Led by a big group of seniors, the Pilgrim wrestling team put together a solid season a year ago. The Pats finished .500 in dual meets, scored 39 points at states and had a few individual standouts that made waves.
Those seniors are all gone now, which means Pilgrim is essentially starting over. The roster features only five seniors, five juniors and just a handful of wrestlers who were on the team last year. Jordan DeSisto, a fourth-place finisher at states last year, is gone, as is fifth-place finisher Mark Lenz.
To boot, the Pats have 10 freshmen, the large majority of which have never wrestled in their lives.
It’s the very definition of rebuilding.
"We're real young,” head coach Tom O’Connor said. “It's a good young group. It bodes well for the future. Right now, we'll have some growing pains to get through."
That said, O’Connor has no complaints. It’s a dedicated group, and one that should improve as the season goes on, giving Pilgrim a nucleus it can build around for years to come.
“They work hard,” O’Connor said. “This is probably the most fun I've had in wrestling in a while. No excuses. All they want to do is wrestle. No one is sitting out, no one is complaining, no school issues."
It helps that there are a few veterans back, even if Pilgrim doesn’t have them in spades.
Senior Adam Landroche qualified for the state meet last season at 113 and will wrestle for the Pats in the same weight class this year. He placed fourth in Division II sectionals last season.
"He's probably our most decorated returner,” O’Connor said. “If he could go to states, place in the top six in states would be a real good year for him."
Another returner is senior Jacob McMullen, who will likely be wrestling in the 170 or 182-pound weight class depending on how everything shakes out.
Junior Griffin Potter is also back and looks like he’ll wrestle somewhere near 182.
"If he wrestles out in front of people, he should (have similar success to Landroche),” O’Connor said. “He's got some skill, he just doesn't like to show people it."
At 220 pounds, junior Mike Pereira should be one of the team’s better wrestlers, as he won two matches at the state meet last season after qualifying at 195 pounds.
Sophomore John Pierce wrestled as a freshman last year and returns at 145, while senior Mike Turchetta was in the mix last season and should factor in around 195.
Then it’s the new guys. At 106, freshman John Castaldi is leading the way despite having never wrestled before. At 120, freshman James Kozusko is the frontrunner, and he has one year of Warwick PAL wrestling experience. The 132-pound class belongs to freshman Jacob Zuller, who does have a history in the sport after a strong junior high career.
"He's a very decorated freshman,” O’Connor said. “He has a good shot at being in the top three at freshman states and probably placing in the sectionals."
At 138, sophomore Devon Heron is the likely candidate, and he too has never wrestled. At 152, freshman Garrison Potter – the younger brother of Griffin Potter – will slide in and has a strong wrestling background. His other brother, Gage, was a state meet qualifier last year.
"He's been wrestling quite some time,” O’Connor said. “He's very good."
Sophomore Nick Carpenter could see some time at 170, and there are a few others who could see some mat time too. Right now, the team won’t be filling 126 or the heavyweight class.
"They work hard,” O’Connor said. “They'll do everything we ask them and they're learning fast."
The early results have been good. Pilgrim wrestled in the Wilson Cup/SRI Newspapers Wrestling Tournament over the weekend at North Kingstown and had six wrestlers advance deep into the tournament.
"For everyone not being at weight as much as we were, it was pretty good,” O’Connor said. “I only had two kids wrestle at weight. Everyone else was up a weight class. Maybe they'll surprise me."
Still, it might be a struggle early on, as all the new faces try and find their footing in what is an ever-improving Division II. They’ll see some of the best competition early on, as Pilgrim was scheduled to take on a solid Mt. Pleasant team on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time, and then host Exeter-West Greenwich – one of the leading contenders for the state crown – today at 7 p.m.
The Pats will work, get better and build toward the future.
"That's the key – like I said, they're working hard,” O’Connor said. “I'm repeating myself, because that's their best attribute. They don't stop doing what you ask them to do."