At 11-1, the East Varsity Wrestling team has surprised many of their fans and critics thus far this season. Ranked 13th in South Jersey by the Courier Post, East is following up a spectacular, district-winning season with yet another tremendous performance.After losing vital starters Neil Hooley (171 pounds), Mike Lussier (152 pounds), Daniel Berger (189 pounds), Ben Shore (275 pounds) and East’s all-time wins leader, Justin Bonitatis (160 pounds), no one expected the team to be able to fill the gaps left by the graduating seniors, who took eight out of the fourteen starting positions.
“We were really nervous about losing all of our starting wrestlers, but we worked really hard and some kids have been wrestling well so it has been a good season so far,” said Jason Keesal (’07), a four year varsity starter, and the current 160-pounder.
Unranked in the pre-season, the eight gaps seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. However, many different factors have helped East in their surprisingly successful season.
“We prepared for the loss of the seniors [at the end of] the last season,” said Kaleef King (’08), who is currently 13-5 as a first year heavyweight starter. “Everyone came back to practice and we made some changes, but it has worked out so far.”
Other members of the team attribute the record to a shift from an individualistic attitude, to a more team oriented one.
“Last year was a bunch of individual wrestlers. This year if someone is slacking, the rest of the team makes up for it,” said Andre Harmon (’08), who has drastically improved every year and now boasts an impressive 16-2 record.
Current captains, Jesse Cohen (’07), Frank Dolan (’07) and Jason Keesal (’07) have all had a large impact on the moral of the team through their diligent work-ethic and excellent performances.
“Our outstanding leadership in our captains…has helped us stay focused in all of our matches,” said John Casey, a three year varsity starter who is currently 15-2.
Both Cohen and Dolan were selected to the Olympic Conference 1st Team in addition to their being selected for the All Group IV 2nd Team last season.
East’s first “statement” victory came against a strong Oakcrest team early in the season.
“Oakcrest…had just beaten Absegami, who is traditionally known as a power-house in South Jersey. It was a good team victory,” said Cohen, whose record stands at 15-2.
Despite losing to conference and district rival Cherokee in hard-fought battle, the team remains optimistic about their chances at a repeat victory at this year’s districts tournament.
“We’re a really close team, and we all really believe in each other,” said Steve Pestridge (’09), the current 125-pounder. “This has really helped us a lot this year, we should be able to accomplish anything.”
David Convissar (’08), the current 189-pounder and two year varsity starter has wrestled his way to a 14-2 record, while Dolan’s stands at 14-3.
East wrestles 10th ranked Seneca in their next match which might prove to be one of the most decisive head-to-head matches this season.