Two years ago, the St. Peter’s Prep wrestling program suffered a huge scare, when it was learned that there was an outbreak of impetigo among the Marauders, shutting down the entire program for almost a month and putting the remainder of that season in jeopardy.
The outbreak required a complete disinfection of the school’s wrestling room, locker rooms, showers, mats – the whole gamut. It was done as a safety precaution and done in order to have the Marauder program restored.
“In cases like that, you can never be too careful,” said Prep head coach Anthony Verdi. “We had to do what we had to do.”
Last year, the Marauders returned to full-time action, but it wasn’t exactly a return to glory. The team suffered through a 5-15 campaign.
“But as soon as the year was over, the kids were ready to move on,” said Verdi, who is in his sixth season as the Marauders’ head coach. “We took a few weeks off, but then they started thinking already about this year. They were willing to forget last year and work towards this year.”
So the Marauders collectively went to work to rid themselves of the nightmares of the last two seasons. They had to establish a bit of credibility after the outbreak and had to restore some winning ways after a difficult season.
“We went to team camp over the summer and trained as a team,” Verdi said. “We had to build up our confidence again. It was the beginning of a different era.”
So the Marauders worked together throughout the summer months with the hope of turning their hopes and chances around when winter came. They trained together, sweated together, learned together. It was all part of the process to restore the Prep wrestling program.
They competed in summer dual meets and attended grueling weight training sessions.
Now, the hard work is paying off in huge dividends.
As the wrestling season reaches the midway point, the Marauders are a perfect 9-0. That’s right, without a blemish.
Last weekend, they defeated Roselle Park and state-ranked Wayne Valley to improve to 9-0, just one year removed from a 5-15 disaster.
More importantly, the Marauders – who feature a basically young lineup – found themselves ranked among the state’s best teams for the first time in the school’s history.
The Marauders were ranked No. 16 in the Gannett New Jersey poll and were No. 19 by the Newark Star-Ledger. Yes, the program has arrived.
“I’m not surprised that we’ve been winning, but I am a little surprised at 9-0,” Verdi said. “I didn’t know we could be as good as we are, because we have so many freshmen in the lineup. This team just came together quicker than I thought we would. We have a bunch of young kids. I thought it would take time to jell.”
Added Verdi, “What a difference a year makes. We have kids that just fell into the right weight classes and I think it’s important the way they fell. Last year, we had to forfeit two weight classes and it was tough to come back from being down 12-0 every match. Now, we have kids in every class and we’re competitive in every class. We also have a lot of talented kids. It’s just all come together at the same time.”
Leading the way for the Marauders is junior 215-pounder Kevin Innis, the football standout who won both the District 16 and Region 4 championships last year, winning 36 matches in the process.
Innis has picked up from where he left off and has a 15-1 record this season.
“We definitely have high expectations for Kevin,” Verdi said. “Barring injury, we’re expecting him to get back to Atlantic City. He didn’t have a good go there last year [at the NJSIAA state championships at Boardwalk Hall], so he’s looking forward to getting back. He’s also taking on a leadership role and developing into a leader.”
Incredibly, Innis is the only true returning standout that the Marauders have. The rest of the team is basically comprised of newcomers.
Freshman Frank Biafore is the 103-pounder. Biafore comes from some wrestling background and has won nine matches thus far.
Sir Richmond Enriquez (yes, that’s his full name) is the Marauders’ 112-pounder. He is also a freshman who never wrestled before entering the halls of Grand and Warren this year.
Alex Richardson is the 119-pounder and he is also a freshman. Ironically, Richardson is a Jersey City native who somehow happens to have a wrestling background.
“He’s been wrestling for a while,” Verdi said of Richardson. “His father takes him to clubs and it’s worked out well.”
Richardson, competing in a tough weight class, has a 14-4 record.
Frank Colom is yet another freshman competing at 125 pounds. Colom has a 12-4 record. It’s very rare to see a successful team utilize so many freshmen.
Joe Buckman is a junior and he’s the team’s 130-pounder. Buckman has been competing in the sport since he was a youngster growing up in Hasbrouck Heights and has been holding his own this season in yet another tough weight class.
Rui Soares is the team’s 135-pounder. Soares is a senior who was the team’s 171-pounder last year. Yes, he has lost that much weight, which is unheard of in high school wrestling.
“He cut off a lot of his body fat and has been cutting weight since last February, knowing that this was the only way he could compete,” Verdi said. “He’s shown a lot of dedication.”
Senior Pat Cappiello is the 140-pounder and senior Emmet Gregory is the 145-pounder. Gregory owns an impressive 12-2 record.
Freshman Tony Pafumi has been very stellar in the early going, posting a 13-2 record at 152 pounds.
“He’s going to be a very good one,” Verdi said. “He might be one of the best freshmen we’ve ever had. To come in as a freshman at that weight class and do what he’s done is very impressive. He has a very bright future.”
Sophomore Devin Ruiz is the team’s 160-pounder. Ruiz has won nine matches thus far. Sophomore James Fox is the 171-pounder, while senior Juan Carlos Velasquez holds fort at 189. Sophomore Dane Longa is the heavyweight.
Needless to say, it’s been a great run for the upstart Marauders, who have come back from the brink of despair to emerge as one of the state’s premier squads.
“Now we just have to keep it going,” Verdi said. “We definitely still have a lot of work to do. But it’s nice to be there now. As good as we’re doing, our job isn’t done.”
Lot of season left, that’s for sure.