Darien High wrestling coach Greg Lewis has said all season his team is taking what he calls “baby steps” toward respectability.
This weekend, however, the Blue Wave will be taking a big step forward as the postseason officially begins.
Darien, which closed its regular season on Tuesday at Brien McMahon, will be at New Canaan High School Friday and Saturday for the FCIAC championships. Then, next weekend the Blue Wave will be at the Class L state championships at Bristol Central High School.
Unless someone qualifies for the State Open, that will mark the end to what has been a very challenging season for the DHS program. But while the Wave did not win any meets, they did show some significant progress in their coach’s eyes.
“It was definitely a learning year, a building year,” the third-year head coach said. “We took baby steps and the kids have definitely improved. The overall state of the program has improved.
“We’re trying to build the program from the ground up,” the former Stamford High assistant coach added. “The kids are doing what they’re supposed to be doing at this point. Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve done.”
The good news is there are no seniors on this year’s team.
“All these kids return next year,” Lewis said.
The not-so-good news, however, is there are not enough of those kids.
“We’re still hovering around half a team. We’re right around seven guys.”
With 14 weight classes, Darien has had to forfeit as many as seven classes some matches. And at six points a forfeit, that’s a 42-point head start for its opponent.
“Plus we’ve had some injuries,” Lewis pointed out.
One such injury was to Rhys Overbeck, a promising freshman whose high school career got off to a good start. In fact, he won the 220-pound championship at the Oxford High School Invitational back in December.
“But unfortunately, he dislocated his knee in practice a week ago and will be out for four weeks, which takes him through the season,” Lewis pointed out. “Fortunately, it’s not a major injury and he’ll be back for three more years.
“As a freshman, it would’ve been nice for him to compete at the FCIAC and state tournaments and get that experience, but injuries happen.”
Meanwhile, junior captain Nick Ricci at 182 pounds is healthy and hopes to continue what has been a solid season, which includes a runner-up finish at that Oxford tournament.
“He’s having a pretty good season. His record is right around .500,” Lewis noted. “I would say he’s definitely wrestling his best right now, which is a good time to be hitting your stride.”
The other junior captain, Ethan Schrader, has also looked good at 152 pounds.
“He’s improved a lot this year,” Lewis said of the transfer from Greenwich High. “He’s also wrestling his best right now.”
Lewis is also excited about having his two sophomore captains, Tommy Kiernan at 113 pounds and Jimmy Nedder at 182, back for two more seasons.
“They’re both young and inexperienced, but they’ve been great leaders for us,” the DHS coach said. “It’s fun to watch both of them figure things out and it’s only a matter of time before they start having success.
“Jimmy Nedder is just under .500 and he’s really starting to turn the corner and pick up the pace. It’ll be really interesting to see what he can do in the postseason.”
At the Lawmen Invitational last weekend at Jonathan Law, Nedder lost to two wrestlers who would finish second and third.
“There are a lot of different ways to measure success, not necessarily getting wins,” Lewis explained. “I tell my wrestlers to look at the kids they lost to and what they did the rest of the tournament.”
Another sophomore improving every day has been Jack Kennedy at 195 pounds.
“This is his first year wrestling and he’s right where he’s supposed to be,” Lewis said. “He’s athletic, works hard and beaming with confidence.”
Scott Dansker, like Overbeck, is a freshman wrestler with a promising future.
“He’s got some wins under his belt and is close to turning that corner. He’s hungry to get better.”
But when it comes to the future of the program, what Lewis is probably most excited about is the growth of the Blue Wave Youth Wrestling Club.
“The numbers are the best I’ve seen in my three years here,” he said. “We have an eighth grader or two coming up next year and a couple of our varsity wrestlers have younger brothers coming up. Plus, a lot of the coaches in the Darien Junior Football League are getting their kids to wrestle.”
The process can be slow and at times frustrating, but Lewis knows if they stay the course, then better days are ahead for the Darien High wrestling program.
“We want to make sure every step we take is in the right direction,” he said. “We think the program is moving in the right direction.”
The experience the Blue Wave will gain at this weekend’s FCIAC tournament will certainly be one more “baby step” in that direction.