Headed into the 2016-2017 season with a beefed-up roster, it’s no wonder that the Indian River High School wrestling team has some beefed up expectations as well — ready to take a run at both the Henlopen South title and the state duals this February.
With a number of key returning upperclassmen and a talented incoming freshman class, head coach Jeff Windish and his squad will have 34 wrestlers hit the mats this year — exactly double the size of last year’s squad, which totaled just 17.
“We have numbers this year — they can all contribute,” said Windish of the 13 freshmen joining the ranks, five or six of whom he said could crack the varsity lineup.
“We always set our exceptions high — we want to compete in the South, but we want to compete for a state title as well. This year, with the pieces coming together and if we continue to work the way that we’re working, I think that’s an obtainable goal.”
The usual suspects…
Leading the way this season will again be captains Jared Arlett and Zeke Marcozzi, who each enter their senior campaigns looking to bring home not only their first career individual state titles, but to go down in IR wrestling history as members of the school’s “100 career wins club” as well.
After taking third at the state tournament during both his sophomore and junior seasons, Marcozzi makes the jump to 170 currently sitting at 93 career wins as of a 4-0 first-place finish at the Bulldog Invitational held Brandywine High School to open the season on Saturday, Dec. 3.
Already well on his way to 100, not only does Marcozzi want to become only the fifth wrestler in IR history to reach the mark, but he wants to set the school’s all-time record.
Marcozzi noted, “127 wins is the record. I don’t only want to be up there on the banner — I want to surpass everyone.”
“On Zeke’s count, his goal since he’s come in as a freshman has been to win a state title,” added Windish. “He controls his own destiny when it comes to that. If he puts the work in and does what he has to do, he can wrestle with anybody in the state.”
With 65 career wins after a 5-0 showing and his own first-place finish at the Bulldog Invitational, Arlett will also jump up a weight class this season, competing at 132 and aiming for a state title after being sidelined from the state tournament with an injury suffered at conferences last February.
“I’ve come this far, and I haven’t been on the podium yet,” said Arlett. “This year, I’m really focusing. It’s my last year — the only year left I have to put myself up on top.”
“They put in the work in the off-season, and they’re doing the right things,” said Windish. “Anything less than a state championship to those two is going to be a letdown.”
While Arlett and Marcozzi headline the senior class, also back to help lead the way are seniors Arturo Salas, John Keller and Jessie O’Neal, as well as Joey Ciriello, who is returning after a one-year hiatus from the sport.
Keller makes his way into the lineup at 195, while Salas returns to take over at 160 after being selected as an alternate at the state tournament last year in what was his first-ever season on the mats.
O’Neal is fresh off a first-place finish at 126 at the Yellow Jacket Invitational held at Newark High School on Saturday, Dec. 10.
“This year, we’re looking for big things out of John,” Windish said of some of his key seniors. “Joey’s back. He adds a piece to the puzzle here, and he works hard in the room. That’s the one thing is we have a really hard working group of kids. They all wanna learn; they all come ready to work.”
“Arturo, I want to see him in the states,” added Marcozzi. “From last year to this year, he’s grown so much. He’s showing that he wants it as much as any of us wants it and that he’s willing to fight for it.”
Both Keller and Salas started their seasons off on a strong note as well, each taking second at the Bulldog Invitational.
The not so usual suspects…
As for the youth infusion, the Indians have already seen production from freshmen Ta’Jon Knight at 120 and Will Rayne at 106 — both of whom went 5-0 with first-place finishes to start the season and were conference champions as eighth-graders at Selbyville Middle School last season.
At heavyweight, they’ll see freshman Ramon Turner, who’s coming off a fall season in which he earned a starting role at defensive tackle on the varsity football team. Turner’s older brother, Reshawn Turner, returns to the lineup fully healthy after being sidelined for most of his sophomore campaign on the gridiron.
Freshman Will Saylor could also make an impact this season, at 106.
“If not this year, I can’t wait to come back to see what’s to come for him, because, honestly, he’s one of the most technical kids that I’ve seen,” Arlett said of the 88-pound Saylor. “He’s got so many moves; he’s just not big enough yet.”
While seasoned seniors, such as Arlett, are impressed by the underclass talent, they were even more impressed with their leadership.
“Honestly, they don’t act like freshmen,” said Arlett. “It’s like we have a room full of juniors and seniors. These freshmen are working hard. We have so much potential to take down teams full of upperclassmen.
“It’s something that we’ve haven’t had since I’ve been here. We’ve always had smaller teams, so to be a captain this year of a team like this is something that’s really special.”
“They wanna be out here. They wanna know more,” added Marcozzi. “As a team, we get along like a family. We all push each other. When you see the next person working harder than you, it motivates you to work harder than them.”
Returning to the coaching staff, along with Windish, this year are assistants Steve Wilkinson, Phil Townsend and Nate Kortvelsky, joined by newcomer Jacob Miller.
After taking second place as a team at the Bulldog Invitational and following with a second place finish out of 22 teams at the Yellow Jacket Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 10, the high expectations for the Indians this season are perhaps getting even higher.
The teamed saw four first-place finishes at that event, with Knight at 120, O’Neal at 126, Arlett at 132 and Marcozzi at 170, and Keller picking up a second place at 195.
Gearing up next for the Beast of the East tournament at the University of Delaware, they’ll finally get some home matches on Thursday, Dec. 29, and Friday, Dec. 30, when they host the Battle of the Beach at Indian River High School before getting into duals at Laurel on Wednesday, Jan. 4.
“We’ve barely even started the season yet, and we’re already growing close as a team. I can’t wait to see what’s to come,” said Arlett. “Indian River wrestling this year is something that it hasn’t been in a while. It used to be something special, and I think this is the year that it’s going to come back. We’re looking to be a powerhouse; we want success.”
“We also want the community to come out and support us as much as they can,” added Marcozzi. “We’re definitely going to be fighting for it.”