Being a smart high school wrestler, Tanner Zagarino prepared as best he could for the first official day of practice. The senior trained all summer, knowing that with each day that passed by, he was one day closer to Mattituck/Greenport/Southold’s first practice. As was perhaps the case with some of his teammates, Zagarino thought he was prepared when that day finally arrived.
He was wrong.
“It’s a totally different animal, a totally different feel,” Zagarino said after Day 1 on Monday. “It’s like everything just switches. It becomes wrestling season like that. There’s no ease into it.”
There is no slowly dipping your foot into the pool to test the temperature. “You’re jumping right into the deep end,” Zagarino said. “It’s always a shock.”
Coach Cory Dolson had his own way of welcoming the Tuckers to the new season. A mandatory half-hour study hall was followed by running on an outdoor track before heading inside to the Mattituck High School wrestling room, which felt like a sauna.
“The first day we always feel like we’re going to die,” Zagarino said after the two-and-a-half-hour practice. “It’s so hard. Dolson has a way of breaking people.”
What was Dolson’s take on the first practice?
“I think it’s a combination of excitement and some of these kids know that the next few months are going to be rough and they’re coming into this room and they’re not going to see daylight very often,” he said. “It’s a mix of emotions, you know what I mean?”
The school of thought may be, if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. The Tuckers are strong as it is, coming off what could be considered the greatest season in their history.
Last season Mattituck produced three All-State wrestlers — Zagarino, Jack Bokina and James Hoeg — giving the program five for its history. Zagarino went 43-2 last season and finished third in the state tournament in Division II at 195 pounds. That equaled the best finish ever by a Mattituck wrestler (Louis Troisi took third in 2007).
Meanwhile, Bokina (43-8) and Hoeg (46-5) both left the Times Union Center in Albany with fourth-place finishes in the state tournament at 113 and 170 pounds, respectively.
They are all back, along with a bunch of other experienced, talented wrestlers. They are taking high expectations with them into what has the potential to be an historic season for Mattituck.
“We want to do better,” Zagarino said. “We got a bunch of guys who have been upstate already and we have a bunch of guys out there who could eventually be state champs.”
Mattituck accomplished a lot last season. The entire team was honored at the state tournament for being tied with Warsaw for the No. 1 ranking in Division II by the New York State Sportswriters Association. Mattituck also won its fourth straight Section XI championship and will enter this season with a 30-match win streak in league dual meets.
“We have a lot of guys that came back, and we’re just getting better every year,” said Hoeg, a senior.
Dolson said, with so many experienced wrestlers, the Tuckers can move at a fast pace. They have a lot to wrestle for.
“The goal is to win every match,” he said. “The goal is to get a lot of guys upstate. The goal is to get a finalist, a [state] champion, something that we’ve never done before. I know we’re talking big goals, but these guys have been training for this for a really long time.”
Bokina sensed that expectations are high. The junior said, “I think the bar is getting raised for us.”
It started Monday with a grueling practice. More are to come.