NUTLEY, NJ-- As the 2019-2020 season begins, the Nutley High wrestling team has a lot of optimism, according to head coach Mike DiPiano.

The Raiders were scheduled to open the regular seaon on Dec. 19, when the team hosts a staunch rival in Passaic Valley, starting at 6 p.m. On Dec. 21, the team heads to Middletown South High for a tournament, starting at 9 a.m. and on Dec. 28, Nutley heads south again, this time to Woodtown High for what should be a very competitive holiday tourney, beginning at 10 a.m.

DiPiano noted that the team 'leaders' this winter will be Jacob Gonzalez (145 pounds), Peter Haverick (152) and Dan Jennings (195).

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"I want these kids to learn now to lead," said DiPiano. "It's a process, but one I feel confident that they'll work well at. They're learning, and they're good kids."

Nutley has a number of returning starters from last year's team, which had finished a solid 20-8 against a very good schedule. The Raiders began practice on Dec. 2 and have been working hard.

"We open against a very good Passaic Valley team," said DiPiano. "Every year, we have good matches against them and I'm sure it will be the case again. They're well coached and their kids are a lot like ours, with the same kind of work ethic."

The returning starters include Justin Eltzhotz (120 pounds), Dean Polewka (138), Gonzalez, Haverick, Sal Mainiero (160), Anthony Haines (170), Michael LaTorre (182), Jennings, Nick Polewka (220) and Billy Searle (285).

"Our lineup is basically back (from last year) and we are looking to improve in both dual meets and tournaments," said DiPiano. "There's no hiding the fact that we had a tough first round in last year's regions. Our goal is for our guys to be in the hunt on that Saturday, at the regions, and to have the chance to qualify for the state championships (at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City). We feel we have several guys who can make that jump.

"Another goal is to get a home match in the sectionals, and to advance (to the semifinals and finals) on that Wednesday and Friday night."

The coach also feels that freshman Franco Graffeo, sophomore Dave Berry, junior Vin Negra and seniors Hernan Castenada and Chris Mulligan can also contribute to the varsity this season.