ROTTERDAM — A year ago this weekend, Mohonasen wrestlers Jake Deguire and Clay O’Connor were on the mats at Times Union Center in Albany, competing in the NYSPHSAA championships as one of the last high school sports in the state to complete its full season before the swathe of cancellations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A year later, instead of preparing for another trip to states this weekend, O’Connor and Deguire were instead wrestling the first matches of an abbreviated, three-week season, with both scoring pins Wednesday night in Mohonasen’s 51-24 Colonial Council victory over Rotterdam rival Schalmont.
“Anything’s better than nothing this year,” said Deguire, who reached the Division I 138-pound semifinals last year as the No. 13 seed on his way to a fifth-place finish and has bumped up to 172 pounds for his senior season. “I knew going into the school year that we probably weren’t going to have states, and they canceled it earlier in the year. At least we’ll get in a couple matches.”
“It sucks not being able to wrestle my full season,” said O’Connor, a junior who won the Section II Division I 99-pound title a year ago. “But I’m trying to make the best out of it that I can. Just practice as hard as I can, get my matches in.”
With a half-dozen dual meets scheduled in a little less than three weeks before the season ends in mid-March, the shortened wrestling campaign will certainly be a test of conditioning for wrestlers who only had a short time to prepare for the season and must adapt to wrestling while wearing facemasks.
“You have to worry about the masks,” said Schalmont 160-pounder Mark Nardini, who earned one of the Sabres’ four pins. “But you just keep going through it, keep fighting through. . . . It took a little time [to get back into shape] because there was only a little offseason. Nobody’s really in shape. It’s how hard you work at practice, but it’s tougher with these masks on.”
It’s also been a quick turnaround for wrestlers to quickly get back in the mindset of making weight.
“I’ve been eating a lot, and having to lose the weight [to make 110 pounds] is a struggle,” O’Connor said. “It’s not too bad, though. I try to maintain myself so I’m not having to lose too much weight.”
Wednesday’s meet marked the coaching return for Mohonasen’s Sean Daley, who retired in 2018 after 28 seasons as a head coach split between tenures at Scotia-Glenville, Galway and Mohonasen.
Daley is back for this winter following the departure of Brandon Guthrie — now the head coach at Shaker — with the aim of grooming young assistant Mark Hitchcock for the job.
The veteran coach was thrilled to see the way his team has responded to a season that’s so outside the norm.
“The kids have responded outstandingly with the protocols and everything else,” Daley said. “They’re a little winded with the masks on, but other than that, the wrestling was good, it was competitive. Schalmont’s a great host to us, we worked everything out and got in as many matches as we could. We’re going to pack in what we can for three weeks.”
There were plenty of differences from the garden variety dual meet. Along with mandatory mask-wearing, there were social distancing measures in place — no cross-mat introductions, no handshakes between opponents, long-distance high-fives for coaches to acknowledge opposing wrestlers after each match — and the bleachers were largely bare, save for a few Schalmont parents on hand for the Sabres’ senior night.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Schalmont coach Vince Gallo said. “We’re blessed to have an opportunity to get out there and do something.”
After a year of waiting, simply hearing the referee’s whistle to start a match was music to O’Connor’s ears.
“It was good,” he said. “I missed this a lot.”
102 — Graulau (M) pinned Kenfield, 5:14. 110 — O’Connor (M) pinned Norwood, 2:12. 118 — Rivera (M) dec. Amedore, 14-8. 126 — S. Groncki (M) by forfeit. 132 — Hebert (S) pinned Eimers, 2:56. 138 — Brooks (S) pinned Goldman, 1:43. 145 — Vandenburg (S) pinned Laroe, 1:20. 152 — Friello (M) pinned Questel, 5:34. 160 — Nardini (S) pinned Tebano, 4:41. 172 — Deguire (M) pinned Noble, 2:19. 189 — Yetto (M) pinned Coom, 3:04. 215 — Rogers (M) pinned Pray, :21. 285 — C. Groncki (M) by forfeit.