Despite going 25-6 as a junior, last year was a struggle for Kearny’s Joshua Baeza. Competing at 132 pounds often had Baeza’s focus more on making weight than technique.
A bump up to 138 pounds for this season has made a significant difference.
“In the beginning of the season, we talked it over and just were like, you go to 138, it’s going to be easy, you’ll be fine,” head coach Tony Carratura Jr. said. “You could probably go to 132, but are you going to be miserable and not happy and not have fun this last year?”
“Last year going to 132, it was tough,” Baeza said. “It was difficult. I had to work twice as hard, sweat twice as much. Now, I don’t feel so sluggish and dehydrated after weighing in. I eat, maybe, sip on some water, get electrolytes in. I just feel ready to go. I don’t feel drained or anything.”
Those improved pre-match feelings have led to an improved performance on the mat. Baeza enters February with a perfect 24-0 record after winning three matches in Saturday’s quad at River Dell. Two of those were by pin, as were victories earlier this week in duals against Secaucus and Bayonne.
Baeza’s stellar season makes him The Observer Athlete of the Week.
“I actually think it’s insane,” Baeza said about the streak. “I just kept wrestling my matches and focusing on the next match. I didn’t realize (the streak) until I hit 20 wins and my friend told me that it was my 20th win. I didn’t even know. I was just so focused on my next match.
“Each match I keep getting more confident.”
“He’s had that special something since he was young and we’ve always been waiting for it,” said Carratura. “He had that something since he was little. When we took over the rec program, he went to the states and just went on a run and started pinning kids that he was losing to before.”
With older brothers Justin and Jacob wrestling in rec and at Kearny High School, Joshua practically grew up on the mat. In Joshua, Carratura sees the throwing ability and explosiveness of Jacob, a two-time state tournament qualifier, and the mental awareness of Justin on the mat.
“They influenced me a lot,” Joshua Baeza said. “(Justin) never wrestled before (high school) so when he did it, it was like a new sport that I was also being introduced to. Watching Jacob wrestle against even higher competition made me really think that knowing he could do that, I could do it too.”
At 5-foot-9, Joshua Baeza is taller than the typical lighter weight wrestler, which he feels is something he can use to his advantage.
“I can get to (opponent’s) legs at a point they can’t. I can get to cradles or even tilts and points they can’t. I have the extra step on them,” Baeza said. “I never take (my height) as anything bad. I always think that if I’m longer, that’s even better.”
Baez takes his undefeated strength into the Hudson County Duals this coming weekend where he and his Kardinal teammates could potentially face a St. Peter’s Prep team ranked No. 3 in the state.
Later in February, Baeza will head off to districts and regions where he aims to be just the seventh Kearny wrestler to win a region title and the first since the legendary Dave Cordoba in 2000.
“He’s dangerous against anybody and I tell him that all the time,” Carratura said. “I don’t care who’s out there, he has a shot against anybody that’s stepping across from him.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)