Last year was an impressive one for Groton wrestling. On top of a fourth-place finish at the IAC Championships, the Indians sent two wrestlers to the state tournament for the first time since 1965. Representing Groton last year in Albany was Reese Lockwood, who has since graduated, and current senior Kyle Willard, who came away with a fifth-place finish in the 113-pound weight class.
The wrestling season kicked off over the weekend at the Clyde Cole Invitational, hosted by Oxford. Willard picked up right where he left off, finishing first in the eight-man 126-pound circuit to get his season started the right way. Head coach Greg Rotunda described what makes the senior so special.
“He’s so unorthodox,” Rotunda said. “It’s something you can’t teach, really. He just has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was fifth in the state last year, so first over the weekend is no surprise.”
As for the rest of the squad, Groton finished 10th overall out of 17 teams, which included Class AA schools like Shenendehowa and Corning. Coach Rotunda expects things to get better from here on out.
“We’re making the usual early mistakes, a little rusty off the bat,” Rotunda said. “We had a good showing, a lot of sophomores and freshmen. To finish 10th is not too bad. We’ll take it.”
They’re a young team, with seven seniors leading the way. Along with just one junior, there are 12 freshmen and sophomores. After finishing first in the regular season standings of their IAC division last year, this ambitious team is ready to kick off the dual meet season.
“We won our league last year, so that’s our goal again this year,” Rotunda said. “We’ll see. They’re psyched and they’re ready to go. There are some tough teams out there.”
As for what the Indians can specifically improve, Rotunda wants to see his team start fast in matches more often.
“We can use some more work on our feet,” he said. “We need to start to score first, get up in matches and get ahead because the first takedown usually wins, so we need to get better at that for sure.”
The fans are ready, too. With the football team finishing a rebuilding season with only four seniors on the roster, the community is fully behind the successful wrestling program.
“We get a lot of support,” Rotunda said, “A lot of people come out for the wrestling. We fill the gym up pretty good. I’d say it’s a good community for our sport.”
Part of the town support is the establishment of a strong youth program to keep the pipeline of talented wrestlers flowing into the varsity level. Rotunda has faith in his young roster due to his trust in the youth program.
“The last few years, the youth has come back big,” Rotunda said. “We had 30-something kids last year and had a drop-off before that. We needed to get that back up so we could have our modified numbers back where they need to be.”
And with the majority of his team being underclassmen, Rotunda is looking forward to building his team into a powerful one in the next few years.
“They were really good in modified, a really strong modified team,” Rotunda said. “It’s not bad. It’s a good base for a team. They’re tough kids. I think we’re going to be just fine in the future.”
The foundation of the team is strong, as is the team’s mindset. The old adage is, “you can’t teach heart,” and Rotunda does not have to worry about that with this set of wrestlers.
“We have a lot of heart,” Rotunda said. “They really wrestle the entire match and don’t give up. That wins you a match a lot of times. If you have the desire to win, that’s the top thing you need. We’re in good shape. They’re pretty skilled as well, but if you have the heart, you’ll be fine.”
After a great finish to last season, Groton only lost two seniors to graduation. Of course, losing a wrestler like Lockwood hurts, but returning the majority of the roster has the Indians looking at a possible repeat season.
“It would definitely be nice to keep that going,” Rotunda said. “It’s not really pressure. All these guys want to win, and I think we’ll have several placers here. The potential’s there to have that finish this year again.”
Groton’s dual-meet season begins with an in-division matchup against Marathon on Wednesday, Dec. 11, followed by the seven-team Matt Fedish Memorial Dual Tournament on Dec. 13 and 14 in Chenango Valley. The Olympians already have a win under their belt this year, and the Indians welcome the challenge to get their season off on the right foot.
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