Soon after receiving the unexpected news New York State approved high-risk sports, including wrestling, to begin Feb. 1, Nassau County wrestling coaches sprung into action and devised a plan to align conferences based on ability rankings as opposed to school size.
Eleven teams formed Conference I, led by defending county champion MacArthur, including Hewlett. Bulldogs coach Stephen Jones liked the idea of extreme competition for each of the nine dual meets.
“It’s like an all-star division,” Jones said. “It’s a short season, so why not go up against the very best every day? The kids were pumped. They went from 0 to 100 in terms of excitement. They were upset about the likelihood of not having a season and the news really pumped them up.”
Jones said a lack of practice time didn’t allow for as much teaching as usual, but the Bulldogs still took care of business in most cases. They were ranked as high as fifth in the county after defeating Wantagh, Freeport, Uniondale and MacArthur.
Hewlett returned four All-County wrestlers, including senior Fletcher Goodman and sophomore Ariel Waldman. Goodman is vastly improved, Jones said, after finishing sixth in Nassau Division I at 160 pounds. “Fletcher is undefeated and dominating,” said Jones, who noted Goodman avenged two defeats to Freeport’s Jason Figueroa last winter with a 13-0 major decision at 172 pounds on Feb. 13.
Waldman was a county finalist a year ago. He was runner-up to MacArthur’s Matthew Huggard at 106. “Ariel just gets better every day and has a ton of potential,” Jones said. “He peaked at the perfect time last season and his confidence continues to grow.”
Junior Jacob Maiorano, third in the county at 220, picked up where he left off and secured some impressive victories in the early going, including against MacArthur. “Jacob is strong on his feet and explosive,” Jones noted.
Kirk Smith earned All-County as an eighth-grader by placing sixth at 99 and is just scratching the surface of his talents. He’s competed as high as 118 as a freshman. “He’s tough as nails,” Jones said. “He’ll grind out points and wear opponents down.”
Senior Mike Iannico, a captain along with Goodman, started strong at 132/138 and brings a non-stop motor. His persistence came in handy Feb. 17 when he rallied to defeat Plainedge’s AJ Deutsh, 8-6.
Juniors Jonathan Zenny and Josh Gendlin are returning county tournament qualifiers and leading the middle weights at 152 and 160 pounds, respectively. Zenny has pinned a few opponents and also won a hard-fought 3-2 battle over Freeport’s Pedrielin Collado. Gendlin won five of his first six bouts including a 5-2 decision over Wantagh’s Luke Janosko on Feb. 20.
Hewlett’s 39-22 win over defending county champ MacArthur on Feb. 24 was its most satisfying, Jones said. Sophomore Ryan Goodman (172) came through with a clutch pin to help seal the outcome.