At the end of last season, Toll Gate wrestling coach Jerry Sabatelli was a little concerned about what the future held. He had some young talent but also some glaring holes in the upper weight classes. There wasn’t a wrestler coming back who weighed more than 170 pounds.
But that young talent is easing Sabatelli’s mind.
Not only are those Titans working hard and gearing up for big seasons, they also made a big recruiting pitch in the school. As a result, the Titans and their young core should be able to fill most of the weight classes.
That’s enough to make Toll Gate optimistic about the present and the future.
“They’re motivated,” Sabatelli said. “They knew at the end of last year we needed bodies and they’ve taken it upon themselves to recruit guys for those upper weight classes, because they’re thinking ahead. They got a little taste of being in first place last year. It kind of fell apart on us, and they don’t want that to happen again.”
The Titans started last season with nine wins in their first 10 dual meets, but injuries created some big holes in the lineup late in the year and the Titans ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.
Toll Gate lost stand-out Josh Travers to graduation, as well as heavyweight Robbie Connell, but Sabatelli thinks the team can once again contend for the division title.
The newfound depth should only help the cause.
“If everything goes well and we stay healthy and the kids stay motivated, we should be able to fill the lineup and compete,” Sabatelli said. “We’re excited. We’ve got about 23 active guys and they’re motivated. They’re coming every day. Each day, we’re building. Hopefully it continues. I think we’ll contend in Division II.”
The optimism starts with Toll Gate’s young core, a group that includes juniors Austin Medeiros and Joe Martinez and sophomores Dave Navilliat, Max Procopio and Aaron Travers.
Medeiros had a big sophomore season last year, making waves in tournament action before finishing fifth in the 103-pound weight class at states.
In the new weight-class system going into effect this year, Medeiros is slated to wrestle at 106, and he’s already off to a strong start. Wrestling in the Southern Rhode Island Newspapers Tournament last weekend, Medeiros won the 106-pound title.
Martinez and Travers have the potential to join Medeiros as state-meet contenders. Both were a match away from placing at states last year. Travers took second at 126 over the weekend.
“We’re looking for big things out of them,” Sabatelli said. “They’re a year older and they look good. I think they’d be disappointed if they didn’t place.”
Procopio was a full-time starter as a freshman last year and took third at 120 in the Southern Rhode Island tourney.
Navilliat was putting together a strong freshman campaign last year before an injury ended his season. He’s back now, and he grabbed a fourth-place finish at 160 over the weekend.
“He’s tough as nails,” Sabatelli said. “He’s a guy who probably would have had a shot to place at states last year, and he definitely would have been a freshman state champ anyway. We’re hoping he does well.”
The Titans also have senior Tim McCorkle, junior Justin Allen and sophomore John DiGiuseppe back in the fold. All had solid showings as regulars in the lineup last year. Senior Dante Procopio is also back after not wrestling last year.
With 23 active wrestlers on the roster, several other wrestlers could make a push for spots in the lower weight classes. In the upper weights, the Titans are young but are happy to be filling the spots. Sophomores Matt Cullen, Joe Mercurio and Tim Warner and freshman Eddie Pierce are among the newcomers.
“They’re raw, and when you’re dealing with the upper weight classes, you’re going against the older kids who are a little more mature,” Sabatelli said. “I’ve already told them, ‘Your job is to gain experience this year.’ Pick up a win here or there and help the team, even better. I had planned on forfeiting those weight classes because at the end of last year, I had nobody above 170. These guys are a bonus.”
If everybody sticks together, there could be good things ahead for the Titans. The future looks bright.
“We’re excited,” Sabatelli said. “What’s exciting is we’ve got talent that’s young and new talent that’s young. Hopefully, we can stay competitive for the next couple of years.”
And they plan to start now.
“I think we can make a strong run at our division, hopefully get into that top-five range at the sectional and see if we can get a couple of guys to place at states,” Sabatelli said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Toll Gate is scheduled to open its dual-meet season on Thursday with a 7 p.m. home match against Smithfield.