‘A resurgence on the mats’
After down seasons, IR wrestling returns to top
It’s been, without a doubt, a history-making season for the Indian River High School wrestling team.
Not only did the Indians post their first winning record on the regular season since 2011 and their best regular-season record since before that at 16-3, not only did they see their first Henlopen Conference championship since 2011, in 106-pound freshman Will Rayne, and advance all the way to the state-duals — the Indians even saw senior co-captain Zeke Marcozzi break the school’s all-time wins record, with 133 career wins.
They also saw senior co-captain Jared Arlett nearly become the sixth wrestler in IR history to eclipse the 100-career wins mark, finishing just three short, with 97 on his career.
Last month, the Indians capped their 2017 campaign at the DIAA Individual Wrestling Championships, held at Smyrna High School, where Rayne advanced all the way to the state finals before being knocked out by No. 1-seeded Zach Spence of Salesianum.
Freshman 120-pounder Ta’Jon Knight took fifth during his first appearance at states, while Marcozzi fell short of his state title aspirations by taking fourth in the 182-pound bracket.
“The first day went well. The second day, I just wasn’t there. I was in it, but I just wasn’t there,” said Marcozzi of his semi-final battle against eventual state champion Austin Clay of St. Georges Tech, whom he had previously defeated in the state-duals semi-finals in February.
“You can’t base the season off of one day — the season overall was great,” he continued. “We didn’t win everything, but we were there. We got there, and not many teams can say that.”
The Indians also fell just short of a state title, against Milford at the state duals by just two-points on Feb. 14, and of a potential Henlopen South title, edged by the Bucs by just four points on Jan. 25.
After setting the bar as high as it goes, however, they aren’t at all disappointed in their season’s outcome, or coming up a little shorter than previously hoped.
“We wanted Zeke to win a state title. I think he gave himself an opportunity. He fell little short in the end but was right there,” said head coach Jeff Windish. “The same thing with Jared. They did everything right, but when you’re talking about the tournament, you need a little bit of luck on your side.”
Next season, the team is set to graduate not only co-captains Marcozzi and Arlett, but a slew of seniors, including 195-pounder John Keller, 160-pounder Arturo “The Terminator” Salas and 132-pounder Jessie O’Neal, as well as Zion Howard, Joey Ciriello, Grant Gano and others.
With underclassmen returners at 106, 113, 120, 138, 145, 220 and heavyweight, however, and with some talented incoming freshman set to join the team from Neil Barch’s squad at Selbyville Middle School, expectations will remain high next season.
“The seniors are going to be hard to replace. You’re replacing not just quality wrestlers, you’re replacing their leadership, but that’s the process you go through every year,” said Windish. “We’re gonna have a young team next year, but a young team with a lot of experience.
“We had seven starters that were either freshmen or sophomores, so they have a lot of varsity experience now,” he continued. “They’re gonna be able to hit the ground running next year and be able to set the bar really high again.”
Aside from a talented freshman class aiding in the wrestling resurgence at IR this season, the Indians also benefitted from the tenured coaching staff of Windish, Steve Wilkinson, Phillip Townsend, Nate Kortvelsky and newcomer Jacob Miller.
“I think we work really well together. Each coach brings something different to the table, and that’s what you want as a coaching staff,” said Windish. “These guys put in a lot of time, and Jake was a great addition this year.”
“They’re family to us. Windish is by far the best coach that I’ve had,” said Marcozzi. “Technically, he can look at someone and tell me exactly what they’re going to do. Then, “Special K,” he’s helped me a lot in practice, he’s always pushing me. Jake Miller he has that intensity. Coach Townsend’s taught me a lot of discipline. We were very thankful to have ‘Uncle Steve’ — he wrestled division one at UNI when they were No. 1 in the country — he can show you college-level breakdowns that work.”
The Indians also benefitted this year from the resurgence of community support.
“It was really nice to have the community support that we had this year,” said Windish. “There were very few matches where we didn’t have a really good turnout. Hopefully, we can keep that momentum rolling next year.”
While this season was historic, putting the IR wrestling squad back on the map, seniors such as Marcozzi are expecting even more history to be made in a program on the upswing.
“I know that by the time Ta’Jon and Will leave, they’re going to be up there on that banner,” Marcozzi said of the 100-wins banner in the IR gym and his newly established win record. “They work really hard. If they keep pushing hard next year, I think they’ll have something. I want to see them back in the state finals. They can definitely do it.”