Winter Sports Preview: Wrestling
Fort Lee wrestling coach says confidence will play a big role in a rebuilding year.
With ten seniors graduating from last year, there are a lot of signs pointing to a down year for the Fort Lee wrestling team.
But don't tell that to Head Coach Alex Almeyda and the Bridgemen, who remain very optimistic.
"My expectations are always high," said Almeyda. "We did lose a lot but we can hold our own with anybody. It's just a matter of believing."
Returning wrestler Anatoliy Alkhazob already sees improvement in the younger student athletes.
"I see big things from them," said Alkhazob of the freshman and sophomores expected to step up this season. "They have only been wrestling for this year, and within a couple of weeks, they have gotten a lot better."
As in other sports, in wrestling there is always room for improvement. A lot of the younger wrestlers performed very well at the recreation level, but Almeyda cautions his new varsity wrestlers about not settling for rec-level success.
"You can get away with a lot on the rec level that you can't get away with on the varsity level," reiterated the head coach. "If it's a five part move, you can skip steps two through four on the rec level, but in high school, if you miss that process of getting to five, it's not going to work on the jamboree level."
Having so many young players is nothing new to a coach who has been with the program since the 1990s. Just four years ago, Almeyda was in a very similar situation with eight starting freshman on the squad. Coach Alex learned a lot during that season and took some of the lessons from that experience into the beginning stages of this year.
"It's hard because you have two ends of the spectrum with some very skilled wrestlers and then 18 kids who are novice," Almeyda said. "You don't want to spend too much time with the novice kids that the elite kid gets bored and has no one to work with."
This sets up a potentially difficult situation in which the coaching staff is working with a smaller group of older players and a larger group of younger athletes.
The team counters this disadvantage by working harder and harder each day to gain that extra edge. For example, juniors and seniors routinely will have morning one-on-one sessions that sometimes include the coaches themselves. Additionally, the entire team is utilizing one of the stronger conditioning programs in Northern New Jersey, according to coach Almeyda.
"I condition the heck out of them," said the proud head coach. "If you have better lungs then the other kid, you have a chance to get lucky, catch him and who knows."
The Fort Lee wrestlers hope that their training during the preseason continues throughout the year, but if they want to improve on last year's results, they will have to top ten wins without star players like all-county wrestler Joshansi Rivera and other team leaders.
Even with the turnover, there are plenty of opportunities for the "diamond in the rough" player who exceeds all expectations.
In a rebuilding year, certainly anything is possible as the season starts on Dec. 22 against Mahwah High School.