After serving as an assistant wrestling coach at Oceanside for two seasons, Steve Candela has taken over the helm of an up-and-coming program headed by his son Rocco, a two-time All-County winner with aspirations of competing at the next level.
“I’ve been very encouraged by everyone’s progress in the first month,” coach Candela said. “We’ve got a large roster and are rebuilding with a lot of strong, young wrestlers.”
While the bulk of the lineup is comprised of sophomores and freshmen, the Sailors have four seniors to lead the way: Rocco Candela, Zach Stranberg, Andrew Mercadante and Andrew Rullo.
More big things are expected of Candela, who placed second in Nassau as a 96-pound sophomore and fourth in the county last season at 106. As a senior he’s competing at 113 pounds, and he broke out of the gate quickly with a second-place finish in the Bruins Cup Tournament in Baldwin and a victory in the Ralph Jansson Tournament hosted by Valley Stream North. He is ranked second in the weight class behind Long Beach’s Steven Sewkumar. “Rocco’s got a lot of weapons and the heart of a lion,” the coach said. “He’s very strong on his feet, and nobody can ride him out. He’s taken on a leadership role as well. He’s helping the younger guys along.”
The coach expects Stranberg and Mercadante to quality for the county tournament. Stranberg earned convincing victories in dual meet matches against Valley Stream Central and Chaminade, while Mercadante placed in both the Baldwin (fifth) and Valley Stream North (fourth) tournaments. “Andrew’s our best upper weight,” coach Candela said. “He’s off to a good start.”
Rullo, who backs up talented sophomore Jarron Koretz at 132, brings a great work ethic to the room and someone the coach won’t hesitate to use in a match. Koretz, meanwhile, was a county qualifier as a freshman thanks to a combination of strength and aggressiveness. He was a finalist in the Valley Stream North Tournament and one of five Sailors to win a bout against Chaminade. “Jarron is looking to place in the county,” coach Candela said.
Another Candela family member, freshman Vinny, is one of many promising underclassmen in the program. Vinny won the 99-pound crown at the Valley Stream North event, beating Tom Rohan of Wantagh in the finals, and could prove a handful for the competition come the county tournament. “Vinny went undefeated in Middle School and is extremely skilled,” the coach said. “Expectations are high.”
Quinn O’Rourke is another 99-pound freshman with skill and toughness. He’s also making noise already with a third-place showing at Valley Stream North.
Freshmen Mike Fishman and Paul Jacobs are developing at 106, sophomore Cash Calderon, a returning county qualifier, heads a deep group of 113-pounders that includes freshmen C.J. Kearney and Mike Pagona. Sophomore Gilbert Ruiz (145) reached the finals at Valley Stream North.
“The results have been favorable,” said coach Candela, who added the support of parents and Athletic Director Jeff Risener “couldn’t be better.”