There’s always something we have to be careful about,” Carratura said.

One of the variants that the Kardinals had to deal with had nothing to do with COVID.

“We lost 10 seniors to graduation, eight of them being starters,” Carratura said. “They were all contributors. Of that group, we had six region qualifiers. It’s a lot to lose.”

However, Carratura remains upbeat and positive.

“We have a good junior class back from last year,” Carratura said. “We also have some kids from the (Kearny) Rec (recreation) program that keeps building and building. We want to win now and all the time.”

The basically new team has forced Carratura to have a different approach.

“Last year, I would have wrestled anyone in the state,” said Carratura, taking on the “bring all comers” philosophy started by his father. “We were tough and experienced. This year, we have to have a different mindset. We ended last year and still had plans for the summer.”

Carratura planned on having an outdoor summer wrestling league.

“But that all got shot down,” Carratura said. “So right now, I’m not sure I am where I want to be. I think the kids are all excited to just get out of the house and have something positive to shoot for. We’re all hoping for the best.”

The Kardinals do not have a 106-pounder, but their 113-pounder is someone to write home about. Senior Daniel Silvera is back for his final go-round with the Kardinals, off his qualifying for the regions last year and winning more than 20 matches.

“He’s tall for his weight,” Carratura said. “He came up through the rec grogram (Kearny Recreation), so I’ve known him for a while. He’s a smart kid who does a lot of work on his own. He’s into martial arts, so that keeps him in shape.”

Freshman Joshua Baeza is the third in line of Baeza brothers that have come through the Kearny system, joining graduated Justin and current standout Jacob. Joshua is the 120-pounder.

“He’s a solid wrestler,” Carratura said. “He comes in now and is looking to make some noise. He was undefeated in eighth grade.”

Junior Adam Michaels is the 126-pounder.

“He’s never really had a full season,” Carratura said. “He has wrestled phenomenally so far with us. In my mind, he won the state tournament match against Wayne Hills. He just had to stay off his back and he did.”

At 132 pounds lies the hope for Kearny’s next state champion. Junior Jacob Baeza is healthy, having successfully rehabilitated a serious knee injury that required surgery last March.

“He should be ready to go,” Carratura said of Baeza. “It’s been a little different for him, because he wasn’t allowed to drill with anyone. He’s looking tough so far, like a man on a mission.”

The area has two wrestlers on that state title mission – Lyndhurst’s Dylan Weaver and Kearny’s Jacob Baeza.

Sophomore Jaden Moreno is the team’s 138 pounder.

“He moves well,” Carratura said. “He’s a smart kid who deserves his shot.”

Junior Dallas Sanchez is the team’s 145 pounder.

“He’s been behind some of the other guys, but he had some time with the Rec program,” Carratura said. “This should be a good experience.”

Junior Israel Formaza is the team’s 152-pounder.

“He filled in for a few guys last year and was a little above .500,” Carratura said. “He put in the work. I’m looking for him to have a big season for us.”

Junior Alex Amorim is the team’s resident hero at 160 pounds.

“We bumped him around a few times last year,” Carratura said. “We didn’t know what to expect from him. We called him ‘The Undertaker’, because he delivered big win after big win.”

Amorim was third in the districts last year.

At 170 pounds is junior Jaden Figueroa.

“For the last two years-plus, he’s been with Alex,” Carratura said. “He broke his collarbone in the last four seconds of his last match, but he’s come in stronger this year. He’ll try anything.”

Junior Matt Udis is the Kardinals’ 195-pounder.

“He wrestled a little bit for us,” Carratura said. “He was in and out of the lineup. He’s a big kid who keeps getting better.”

The Kardinals’ 220-pounder is senior Devin Narvarez, who has “some big shoes to fill,” according to Carratura, mentioning the graduated Andrew Mauricio.

The Kards don’t have a heavyweight, so the Kards will likely forfeit the weight.

“We have a lot of kids who need varsity experience,” Carratura said.

Good news: The Kards do not have a senior.

“They’re all back next year,” Carratura said.

That’s the most refreshing news of all. This year is like gravy on the Thanksgiving Day turkey. You can take it or leave it.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
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Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”