Indian River’s wrestling team has been tested early and often this season but has prevailed. The wrestlers slugged their way through December tournaments against tough regional competition to earn second place at Indian River’s “Battle at the Beach,” sixth place at Stephen Decatur’s “War on the Shore” and ninth at AI DuPont’s Tiger Classic. And they are now pinning their conference down.
The Indians downed Dover in a possible prequel to a State Dual tournament earlier this season and have since beaten three other conference opponents.
Milford and Laurel came to town for a double-dual meet on Jan. 4 but neither would emerge victorious, and Delmar hardly held a candle to the Indians in a 59-18 drubbing on Jan. 6.
Milford happens to be Indian River’s biggest competitor for the Southern Henlopen Conference and the match lived up to the billing.
“Conference matches sell themselves,” explained Head Coach Jeff Windish, “The conference title is on the line and we have to get up no matter what. We, as a coaching staff, have let them know that every match is important. That’s how we enter every week and the guys are buying into it.”
Indian River edged out Milford 39-37 in a bend-but-don’t-break performance. The Indians earned the first four matches but Milford battled back and wrecked havoc on the middle of its lineup. Bo Wilkinson (wrestling at 135 pounds), Harry Morris (140) and Richard Galluzzo (145) each were pinned in Milford’s comeback effort before Dominique Morris (152) could stop the bleeding with his 4-0 decision over Daryl Wiseman.
Danny Bokinsky (160) was pinned in overtime and heavyweight Mario Robles lost a 12-2 major decision to the No. 1 seed, Brandon Kendzerski, which set up the deciding match at 103 pounds.
Delfino Pascual is one of a few young wrestlers whom Windish wanted to get some mat time and the match was an opportune time to show the wrestling staff what he could do.
Pascual pinned Brian Smith in 41 seconds for the win. Windish jostled his wrestlers around to get some new match-ups and it worked in the spirit of the team.
“Wrestling is an individual sport as well as a team sport,” explained Windish, “so when I start a kid over another it’s for a reason — not to offend them. It benefits the team. And the guys have been really receptive to the idea that the team comes first.”
The roster flexibility Windish has at his disposal is due primarily to the growth of the program. New wrestlers have solidified the middle of the starting lineup to the point that Windish can mix and match wrestlers to get the best match-ups for wins.
In addition to beating a tough Milford opponent at 152 pounds, Morris fell back to his 145-pound weight class and reeled off two more straight wins (Laurel and Delmar) after placing eighth in the Tiger Classic on Dec. 28. He earned a pin against Laurel and a 16-8 decision in the Delmar match, which cemented him as a fixture in the middle of the lineup.
“Dominique is having a really good year,” said Windish. “He’s won some matches that he probably shouldn’t have won, but he has so much heart and determination. He’s the kind of wrestler that we can move up or down.”
Indian River has been on a roll and the confidence gained has shown in their performances against Laurel and Delmar. They earned six pins against Laurel and nine against Delmar for huge wins. Windish credited his wrestlers’ success to their conditioning and not giving up bonus points.
“Right off the bat, we expect to win,” said Windish. “We’re in shape and expect to win. And come the third period, we’ll be ready to wrestle. The good thing is that we’re not giving up bonus points.”
Against Laurel, Robles faced off with highly touted heavyweight Malcolm West, who finished first at the Battle on the Beach, and battled through pain to hold his opponent to a 9-6 decision.
Indian River’s regular-season record stood at 5-0 heading into another big double-dual meet with Caravel and Smyrna set for Jan. 11 at Smyrna High School. (Results were not available before Coastal Point press time.)
Caravel (No. 7) and Smyrna (No. 8) at 3-0 will provide another strong test for the burgeoning Indian River program — but that’s what Windish wants.
“We have a tougher schedule this year and wrestling tough kids will help us in the long run,” Windish said. “In the big scheme of things (in Division II) these are our biggest matches and it puts us in a tough situation. But the kids are excited. I think in head-to-head match-ups this year against Smyrna we’ve split. They are strong in the middle. And on the flip side that is a weaker spot for us. But we’re strong on top and we hope we can counteract their middle.”
Indian River will wrestle Milford at home on Jan. 13 and travel to Polytech on Jan. 18. Both matches are to start at 6:30 p.m.