The Huntington High School varsity wrestling team has traditionally been a veteran laden squad, but last winter the Blue Devils introduced five eighth graders to county opponents and each of them appears well on their way to notable mat success.
The Huntington wrestling program dates to a high school club created in 1933, but in the 87 years since then the Blue Devils have never had five eighth graders on the team at one time. That changed this past winter when Sam Nicotra, Max Casiano, Christian St. John, Dante Salgado and Teddy Leavy all made the jump from the middle school to the high school team.
Three of the eighth graders, who all attend classes at Finley during the school day, have extensive wrestling experience with most of them being introduced to the sport shortly after they learned to walk. They all showed flashes of brilliance on the varsity level this past winter.
Huntington head coach Travis Smith and assistant coaches Michael Marinello and Jamie St. John are pleased with how the “Fab Five” performed during the recent season. The sport of high school wrestling is a grueling and definitely not for the faint of heart. But the eighth graders fit in perfectly well with their high school counterparts and were among the hardest working wrestlers in the practice room.
Casiano shined throughout the season, compiling a record of 19-14 against some very tough competition. The Blue Devil coaching staff believes he is ready to challenge Suffolk’s best as soon as next season when he will be just a freshman. The eighth grader has advanced skills, especially on his feet and pulled off some big victories for Huntington, including several upsets.
“Winning 19 varsity matches as an eighth grader at one of the middle weight classes is not an easy thing to do,” Smith said. “Max gave us more than a taste of what he is capable of doing. We are really excited to coach him the next four years. We think he has a great career ahead.”
Nicotra went 14-12 on varsity and St. John had a mark of 14-11. Both are extremely hard working in the practice room and incredibly scrappy on the mat during competition. The pair is on the cusp of being consistent winners on the varsity level and the coaches feel that with continued work and improvement each of them could develop into mat stars.
“Sam rarely says a word in practice, preferring to just work as hard as possible for two hours,” Smith said. “He gave us everything he had and won some important matches, including a crucial match at Half Hollow Hills East. He is developing into an excellent wrestler and we expect him to do an awful lot of winning down the road.”
St. John has quickly earned the respect of opposing coaches. “Christian can never be counted out of a match,” Smith said. “He’s already doing some things very well for an eighth grader on the varsity and his sometimes unorthodox style isn’t easy to defend against. We see him rapidly becoming one of the best at his weight in the county.”
Leavy went 9-4 and displayed above average strength for an eighth grader. He picked up several pins despite squaring off against mostly upperclassmen. The teenager is still another hardnosed competitor who displayed a very aggressive style. “Teddy wrestled some very tough kids, but he never backed down,” Smith said. “He improved as the year went along and enjoyed a very nice season with us. He is going to be one of our key guys moving forward.”
Salgado was slowed by injuries, but he still won four varsity matches. The teenager is also a dynamic soccer player who was called the “best all-around athlete in the league.” That athleticism hasn’t been lost on the Blue Devil wrestling staff. “Dante is coming along nicely,” Smith said. “We have high expectations for him.”
The Fab Five compiled an overall varsity mark of 60-45. “We are really happy with how they did individually and as a group,” Smith said. “Each of them proved they belonged on the high school team and this year of experience is going to serve them very well next season.”