Despite having some big shoes to fill on its roster, the Raritan High School wrestling team is primed to remain a postseason favorite this season.
The Rockets lost four District 22 medalists to graduation, including standout Dylan Seidenberg, who won 34 matches a year ago with just three losses. Luckily, the Rockets have talented freshman and sophomore classes ready to play a larger role.
Christian Sookdeo went 23-11 as a freshman, while Russell Benson went 28-9 and tied for second on the team in wins. He ultimately placed third at districts. Sookdeo and Benson, along with fellow sophomore A.J. Erven and freshmen Charles Barrale and Anthony Aquilano, should give Raritan a young but formidable lineup in the lower weight classes. Junior Jimmy VanFechtman gives the squad some experience there.
The upper half of Raritan’s roster brings back more experience with several grapplers who started for the first time last season. Seniors Adam Bryant, Aaron Daniels, Mike Gillen and Joe Stabile are coming off seasons with losing records, but head coach Rob Nucci said they will flip the script this winter.
Meanwhile, the anchor of the team is senior Nick Bohal, who returns at 160 pounds after winning a silver medal at the District 22 tournament in his junior year. The Rockets also hold a wild card in Jarred Lonnay. The senior missed nearly all of the 2014-15 season after going down with an injury.
“What we’ve been known for is we don’t have that star power, but we put guys who can win in every weight class,” said Nucci, who has guided the Rockets to 10 Shore Conference A Central Division titles in 11 years. “It’s a team sport, as much as people want to say it’s an individual sport.”
In addition to their Shore Conference division championship, the Rockets also ranked fourth as a team in District 22 and advanced to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II final. Nucci acknowledged that the team has less experience this time around, yet the Rockets always seem to pave a path through the postseason.
“I don’t know if there’s a harder working team around,” Nucci said.
Raritan got off to a solid start this year, as the team placed third at the Neptune Classic. Erven (120 pounds) and Benson (126) earned second-place finishes. VanFechtman (132), Bohal (160) and sophomore Ethan Wolf (220) took home bronze medals.
In what could prove to be the most important matchup of the season, Raritan had a road trip Dec. 30 to face A Central rival St. John Vianney High School, which may be the biggest threat to Raritan’s reign over the division.
Raritan is also marking its calendar for the state tournament, where the Rockets are typically a strong contender. Nucci, who is in his 15th season as Raritan’s head coach, thinks the Rockets have what it takes to head back to the finals.
“Hopefully this is our year,” he said, recalling last season’s loss in the sectional championship to Delaware Valley Regional High School.
Given the team’s young group of starters, Nucci sees a bright future for the Rockets.
“We’re on an upward climb. This is probably the first of three very good seasons in my opinion,” Nucci said.
The Rockets traveled to Manchester Township High School Dec. 28 before their showdown with the Lancers. Raritan will return home for a Jan. 2 match against North Hunterdon High School.