With victories against Wilton, New Canaan and Fairfield Ludlowe, the Greenwich High School wrestling team couldn’t have asked for a better start to its season.
And first-year Cardinals coach Jere Petersen couldn’t have asked for a better way to begin his tenure.
The Cardinals upped their mark to 3-0 with a 45-27 road win against Ludlowe on Wednesday and seem primed to reverse the results of numerous matches from last season, when they were considered a rebuilding squad.
“From the first three matches of the season, we look strong across the board,” said senior Andrew Nanai, who anchors the team in the 182-pound weight class and is one of the squad’s four captains. “We have a bunch of strong lower weight guys, a bunch of strong middle weight guys and good heavyweight guys. We are looking really good this year.”
Senior quad-captain Mitchell Grimes, who is in his fourth season on the team, is one of the wrestlers to watch in the 132-pound class. Including tournaments, he currently sports an impressive 7-1 record.
“Last year, we didn’t have too many seniors in our lineup, this year we have a lot more,” Grimes said. “We have a lot of good, experienced wrestlers, who can place high at FCIACs and place at the State Open.”
Junior Emmanuel Lai, who is being relied upon to power the Cards in the 138-pound division and senior Jackson Blanchard (195-pound class) also serve as captains of the Cardinals.
“I inherited a great group of kids, including our captains,” Petersen said. “They do a really good job of leading the team, which is still pretty young. We have a few freshmen and sophomores in our lineup and about half the team are underclassmen. So the leadership we are receiving from our captains and upperclassmen is very important.”
Greenwich tied Ludlowe for 10th place at last season’s FCIAC Championships, after having a tough regular season. This winter, the Cardinals are aiming higher.
“Last year, we were in a rebuilding state, this year, most of our lineup is filled with strong, more experienced guys,” Nanai said. “We hope to win every match we possibly can and finish in the top three at FCIACs — that’s one of our biggest goals this year.”
Said Grimes: “We have some new kids on our team that could make some noise in the FCIAC this year and some guys who placed really high at the FCIAC tournament last year.”
Greenwich begins the new year with several challenging conference dual meets, as it will visit Staples (Jan. 2) and Stamford (Jan. 3), before hosting Trumbull (Jan. 9).
“Staples coming off the Holiday break is going to be tough, along with our other matches,” Peteresen said. “We have to stay mentally ready.”
Here’s a look at Greenwich’s squad:
AT THE HELM: Petersen takes over the program from Greg Domestico, who guided the Cardinals for three seasons. A graduate of Columbia University, where he was a member of the football and wrestling teams, Petersen began coaching at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. As the school’s varsity wrestling coach from 1991-1994, Petersen guided the team to a 58-14 record, with two division titles, while finishing in the top three of the Public School Athletic League each season.
Petersen enjoyed a successful youth and scholastic wrestling career. As a member of the National Team Champion Sacramento Super Stars, he won two national titles.
He qualified for the 1980 U.S. Schoolboy and 1982 Cadet Freestyle National Teams, winning a silver medal at the Schoolboy World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden. While wrestling at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, Calif., Petersen was an all-state performer. He was also a member of the California Junior National Freestyle Team and was a two time U.S. Western Regional Freestyle Champion.
“It is exciting to take over such a good program,” Petersen said of his new position. “We have 53 kids on our roster and a good coaching staff, which makes it a fun situation. Greg (Domestico) left a good roster of kids to work with and we are receiving such great support from the parents and our booster club.”
C.J. Ceci, a 2008 Greenwich High School graduate, and Ray Matthews join the coaching staff as assistants. The Cecis have been a fixture in Greenwich’s wrestling program. Brothers Ben Ceci and Mike Ceci were former Cardinals, who excelled on the mat. C.J. Ceci’s brother, Vincent, is a sophomore on this season’s squad and his cousin, Louis, is a freshman.
“From what we’ve seen from Day 1 until now, the kids are putting in the work and ready to learn,” Ceci said. “In the four weeks we have been wrestling we have seen the team make a major jump. They are eager to get on the mat and improve and its paying dividends.”
WHO’S ON THE MAT?: Freshman Javier Serra (106-pound class) has looked solid in his first season on the squad. Sophomores Calvin Breier and Isaac Arkongold compete at 113, while freshman William Grimes, Mitchell’s brother, has impressed against his opponents in the 120-pound division.
Sophomore Carlos DeWinter has wrestled up in class the first several matches, excelling in his 126-pound bouts. He will most likely compete at 113 most of the season.
Last season saw DeWinter place fourth in the 113-pound class at the FCIAC Championships and finish fifth at the Class LL Championships.
Freshman Max Feldman and sophomore Justin Mejia provide depth in their weight classes, while Mitchell Grimes brings a wealth of experience and guile to the mat for his 132-pound matches.
Grimes in coming off a junior season in which he placed fifth in the 126-pound division at the FCIAC tournament. Lai (138), Stanback (145) and Cristobal Isaacs (152) are returning wrestlers primed to improve upon last season’s success. Vincent Ceci and junior Joseph Calderon are looking to make their mark in the 171 and 160-pound weight classes, while Nanai is seeking another pretty dominant season at 182.
Nanai claimed the 182-pound FCIAC title last winter, then placed third at the CIAC Class LL championships. Blanchard is an experienced competitor in the 195-pound and 220-pound divisions, while senior Esras Flores-Najera and sophomore Kyle Jampole should also see action in the 220-pound class.
Junior Glen Rivas should be a mainstay in the lineup at 285 for the Cards.
STRENGTHS: Nanai, Grimes and DeWinter should amass plenty of victories for the Cardinals and help spark the squad in the postseason meets. Last year’s first-season competitors seem to have shown marked improvement thus far.
“My goals for the team are pretty simple,” Petersen said. “I want the kids to get better every time they walk off the mat. I want them to improve in the wrestling room and every time they wrestle in a match. Work hard, have fun and pay attention and absorb everything that is going on. If they care of those aspects they will have success and get better as the year progresses.”
BRUNSWICK BOUND: The Town Crown match between neighborhood rivals Greenwich and Brunswick will not take place this season, as both teams had trouble fitting it into their busy schedules. But Greenwich will compete in the Brunswick Invitational, which is scheduled to take place on Jan. 19. It will mark their first appearance in the tournament.
“We are looking forward to the Brunswick tournament, it should be an intense tournament,” Grimes said. “We want to place a lot of guys in the tournaments we compete in. This is our year to do our best in each tournament.”