BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Governor Livingston Highlanders Wrestling Team will jumpstart their season Friday night with a match against crosstown rival New Providence.

Matches with the Pioneers always provide excitement and the anticipation of Friday night’s match is just a nutshell of head coach Rich Ortega’s excitement for the 2015-2016 season.

With a deep lineup that consists of fifteen returnees that include eight who wrestled on Varsity last year, Ortega’s enthusiasm is warranted.

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“We are really looking forward to the season,” Ortega, who is in his third season at the helm, said. “We have a lot of varsity returners coming back this year and have an overall great lineup of new and returning wrestlers.”

“This preseason, the wrestlers have been working hard, training, and practicing every day for this upcoming winter season. Each wrestler has been putting in lots of times and effort to improve their skills on the mat.”

“This season we are aiming to work hard and continue to get better every day.”

The Highlanders finished last season with a 17-6 record and earned a spot in the NJSIAA playoffs as a three-seed in the Group 2, Section 2 bracket.

The Highlanders lose Sean Tomlinson and Spencer Marke from last year’s team but have the luxury of fielding a deep senior class this season.

The senior group includes Jack Blash (22-13), Nick DeLuca (23-14), Andrew Gallitelli (20-13), Nick Mele (29-10), Jake Pecorelli (17-16), and Austin Senkarik (23-14).

“Nick Mele is coming off a fourth place finish last year in the region and he’s been working very hard in the offseason to be even better,” Ortega said. “Austin Senkarik is another one to keep your eye on.”

Turner Haddad (26-11) leads a junior class that also includes Ben Collins, Matt Hoy, and Dan Tomlinson.

Haddad’s younger brother, Quinn (22-15), leads a sophomore class that includes Dritan Marke, Chris Savino, and Jared VanOostendorp.

This year’s team also consists of 11 newcomers, including eight freshman, whom Ortega could possibly look to for contributions this season.

“We’re going to need the younger guys to step up and take on a bigger role this year,” Ortega, said.

Ortega and his team will do much of their competing against Union County teams, which never is a small task. The Highlanders will face the likes of Brearley, Westfield, Cranford, and Scotch Plains-Fanwood among other county opponents.

“Union County has some really good teams and I look forward to competing against them this year,” Ortega said. “Hopefully with hard work we can continue to improve throughout the year and peak when it counts.”

Ortega has been pleased with what he’s seen from his team in the preseason. The Highlanders had a chance to scrimmage Delaware Valley recently which Ortega appreciates. The scrimmage gave him and his staff a glimpse at the Highlanders’ potential against top-notch programs this season. “I love this scrimmage because it lets our kids compete with high-level competitors.”

The 2015-2016 Highlanders will have their fair share of chances to compete with the best the county, and state, has to offer.

If the deep line-up of battle-tested veterans perform like they should, the Highlanders won’t have much to worry about. Because like many of their opponents, the Highlanders will be amongst the best the state has to offer.

Video credits: JohnHaddad