When the summer was in full blaze under the hot July sun, Shane Stanek was busy putting together a competitive schedule for his still fledgling Hoboken High School wrestling team.
“I had 17 matches scheduled,” said Stanek, who began his second season heading the Redwings after initiating the sport as varsity last year. “We were all set.”
But then, the coronavirus spread into places like Hoboken, shutting down all sports as safety precautions. It was fine at first, because Stanek was certain that the pandemic would subside by the start of the wrestling season.
“When the state [the NJSIAA] said that we could only have dual meets, we had to change the schedule around,” Stanek said. “But then every time we got close to having a match, that school would cancel on us.”
When the season finally began last month in a misplaced six-week sprint, Stanek was fielding an undermanned team to begin with.
“We had a lot of athletes who were interested in wrestling in November who didn’t come out now,” Stanek said. “A lot of kids and their parents still had concerns over COVID.”
Stanek said that he had a major concern as well.
“My biggest concern was making sure the kids stayed healthy,” Stanek said. “It’s a basically new program. We just started last year. We did have some kids who came out this time for the first time and they’re still learning the sport. They’re young and they’re improving every day.”
But get this: The Redwings did not compete in a dual meet until last Wednesday when they faced Union City. Six other dual meets were canceled.
Stanek can’t worry about the future.
“Who knows what next year will look like?” Stanek said. “I’m just hoping the kids we have will be here. They’ve been practicing hard and conditioning hard every day. I give them credit. They haven’t had matches, but they’re coming to practice. That’s the most important thing. They want to be here. They make me very proud of them, make me proud that I’m their coach. It has to be hard on them not having any matches. But they keep coming back.”
Stanek has a core group of six dedicated wrestlers who have been practicing every single day.
One of those dedicated souls is senior Anthony Henriquez, who was the Hudson Reporter Football Most Valuable Player for 2020. Henriquez never wrestled before last season, but he won his first 10 matches and steamrolled to the district and region tournaments.
Henriquez is wrestling at 220 pounds this season.
“He’s our captain,” Stanek said. “I think he’s improved about 10 times since last year. He was really looking forward to this season. I know he’s a little frustrated that he hasn’t wrestled, but I’m trying to make him see the positives of it. I think he’s just grateful to be able to come to practice. I think he was all set to be one of the best wrestlers in his weight class. He’s developed a bigger arsenal of moves, about four or five different moves. He’s more athletic now as a wrestler.”
No questioning Henriquez’s athletic prowess.
Twin brothers Christopher and Rocco Riccardi are also mainstays on the Redwing roster. Chris is the 160-pounder and Rocco weighs in at 182 pounds. Both Riccardis are obviously the same age as juniors. Rocco Riccardi finished fourth in the district tournament last year.
“They’re more experienced on the mat,” Stanek said. “They drill with each other every day. I’d say they’re about even. They certainly battle it out.”
Senior Ahmad Assaid is the team’s 195-pounder.
“He’s a natural,” Stanek said. “He’s a very smart kid in the classroom.”
Need proof? Assaid is headed to Yale in the fall.
“When we’re teaching him a move, he grasps it right away,” Stanek said.
The Redwings have two wrestlers battling at heavyweight. Amazing how they don’t have any wrestlers in their lighter weights and have two heavyweights.
Junior Christopher Figueroa and sophomore Glenn Galapon are the two Redwing big fellas who battle it out to see who gets the chance to wrestle. No question they are both battle tested.
It’s tough to compete with an undermanned squad.
“My kids are trying to win every match,” Stanek said. “It’s all COVID-related. Prior to COVID, we had 16, 17 kids show up. The concerns with COVID knocked them out.”
Except for the fighting six. These Redwings are tested tough…
Late Thursday night, St. Peter’s Prep talented junior basketball star Mark Armstrong, the Hudson Reporter Player of the Year last year, announced his intentions to attend Villanova University in the fall of 2022.
Armstrong selected Villanova over a strong contingency of seven other big-time college basketball powerhouses. We will have more with the Prep superstar hopefully next week to discuss his selection to join head coach Jay Wright in the Philadelphia suburbs next year…
The baseball and softball seasons are set to begin next week and we will have more previews about the area’s top teams and players. Right now, there are plans to have a Hudson County Tournament in both baseball and softball, which has to be splendid news to those kids who missed out on the chance to play for a county crown last year.
Who are the best teams? Make sure to get next week’s editions…–Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com