It’s been three years since the Cranston West wrestling team closed out its string of four consecutive state championships.
If it wasn’t a new era already, it certainly is now.
For the 2012-13 campaign, Josh Procaccianti is taking over for Matt Claeson as head coach, and the Falcons are fielding one of the youngest squads they’ve had in many years. The new era didn’t get off to the best of starts as the Falcons lost to Mt. Hope in last week’s season opener, but there’s plenty of optimism as the program puts down a new foundation.
“It’s been going great,” Procaccianti said after the Mt. Hope match. “We’ve got a young team and they’re a good group. They’re working hard every single practice. I saw a lot of good things tonight and I saw some things we need to work on. But I think we’re going in the right direction. I think we’ll hit our stride pretty soon.”
Procaccianti is excited to be leading that charge. He teaches in Cranston and he coached middle school wrestling in the city until middle school sports were cut several years ago. He’s spent the last few seasons coaching at Exeter/West Greenwich.
When the job opened up at West, he jumped on it.
“I teach in Cranston and I was waiting for something to open up,” Procaccianti. “It’s a good program, lot of good kids. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Procaccianti inherits a team that will be trying to build itself back into a state championship contender. After winning its fourth straight crown in 2009, West still had some top-level talent but couldn’t quite match the strength of Cumberland and Warwick Vets. Cumberland won titles in 2010 and 2012, with a stacked Warwick Vets team winning in 2011. The Falcons were still in the mix in 2010 and 2011, finishing fifth and fourth respectively. But West had only two place-winners last year and had to settle for a 12th-place finish.
With so many young wrestlers, this year’s team may not be a contender quite yet, but the Falcons will be looking to set the course.
“We’ve got some kids with a lot of experience, then we have some brand new kids,” Procaccianti said. “We have a good variety of wrestlers, from kids just starting out to kids with eight or nine years of experience. I think it’s going to be a good season.”
Leading the way for the Falcons will likely be sophomore Max O’Connell. He finished third at states in the 106-pound weight class last year and is the team’s most accomplished returning wrestler. He wrestled at 120 in last week’s opener and got his season off to a strong start with a tech-fall win.
“I think Max is going to make a lot of noise this year,” Procaccianti said.
Also in the fold are junior Brandon Cardinal and sophomore John Petrocelli. Both have a lot of wrestling experience and were lineup regulars last year. Cardinal opened his season with a pin at 182 while Petrocelli battled in a close match at 138 before getting pinned.
The rest of the lineup features a lot of new faces. Senior Casey O’Connor wrestled at 106 last week, freshman Tyler Gomez was at 113, sophomore Ryan Gomez went at 126, freshman Rhett Cooper wrestled at 132, Albert Renzi competed at 145, junior Armand Vaziri went off at 152 and sophomore Vin Mizzoni wrestled at 160. In the upper weights, senior Stefano Marziale took the spot at 170, sophomore Matt Roy was at 195, junior Nick James wrestled at 220 and senior Anthony Caetano took the heavyweight job.
With more than 40 on the roster, plenty of other Falcons will be pushing for a chance. The common theme for all the young wrestlers is potential, which bodes well for the future.
“We’ve got some young guys who are really going to make a name for themselves,” Procaccianti said. “I can’t wait to see them as they grow.”
For now, it will be a learning process. Four of the young Falcons picked up pins against Mt. Hope; seven more got pinned.
“The biggest key for the young guys is all mental,” Procaccianti said. “I think they’ve got to get it into their heads that they belong out there. I think their skill level is good and they’ll get stronger as the season goes. It’s confidence that’s the biggest thing.”
Overall, the goal is to get better. That’s never an easy task in the rough-and-tumble world of Division I wrestling, but the Falcons will welcome the challenge.
“I want us to improve every night,” Procaccianti said. “Right now, that’s my main goal, just improving every match. We know what we need to work on in practice after tonight’s match and we’ll work all week. We’ll get to where we want to be.”