WOBURN — While the pandemic year took its toll on every sport, the nature of wrestling made its impact particularly acute.
Many teams were unable to come close to filling out all the weight classes. The absence of weekend quad meets and end-of-season individual tournaments made the season practically unrecognizable, not to mention that the winter sport took place in the spring, further cutting into the numbers.
The Woburn High wrestling team could only fill out half of its lineup and it led to a long, short season. Coach Mike Parziale made it his mission to change things around, and with nearly 30 kids in the wrestling room, this winter, the goal has been accomplished.
"The numbers are way up this season," said Parziale. "I currently have 28 wrestlers on the roster, with 15 of those being freshmen. So we have improved numbers, but are an obviously very young team."
The wrestlers still have to be masked up, and other protocols have to be followed, but this season far more resembles a normal season than it did in the spring with the return of weekend and big end-of-season meets.
"Wrestling is somewhat back to normal, but everyone still needs to wear masks and there are basic protocols for testing positive for Covid or being exposed to it," said Parziale.
The Tanners only have three wrestlers back from the spring, including team captain Joe Mahon, a junior. Mahon will wrestle at 120 or 126 this season, and is a returning state qualifier from the 2019-20 season.
"So far Joe has had great command of the team and the team has responded to Joe nicely over the past week," said Parziale. "Joe works really hard and leads by example, so I am confident we have the right person in place to lead our team this season."
The other returning wrestlers are Sean Hall at 132 and Eddie Sallese at 285, both juniors. Of the 25 new faces in the room, freshmen Dante Dellagrotte at 195 and Nathan Ford at 220 are two new wrestlers that have caught the attention of the coaching staff.
"They are both very mobile and high-intensity wrestlers," said Parziale.
With nearly 30 wrestlers on the roster, it would seem easy for Woburn to fill up the 14 slots in the lineup card, but sometimes there are three or four kids who fit into one weight class.
Even coming close to filling out the lineup should get the Tanners some bonus victories to help bolster the confidence of the young Tanners.
"As of right now, I think we will be able to fill all of the weight classes, but it is sort of early to tell," said Parziale. "Numbers can often fluctuate in wrestling."
With so many kids who need to be coached up, big time, Parziale is pleased to announce the addition of Richie Rodrigues to the coaching staff, joining Parziale and assistant Joe Lisacki. Like the other coaches, Rodrigues has the papers for the job, having reached the New England finals back in 2003, the year he graduated from Woburn High.
"He's brought some tremendous energy into the room over the past week," said Parziale. "So I am happy to have him on board with myself and Joe Lisacki."
A little over a week into the preseason, there are a lot of positives with the Tanners aside from the numbers, and hopefully it will not take too long for the new wrestlers to find their ideal slots in the lineup.
"As far as the overall outlook goes for the season, we are a young team with a lot of passion and hustle," said Parziale. "We will make mistakes, but the effort is there and the mistakes will be corrected. So, all in all, a good start to the season with a lot of potential in the lineup with some added youth wrestlers as well."
Even before the spring season, Woburn had been having trouble attracting athletes to the wrestling room over the past few seasons. Hopefully, those problems are in the rearview mirror for the Tanners.
"It will be an interesting season for sure," said Parziale. "I am just happy to have a full room of wrestlers. That was a major goal in the off season; to get the numbers up."
Woburn opens up the regular season on Saturday with a quad meet at Greater Lowell. Besides the Gryphons, Concord Carlisle and Malden Catholic are also on the wrestling menu for the Tanners. The action gets underway at 10 a.m.