Bill Santoro has spent a lifetime coaching wrestling in the Connetquot Central School District. He thought he had seen it all in seven years of middle school coaching and 43 years as the varsity head coach.
Then the pandemic happened.
"It’s been quite the challenge this year and I’ve obviously never seen anything like it," Santoro said. "I asked our guys to commit four weeks of a bubble mentality to the program. Wrestle, hit the weight room and then go home. And repeat that daily."
The result was a Suffolk League III dual meet title and a berth in Friday night’s quarterfinal round at East Islip. The undefeated Thunderbirds turned in a decisive 32-21 dual meet win over East Islip to move into Saturday’s semifinal at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station.
Connetquot, the fifth seed, improved to 7-0. East Islip, the League V champion, was the four seed and finished the season at 6-1.
"We have a good group of senior leaders and we put in the work in the weight room as a team," said Connetquot’s 145-pound junior Christian Paredes. "Our guys stayed active and in shape for the season to start and it worked out."
Paredes built a 5-0 lead on Mike Colon with a takedown and three back points just before the first period ended. He went on to an 11-1 win to improve to 7-0.
Senior captain Brett Harvey followed with a big win at 152 pounds. He used a third-period reversal with 28 seconds left to open a 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 win over Matt Barra, who gained a late reversal to make it a one-point bout.
"We matched up well with East Islip as our coaches did a nice job," Harvey said. "We were ready to go all three periods to win the pivotal bouts."
The Thunderbirds reeled off five wins between 126 and 152 with two of those bouts decided in the final seconds for a 20-3 lead. Connetquot’s Brandon Jarva used a third-period reversal for a 6-3 lead and held on for a 6-5 win over Anthony Avitable at 138.
"Our guys have done a nice job of staying healthy and avoiding situations that could cost them the season," Santoro said. "This took a lot of discipline to get through the season and make it to this point."
East Islip senior Nick Vetrano outlasted Aaron Chetti, 8-5, at 160 to finish the season at 7-0 and freshman Sebastian Regis edged John Feramola, 2-1, at 285 to finish 7-0. Regis was awarded a third-period stalling point for the win. It was his first bout that went the distance this season.
"Connetquot is in great shape and very athletic," said East Islip coach Mike Longobardi. "They’re strong throughout the lineup and they won a few of the close bouts which was the difference."