If its performance throughout the regular season and last Saturday’s qualifying tournament are any indication, Kennedy could be on the verge of its best finish at the Nassau County wrestling championships in 20 years.
The Cougars, who captured a conference title and went 14-5 in dual meets, crowned five champions at the qualifier hosted by Long Beach and finished second in the seven-team event behind the Marines.
“We’re having a really great season and I think next week is going to be even better,” Kennedy coach Brian DeGaetano said after seniors Dan Shafran (195 pounds), Jack Krug (182), Jake Redaelli (126) and Brendan Mercado (106), and junior Greg Brach (99) took home qualifier titles. “We could be in line for something special,” he added.
With 11 wrestlers headed to the big stage at Hofstra this Saturday beginning at 10 a.m., DeGaetano is hopeful the Cougars can equal or better their best finish during his tenure. They placed fourth in 1998.
Shafran is one of Kennedy’s four to reach the 30-win plateau this winter. It’s only his second year competing in the sport after being recruited by DeGaetano out of physical education class as a newcomer to the district last fall. Shafran upped his record to 35-2 with a win over Garden City’s Steven Spirakis in the finals of the qualifier. “Dan has beaten so many top opponents,” DeGaetano said. “It’s incredible what he’s accomplished in a short time. He started out last season on the JV and just kept improving. He won a match at Hofstra as a junior and I can’t wait to see how he does next. He’s won four tournaments already.”
Krug is a returning All-County winner who was thought to possibly be lost for the campaign after suffering a knee injury that required surgery in December. Knee brace and all, Krug, who reached 100 career wins early in the campaign, found his way to the top of the podium at the qualifier. “It was great to see him out there,” DeGaetano said of the six-year member of the program. “It was Jack’s first action since December and he looked good.”
For Mercado, it was his second qualifying tournament title. He beat Syosset’s Zachary Collins in the finals for his 31st victory and is considered one of the county favorites along with Wantagh’s Josiah Encarnacion.
The coach said Brach has made the biggest one-year leap of anyone he’s seen in more than 25 years at the helm. “Greg has always had the talent and strength,” DeGaetano noted. “He’s brought the attitude and work ethic.”
Redaelli has over 20 wins and is making his third trip to Hofstra after earning his first career tournament title of any kind.
Senior Boaz Smart (33-3) was runner-up at 220 to Long Beach’s Elijah Rodriguez in the qualifier, and the two could meet again in this Sunday’s county finals which being around 6:30 p.m. Smart has been dominant all season, DeGaetano said, and became the program’s first-ever placewinner at the prestigious Eastern States Tournament last month.