7 starters back to lead Gateway wrestling
Seven starters return from last year’s Gateway varsity wrestling team, and those starters will be joined by a crop of first-year starters hoping to make an impact for the Gators.
Head coach R.J. Santilli said he hopes to see good things individually and as a team.
Gateway finished 3-2 in Section 1 matches before falling to Hempfield in the fifth-place match at the section playoffs. The top five teams from each of the four AAA sections qualify for the WPIAL tournament.
Three returning Gator competitors — senior Justin Leone (132-138) and juniors Brandon Toomey (113) and Nick Conti (170) — qualified for WPIALs after placing fifth at the Section 1 individual tournament.
“Most of the guys have the goal to get to WPIALs, and for us as a team, our goal is to get at least that fifth-place finish in the section for the team playoffs,” head coach R.J. Santilli said.
“The section will be amazingly strong again, both individually and with several solid teams. The top two teams in the state are returning to the section. It’s a privilege to wrestle with that type of competition. It can only make us better.”
Leone, Toomey and Conti are joined by returning starters in senior Jalen Key (152), sophomore Mason Boehm (120), senior Tony DeFazio (160) and junior Nate Gage (220).
“It’s great to have that experience around,” Santilli said. “High school wrestling can be very demanding from the practices to just the everyday routine. It’s good to have those guys there to lead the younger and less experienced wrestlers.”
Key suffered a broken hand in practice last week. He was expected to have surgery on Tuesday and miss a month of action.
“That’s disappointing for him,” Santilli said. “He was blocking a shot, and that is something that can happen in this sport sometimes.”
Key qualified for the WPIAL tournament in 2013 but missed WPIALs last year and finished 17-12 overall.
Leone led the team in victories last season. He was 23-11.
“Justin looks good,” Santilli said. “He’s kept his weight right where it should be, and he stayed strong. His body fat is low. He’s going to start at 138, and he might drop down to 132 later in the season. We’ll see how everything progresses and how he feels. He’s looking sharp and ready for a good senior season.”
Toomey finished his sophomore season 15-14, while Conti concluded his sophomore campaign 13-14.
“Brandon is really developing into a solid wrestler, and we will count on him a lot this year,” Santilli said.
“Nick has really increased his leadership role, too. He’s not a real loud guy. He just goes about his business the right way and leads by example.”
Boehm went 16-12 in his first varsity season.
“Mason was close to qualifying for WPIALs,” Santilli said. “He had a nice season, and I think he can make it to WPIALs this year.”
DeFazio, who owns two varsity letters, missed last year’s section tournament because of an injury. He went 6-11 overall.
Gage recorded a 5-17 record last year as a sophomore.
The remaining varsity lineup includes a pair of transfers, two experienced freshmen and two upperclassmen wrestling for the first time.
Santilli said freshman Brandon Cain, who wrestled for the Gateway junior high last year, will be at 106.
“He’s a little guy that is really scrappy,” Santilli said. “He had a lot of success last year. The freshmen may take their lumps at times, especially in our section. But if they keep their heads on straight and look at everything as a learning experience, they will have productive seasons.”
Freshman Caleb Lehman is at 145.
“He’s a real hard worker,” Santilli said.
“He reminds me a lot of Austin Davidson. He has good experience in the program. He will be wrestling varsity this year.”
Junior Christian Brady (126) is a transfer from West Allegheny, and he wrestled there last year, while sophomore Desmond Green (132) wrestled for McKeesport as a freshman last year.
Green, Santilli said, might move up to 138.
The newcomers to wrestling are junior Evan Boyd (195) and freshman Shae Williamson (heavyweight).
“Evan’s got a lot of athletic ability,” Santilli said.
“He’s tall and lean with long arms and legs. Shae’s a big guy who moves well for his size.
Santilli said a scrimmage Saturday against Baldwin and McKeesport went well.
“The guys got some good experience against live competition,” he said.
“It was a good barometer to see where we are. It will be valuable to us moving forward.”
Gateway scrimmages Saturday at 10 a.m. at Butler.�
The Gators kick off their season Dec. 5 and 6 with the annual Eastern Area Invitational Wrestling Tournament at Gateway High School.
Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at [email protected].