St. John’s Prep coach Manny Costa, like many others in the wrestling community, is disappointed that plans for an MIAA tournament have yet to be finalized, and for good reason.
Perennially, the Eagles have fielded a talented program, evidenced by the 762 career wins compiled by Costa, good for second in state history behind Melrose coach Larry Tremblay (768). But even in Costa’s 31-year coaching career, he’s never coached a team with this many stars.
Prep has three National High School Coaches Association All-Americans on its roster, including 113-pound national champion Nick Curley. Six Eagles participated in last month’s three-day tournament in Virginia Beach, Va., and all six went at least 2-2. Curley is the only senior of the group.
But in an odd year with numerous restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prep’s schedule is limited. The Eagles can wrestle their usual Catholic Conference schedule — a league slate they’ve dominated year after year — but out-of-league matches are at a premium for a team that went 34-0-1 last season and favors wrestling in Saturday quad meets and dual meet tournaments. Prep dispatched Shawsheen, also a top Division 1 team, 57-16 Tuesday night. And the Eagles hope to wrestle Natick in a dual once the town of Natick allows the Redhawks to wrestle, but instead of Prep’s top talent wrestling 5-6 matches per week, they may get two at most. So how do athletes get better with limited opportunities?
“The hardest part for us is trying to get a schedule. We’ve got the Catholic Conference, we’ve got Shawsheen, I’m working on a couple other teams as they start getting the authorization from their towns,” Costa said.
The competition, confirmed Tyler Knox, is in the room. “We get better matches in this practice room than we’ll probably get all year,” he said.
“I’ve got a national champ at 126 [Curley] that I can drill with, and a kid that took third [at All-States at 138], Rawson [Iwanicki]. He’ll be an All-American next year,” added Knox, who placed seventh (120 pounds) at sophomore nationals.
As an eighth-grader and freshman, the Groveland resident wrestled for Pentucket Regional. Knox was a 2019 Division 3 North, state, and All-State champion, and a New England finalist at 106 pounds. After his freshman year, he wrestled for Northfield Mount Hermon, reclassified to remain a freshman, and was a Prep School All-American. He has a career record of 112-10. Knox left NMH, in Gill, to return closer to home. He was pleased to earn NHSCA All-American status, but his competitive drive was apparent when talking about the end result.
“It was definitely a little bittersweet. I came in wanting to win it. I set that goal for myself after prep nationals last year,” Knox said. “I wanted to open a lot of people’s eyes up, definitely raise my stock, but unfortunately things didn’t go as they planned.”
Knox already has interest from multiple Division 1 programs in New England. Curley will wrestle for Binghamton University next year.
Prep’s third All-American, freshman Dylan Greenstein, placed eighth at 195 — after a growth spurt from 152 as an eighth-grader — despite having no varsity experience. He wrestled for Prep’s eighth-grade program last season, and just started to become more invested in the sport when he joined MetroWest United Wrestling Club in Natick in February. Greenstein used to wrestle for Red Roots, a youth club in Reading, but judo was his number one sport before his performance in Virginia Beach.
“My thought going into it was ‘it’s all freshmen,’ so I’m a freshman, I’m with them,” Greenstein said. “So I just had the mind-set that I can go in there, I can do well, so I just tried my best and made it to Day 3 which is all that mattered.”
Iwanicki, a sophomore, went 4-2 at NHSCA Nationals and did not obtain All-American status, but the potential to do so next year is there. Last season, he placed third at All-States at 138 competing in the same weight class as 2020 New England finalist and former Central Catholic star Mike Glynn.
“Coach Manny has really explained to us this year that although we’re not going to be getting as many matches this year and it might be more difficult to get dual meets, at practice we’ve been working as hard as possible,” Iwanicki said. “He’s been showing us technique every day, showing us certain moves, working us through the motions to set us up to be the best of the best.”
Costa said he’s hopeful the MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee will approve a state dual meet tournament at their meeting scheduled for Thursday. The postseason is where Prep does its best wrestling. The program won last year’s Division 1 North title, placed second at the D1 state tournament, and fourth at All-States, and the team knows it would have competed at that high level this year, if not higher.
“Honestly, if this was a normal season, we’d be ripping through teams right now,” Iwanicki said. “I’m looking forward to next year, too. Great things coming.”
▪ Central Catholic sophomore Jackie Dehney continues to make her mark across the country. Last Saturday, competing at the United World Wrestling Cadet World Team Trials in Irving, Tex., Dehney placed second in the 53 kg girls’ freestyle class to qualify for the US Pan-American Games team. The Pelham, N.H. resident wrestled seven matches in a 64-person bracket before losing to Katie Gomez of California in a best 2-of-3 finals match. Dehney qualified for the Cadet Pan-Am Championships, scheduled for June 9-13 in Oaxtepec, Mexico. Before the tournament, she will train with the team at the US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs from June 2-8 with a group that includes Terry Steiner, the head coach of the US women’s national team.
“It definitely opens up a lot of new things,” said Dehney, who is wrestling for Central Catholic this spring. “I can train with these top-level girls and freestyle coaches so it’s a good opportunity.”
▪ Two wrestlers earned their 100th career victory on Tuesday night. Tyngsborough senior 152-pounder Matt Tyros reached the century mark with a pin in a 42-36 loss to Tewksbury. A captain at Tyngsborough, he placed third at 145 in the Division 3 North tournament, and fourth at D3 states in 2020.
“Matt’s been a leader for us and one of our top guys since I got here,” said third-year Tyngsborough coach Mike Donovan. “He works hard for his craft.”
Wilmington’s Shane Penney also earned his 100th win Tuesday, the senior 132-pounder recording a pin at 1:30 in a 46-24 win over Belmont. Penney placed third in the Division 3 North tournament last season.
▪ Burlington sophomore Jaden Alford’s 42-second pin sealed a 36-30 win for the Red Devils over Winchester on Thursday. It was Burlington’s first win against Winchester since 2009.