NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Coming off of a historic 2018-2019 season, the West Essex High School wrestling team is back on the grind in preparation for the 2019-2020 season, which begins for the Knights on Dec. 19 with a dual match against Emerson Borough and Park Ridge.

Last season, the group obtained the school’s first-ever Group 3 State Championship title, which the Knights now hope to defend.

“No matter where we fall at the end of the year, the expectation for our wrestlers is always high,” said West Essex head coach Mike Markey. “We want to compete at a high level.”

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The squad is currently hard at work preparing for the rigors of the upcoming season.

Although the Knights are aiming high in 2019, their coach expressed that proper nutrition and rest is going to be key over the next week as the wrestlers work to make and sustain their proper weights.

“At this point in time, it’s just trying to get the rust off,” said Markey. “We have some guys coming off some other sports and guys who, although they have been training, haven’t been on the daily grind yet.”

At the heavyweight class, West Essex returns senior powerhouse Bardhyl Gashi, who was the No. 2 wrestler in the state last season. Coming off a 42-3 record, Gashi looks to expand on his phenomenal performance.

“[Gashi is] likely to come in with the No. 1 ranking, which of course is just ranking, but he certainly has the opportunity to earn a state championship if he’s focused,” said Markey.

Junior brothers Alex and Darren Jones—who combined for a record of 45-14 last season—will also return to keep the Knights strong in the middle weight-classes of 138 and 145, respectively.

“They are going to fall right in the middle of our lineup,” said Markey. “They’ve made tremendous strides from last year.”

At the 126-and 132-pound classes, West Essex will have sophomore Ricky Cassidy and Carson Barry, respectively.

Cassidy comes in with a career record of 34-12 and 13 pins while Barry holds a 29-10 career record.

“[Cassidy & Barry] will add some depth to our lineup down low,” said Markey.

Junior Sam Carsillo, whose record stood at 26-17 last season, will also factor into the team’s plans at the 195 class for the Knights.

“I look to [Carsillo] to pick up right where he left off last year,” said Markey.

Rounding out the group for West Essex is a class of 15 freshmen who are expected to compete for spots. Markey anticipates that freshmen will occupy about four or five spots and will ultimately help the team mature as the season goes on.

“They are going to be fighting out for a few weight classes,” said Markey. “You’re likely to see a lot of them.”

When the Knights open their season on Dec. 19, Markey said he hopes the team will “do what West Essex does: control the center of the mat, pressure people, put up points and are healthy.”

“If we put out 14 healthy guys, I think it can go very well,” said Markey.