PEARL RIVER – Dozens and dozens of Pearl River seniors rolled their luggage into the high school on Thursday evening as they prepared to embark on their annual trip to Disney in Florida.
Anthony Malfitano, Sean McGarvey and Dylan Conway were the only wrestlers among them, but if they thought they were going to escape coach Grier Yorks and his practices for a few days in the sunshine, they were sadly mistaken.
“I’m going down with them to make them work out with Mickey and the crowd,” Yorks said with a big smile.
Yorks saw the humor in the situation, but he wasn’t kidding. The Pirates have a sectional title to defend in the Division 2 (small school) ranks and they’re expecting fierce competition.
There is no room for complacency.
“We’re looking to repeat this year,” Malfitano said before he left for the trip. “We’re going to have to step it up and fill in some spots that we lost from last year. We only have three seniors on the team, so we’re still young and have a lot to learn. But we’ve matured since last year, so hopefully that’ll make a difference.”
Malfitano and McGarvey are returning section champs who should lead the charge, along with junior Tyler DiLorenzo, who won last year’s 285-pound title. Yorks has also been encouraged by his underclassmen, particularly sophomore Jack Chesman.
He was a champion as an eighth-grader and a heavy favorite last year, but he was forced to injury default in the section final after a scary fall in which he landed on his head.
“It was like the bottom of my back just folded over,” Chesman said. “I took the video, paused it and took a picture of it – my shoulders were probably an inch or two from my butt.”
Thankfully, Chesman didn’t sustain any major injury from the fall — he even said he got back on the mat the following day with the hope he would earn a wild card to states — and he spent the offseason traveling to tournaments and training at Olympic Wrestling Club in New Jersey.
His upside is significant, and Yorks isn’t shying away from it.
“His goal is to be a state champion this year,” Yorks said. “Instead of waiting until he’s a senior, he’s going to try to do it this year. He should, on paper, be one of the top four in the state already.”
Pearl River is going to need Chesman and others to step up if it wants to fend off Putnam Valley again. The Tigers finished just 9.5 points behind the Pirates last season and are returning four defending champs of their own in Mikey Bruno, Kyle Sams, Satoshi Abe and Jared Eliopoulos.
“Based on who they have back and who we have back, it should be a real race,” Yorks said. “I don’t know how good their upper weights are going to be this year in terms of dual meets. I think we might have an edge on them in a dual meet, but I’m worried about the end of the year. They do a phenomenal job of getting prepared for sectionals at the end. I thought we were a big favorite, and we barely beat them last year. This year, I think it’s even going in, which really scares me.”