Darien wrestling program starting to make progress

As another high school wrestling season gets underway, it would appear, at least at first glance, that not much has changed at Darien High School.

The Blue Wave program has struggled the last few seasons, not winning a single dual meet during the 2017-18 campaign. And with low numbers again this season, which will result in forfeiting several weight classes, expectations are understandably not very high over at 80 High School Lane.

But there is one thing a little different in the DHS wrestling room this winter. For the first time in a while there does seem to be a glimmer of promise about the team’s future.

“We’re taking some baby steps and improving,” head coach Greg Lewis, beginning his third season, said. “We’re getting a little better.”

Lewis came to Darien in 2016-17 after five seasons as an assistant coach at Stamford High and he admits it’s been a struggle trying to get his numbers up.

“We’re right around 10 wrestlers at full strength, but we have a couple of guys injured right now,” the former Somers (NY) High School wrestler said. “So we’re not quite a full squad.”

With 14 weight classes, the Blue Wave is looking at forfeiting at least four of them every match and giving away 24 points. But at this stage, Lewis isn’t as concerned with wins and losses as he is with the development and steady progress of the program.

Some of that progress is already starting to show. Darien competed in the Oxford High School Invitational during opening weekend and although the team entered only seven wrestlers, the Blue Wave managed to finish a respectable sixth place.

“We had a really good day,” Lewis said.

In fact, Darien had two wrestlers make it to the championship finals with freshman Rhys Overbeck winning the individual title at 220 pounds, while junior Nick Ricci was runner-up at 182.

Meanwhile, sophomore Jack Kennedy at 195 pounds and freshman Scott Dansker at 138 both made it to the consolation round and finished fourth.

Overbeck and Ricci also accounted for Darien’s only two victories in its 54-18 season-opening loss to Westhill last week, both winning by pin (the remaining six points came via a Westhill forfeit).

“Rhys is 3-0 and off to a great start,” Lewis said of Overbeck. “He and Scott (Dansker) are both up from our youth program.”

That’s another reason Lewis is optimistic about the program’s future. The Blue Wave Youth Wrestling Club is starting to feed the high school team with wrestlers who are gaining valuable mat experience before their freshmen year.

The youth program is run by Joe Testa, who was Lewis’ assistant coach his first two seasons at DHS.

“He’s been running the youth program for three years,” Lewis said. “And he still volunteers with our varsity team. You wouldn’t know he was a volunteer by how hard he works.”

The Blue Wave’s future is in its youth. In fact, there are no seniors on this year’s team and two of the four team captains are sophomores: Thomas Kiernan at 113 pounds and James Nedder at 195.

Ricci, who will bounce between 170 and 182 pounds, and Ethan Schrader, a 152 pounder, are junior captains.

“Ethan is a transfer from Greenwich High School,” Lewis noted. “So he brings a little bit of leadership and upperclassmen mat experience to the team.”

Another junior transfer this season is Trip Murphy, who was part of a good wrestling program at Greens Farms Academy the last two seasons.

“He has probably the most wrestling experience on our team,” Lewis pointed out. “He’s out right now with a stress fracture in his back, but he should be back in January and we’re excited to get him back.”

Also expected back soon is sophomore Hunter Yarish at 106 pounds. He wrestled varsity at that same weight class last season, although he was well below the weight limit. At the FCIAC Championships, Lewis entered Yarish in the 99-pound exhibition weight class and he finished fifth with a 43-second pin in the consolation finals.

“He hasn’t wrestled yet because of a knee injury,” Lewis said. “But hopefully he’ll be back in the next couple of weeks.”

The only Darien wrestler to place in the top six in the official weight classes in the FCIAC was John Harron, a sixth-place finisher at 138 pounds. He and Brandon Yarish (152) were the only two seniors on the team last season.

“They also both received the Joe Vano Senior Scholarship Award,” Lewis said.

With a senior-less team this season, the Darien head coach is hoping the foundation for a promising future is starting to take shape.

“We’re young and inexperienced so I’m just looking to get these kids on the mat and get experience,” Lewis, an assistant coach with Darien’s successful boys lacrosse program the last five years, concluded. “They’re working hard in the wrestling room and it’s only a matter of time before it pays off.

“All the pieces are in place and we’re gonna crack that egg eventually.”