Old and new coach Verdi is back to lead Prep wrestling; Kudos to Dickinson coach Drennan for milestone win; top fives

From left, Alex Leon, head coach Anthony Verdi, Nick Gronda and Connor Cortese have the St. Peter’s Prep wrestling team poised to win their 14th straight Hudson County Duals championship Saturday, Feb. 8 at Union City High School.
From left, Alex Leon, head coach Anthony Verdi, Nick Gronda and Connor Cortese have the St. Peter’s Prep wrestling team poised to win their 14th straight Hudson County Duals championship Saturday, Feb. 8 at Union City High School.

Anthony Verdi walked away once from being the head wrestling coach at St. Peter’s Prep, despite having the premier program in Hudson County and one of the finest in the NJSIAA Non-Pubic A North bracket.

Verdi had three young children who needed his attention, so he relinquished the coaching reins to Brian Innis.

But Verdi missed coaching. His children got a little older and his wife wanted him out of the house. So Verdi listened to his big brother – who happens to be the head football coach and athletic director Rich Hansen – and returned to be the head coach of the Marauders once again after missing the last five seasons.

“I think since I never coached any of these kids before, it gave everyone a fresh start,” said Verdi, who was a football and wrestling standout at Grand and Warren back in the 1990s and was an All-Hudson County offensive lineman on the 1994 Prep state championship team. “We have a bunch of great kids. I’m having a lot of fun coaching this time around. I’m very honored and grateful that Rich asked me to come back. I have very few expectations. I just want us to be competitive.”

The Marauders currently have a 5-6 dual meet record, but remain a solid favorite to win their 14th straight Hudson County Duals championship Saturday, Feb. 8 at Union City High School. They have enjoyed thrilling victories over state-ranked power St. Joseph of Montvale and Sparta, but have dropped three straight heading into the duals.

“When I came back, most of the schedule was already done,” Verdi said. “The teams that are good jump at the chance of knocking off a northern parochial team. But I like having a tough schedule. I knew we might struggle a little. Some of our sports have inexperienced wrestlers, but we can still compete in dual meets and that will get them better for the postseason. I just think it’s great that the county still has the Duals.”

And this year, the Hudson County Duals add a new team in Hoboken.

But getting back to the Marauders, they have a solid lineup in the lighter weights, but are counting on inexperienced kids to carry the heavier weight classes.

At 106 pounds is freshman Angelo Pellicci, who is already ranked among the top eight in his weight class in the state by NJ.com.

“He’s a solid wrestler who trains at Bitetto Trained [in Teterboro, with former state champion Chris Bitetto of Hackensack leading the way],” Verdi said of Pellicci. “He’s having a good freshman year.”

At 113 pounds is another freshman in D.J. Chavis, who is also highly regarded and state ranked.

“He’s turned some heads,” Verdi said of Chavis. “He’s won some big matches already.”

At 120 pounds is Patrick Adams, who advanced to the NJSIAA state championships in Atlantic City last season.

“He started off slow this year, but got a big win over St. Joe’s,” Verdi said. “He’s a confident kid who has come through for us.”

At 126 pounds is junior Sean Rendeiro, who just missed making the podium in Atlantic City last year.

“He’s a great kid and a tough wrestler,” Verdi said. “He’s pretty focused. He’s a goer. He gives it a tough six minutes.”

At 132 pounds is sophomore Felix Lettini, who was the team’s starter at 120 pounds last year and has gone up two weight classes, which isn’t easy. Lettini took fifth place at the Regions last year and has his sights set higher.

“Felix has a lot of talent,” Verdi said. “He goes hard for the full match.”

At 138 pounds is senior captain Connor Cortese, who was once a transfer from Chatham in Morris County.

“He’s a steady wrestler,” Verdi said. “He’s strong and smart, a positional wrestler.”

Senior Alex Leon is the fixture at 145 pounds. Leon has been so impressive this season that Verdi just named Leon as one of the team captains last week.

“He’s a great leader in the room,” Verdi said. “He’s a great kid who got his priorities straight. The other kids now look up to him. I think he’s turned the corner and has already jumped a level this year.”

Senior Nick Gronda has the wrestling pedigree, but recently suffered an injury that has kept him off the mat at 152 pounds.

“He’s still the captain in the room every day,” Verdi said of Gronda. “He still has the responsibility of a captain.”

In Gronda’s absence, junior Mike Pestand has been holding down the fort.

“He can slide anywhere between 132 and 152,” Verdi said. “He’s done a good job and won some matches.”

The 160-pound class is currently held by sophomore Roger Diaz.

“He has a lot of ability,” Verdi said. “He’s an aggressive kid who has a lot of skill. He’s been slowing down his matches. He relies on technique.”

Daniel Martinez, a 170-pound junior, has shown moments of brilliance even though he’s a first-year wrestler. He’s benefiting wrestling with the coaches.”

Verdi has an excellent coaching staff that consists of former Prep champions Anthony Pafumi, Connor Burkert, Mike Rohrman and Justin Frimmel, as well as Jersey City Fire Department member Mark Lee and Dillon Geoghan.

“It’s a young staff,” Verdi said. “At 42, I’m the old guy on the staff.”
Verdi has stopped going on the mats and drilling with his wrestlers, because on the third day of practice, he suffered a sprained MCL in his knee.

Junior Anthony Asante-Damso is the team’s 182-pounder. He’s another first year wrestler who is just learning the sport. The same can be said for the team’s 195-pounder Eddie Hernandez, a senior who just came out for the team this year.

And football standout Evan Scribner has joined the wrestling ranks this winter, coming out for the team for the first time as the team’s heavyweight. The team does not have a 220-pounder.

Needless to say, it’s been a battle in Verdi’s return, but things could improve with a championship at the Hudson County Duals.

The Marauders will have their share of wrestlers move on from District 13 in Scotch Plains, then Region 4 in Union.

“That’s our goal, to get them prepared for the postseason,” Verdi said…

Congrats to Dickinson head boys’ basketball coach Sean Drennan, who recently won the 300th game of his coaching career. Drennan was also once the head coach at Kean University, but he takes pride in coaching at the school where his legendary father, the late Bill “Red” Drennan, spent more than 20 years…

Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (15-2). 2. Hudson Catholic (12-5). 3. Snyder (13-4). 4. Marist (14-3). 5. Lincoln (11-3)…

Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (15-2) 2. Bayonne (16-2) 3. Marist (12-3) 4. Secaucus (12-2). 5. Lincoln (9-4). – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com