NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Nick Barbaria had been counting down the days, waiting for Monday and the beginning of wrestling practice for the New Rochelle varsity team.
“The last three months I’ve been working hard and wrestling hard, waiting for the season to start and waiting for states,” said Barbaria, the 2012 Section 1 Division I 99-pound champion and state sixth-place finisher.
Barbaria walked into the New Rochelle wrestling room ready to go as the Huguenots began a new era in the program. Legendary wrestling coach Jim Guccione retired from his position following the 2011-12 season, leaving the program in the capable hands of former assistant and New Rochelle great Eddie Ortiz. Ortiz was Guccione’s assistant the last four years and a 2003 Section 1 champ and sixth-place finisher.
“It’s a good feeling because we know him and we know how he runs practice, and the last couple of years he’s been running practices,” Barbaria said of Ortiz. “He is a good coach and runs good practices.”
Ortiz was thorough in his first day, explaining and demonstrating everything on Lamont Wallace and Barbaria. Ortiz has two excellent assistant coaches in Ryan Velez and former New Rochelle great and sectional champ Eric Fama.
“It’s another step in the journey I’ve been on, in that where wrestling has taken me and given me direction,” said Ortiz, a physical education teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in New Rochelle. “It’s a little strange without Gooch, because he has been a part of every step for me. I want to continue the things that he taught me.”
New Rochelle will be young this season after graduating a deep senior class highlighted by sectional place finishers Aaron Butler, Tyler Lilly, Jonathan Stokes and Bryan Ferrandi. Barbaria returns, along with sectional finalist Justin Douglas, Demetrious Rodriguez, Kurt Schwartz and Wallace. Douglas and Rodriguez are still with the football team as it prepares for its regional final.
Barbaria liked what he saw Monday and thinks this young New Rochelle team has a promising future.
“I feel we have a lot of potential,” said Barbaria, who is one of the leaders. “All of the younger guys have been working hard, and this goes back to our preseason practices.”
Following the team’s physically demanding 2½-hour practice, Ortiz walked out of his office positive.
“I was pleased with their focus,” Ortiz said. “They were very attentive, especially when it came to the fundamentals, and they came in and worked hard.”