The wrestling postseason began with a bang last weekend as the Smyrna Eagles and Milford Buccaneers claimed the Division I and Division II dual team championships.
The action continues Friday in the Henlopen Conference, arguably the toughest in the state, to crown its 2019 weight-class and team champions.
The Smyrna Eagles are defending champions and fresh off an impressive performance at the DIAA Division I Dual Team Wrestling state championships, where they reclaimed the title after a two-year drought.
Smyrna has plenty of competition in DI dual team runner-up Caesar Rodney, along with fellow Henlopen North opponents Sussex Central and Cape Henlopen.
There’s also stiff competition from the Henlopen South Division. The Milford Buccaneers are coming off their sixth straight DIAA Division II Dual Team Wrestling state championship. A scrappy Indian River squad reached the DII dual team semifinals last week, and Cape Henlopen has qualified for the dual team championships.
North: Smyrna and CR at it again
Smyrna and Caesar Rodney battled it out for the DI team title a week ago.
Smyrna, the North Division champions this year, come into the tournament with a deep and talented group that includes returning conference champions Nick Natarcola and Joey Natarcola.
Smyrna also features freshmen Gabe Giampietro and Bryce Mullen, sophomore Andrew DeBenedictis-Bayne, juniors J.T. Davis, Gavin Sembly and Amir Pierce, and dual team championship hero, Jaxson Al-Chokhachy.
With a slim lead and two bouts remaining in the dual team finals, Al-Chokhachy fought off CR’s Michael Primo at 126, earning a 3-2 decision to all but seal the title for Smyrna.
“I had to stay focused and realize what I needed to do for the team,” Al-Chokhachy said. “I knew I could beat [Primo]. I’ve wrestled him a billion times. I had to go out and stay focused, not give up anything stupid.”
After losing by two points in the dual team states, Caesar Rodney will be entering the conference championships with something to prove. The Riders have a lot of talent that should shine throughout the brackets.
CR returns two defending conference champions in Jackson Dean and Kevin Hudson, along with Michael Primo and Pat Wisniewski, both conference finalists last year.
Also looking to make waves are freshman Dawson Mitchell, junior Ryan Rigby and seniors Ben Anderson, Gabe Degrafinreed and Riley Tracey.
With last week’s battle still fresh, Friday is another opportunity for Smyrna and CR to see who’s the best after crossing paths twice before.
“Both of them were close, it was a lot different this time,” said Smyrna head coach Aaron Harris after Smyrna’s Division I victory over CR. “Both were tight matches and you have two good coaches coaching against each other, you play chess and you make your moves and we came out on top this time.”
While Smyrna and Caesar Rodney may be seen as the cream of the Henlopen Conference, several teams will bring standouts of their own, and maybe dark horse candidates in some weight classes.
In the DIAA Division I Dual Team championships, the Sussex Central Golden Knights beat Cape Henlopen in the quarterfinals before falling to eventual champs Smyrna in the semifinals. Jevon Saffold leads a talented group of Golden Knights, along with fellow junior Brandon Greenlee, sophomore Mason Ankrom and seniors Mike Wright and Devin Pearsal. Wright was a conference finalist a year ago.
Cape Henlopen’s Vikings ended the season with an impressive 16-4 record, but lost to Sussex Central in the DIAA opening round.
The Vikings have three returning conference finalists in seniors Chris Handlin and Billy Ott and junior Andre Currie. Senior Anthony Caruso and sophomore Jackson Handlin are two Vikings to also be on the lookout for Friday.
Sussex Tech brings some experienced grapplers. Highlighting the Ravens’ lineup are senior standouts Jamie Schirmer, Andrew Hawkins and Trey Hatfield, along with junior Roberto Santos.
Dover juniors Sam Arkwouille, Hugo Harp and Gabe Evans are several Senators to keep an eye on as well, and Polytech juniors Kenel Decembre and Dylan Craighton could make some noise for the Panthers.
South: Milford grapplers lead
The Milford Buccaneers’ dominance in Division II is over. After their sixth straight DIAA Division II Dual Team Wrestling win last week the program will jump to Division I next season.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to stay on the Division II side and have this nice stretch,” said Milford head coach Don Parsley. “But, I have a good group of kids, 11 of 14 starters coming back next year and it’s time to make the move. I think we’re going to be up for the challenge, and if you go back early in the season, we knocked off Caesar Rodney 33-30. They’re in the championship so that could very well be us on the other side facing Smyrna.”
Friday’s bouts are an opportunity for Milford to go head-to-head against the best talent in the state. The Bucs bring a talented group and many hope to come away with top performances in their respective weight classes, like freshman Jack Thode, sophomores Corey Messick and Rafael Mejia, juniors Gaige Copes and Anthony Diaz and senior Bevensky Augustine.
Indian River reached the dual team semifinals after a 14-4 finish, going on to defeat Newark Charter in the quarterfinals before losing to Caravel Academy.
Junior Will Rayne returns as a defending conference champion for the Indians, leading a group of contenders that includes sophomore Ian Shaubach, junior Tajon Knight and seniors Zach Schultz and Ramond Turner.
More possible contenders from Henlopen South teams include Isaiah Jenkins, Rae’Mier DeShields and Woo Fosque of Laurel; Seth Fleming and Kris Thompson from Lake Forest; and Woodbridge’s Jerome Cannon.