In an otherwise quiet corner Watertown High School, 30-some students work up a sweat and turn the small room into a steam room while doing a workout that looks like it belongs in a Spartan Race and an Army bootcamp.
“Most people would be done after that,” said WHS assistant wrestling coach Andrew Scopa. “They are just getting started.”
Watertown High School wrestling team is enjoying one of its best seasons in years, said Watertown’s head wrestling coach, Kevin Russo. The team has amassed a record of 16-6, with two more dual meets. Ahead lies the Sectionals on Feb. 15, the Divisional State Meet on Feb. 21 and 22, and the All-State Meet on Feb. 28 and 29.
Just a few years ago, the team was struggling for numbers.
“We had 14 returners and five freshman came out,” Russo said. “The football program has been good to us. They talk up wrestling. We send back better football players.”
Today, WHS wrestling has one of its biggest teams ever, with 33 members, including two girls, despite being one of the smallest schools they compete against.
The wrestlers who play football have been great recruiters.
“We tell other players it will help with football,” said junior Hrach Tonyan. “It helps with strength, some of the techniques help.”
Junior Sebastian Correa added, “Conditioning as well.”
“And mental toughness.” Junior David Manoukian chimed in.
Success in dual meets does not always translate to doing well the the Sectional tournament, Russo said. In a dual, each team puts out a wrestler for each weight class, while in tournaments, the wrestlers try to advance through a knockout tournament in their weight class. Russo believes the team has a chance to place well in the Div. 3 Sectional Meet.
“We’ll be in the upper (group). We beat most of the teams we are competing against,” Russo said. “The team is right at the cusp. We can hang with the best.”
“I tell the team, let me know how far yo want to go, I’ll take you there,” said Russo, who coached a national champion wrestler while at Belmont, andwas inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in April 2019. He is in his second stint in Watertown.
Russo said he cannot enter the team in many regular-season tournaments during the season, because they often take long hours on weekends.
“At Watertown, students have to go to work at 2 o’clock on Saturdays,” Russo said.
The Watertown wrestlers said the secret of success is quite simple.
“The key is to keep working, put a lot of work in during practice,” said Tonyan.
Some of the current team members have had a taste of success in the State Tournament. Junior Lukas Matton has some unfinished business.
“I qualified for States but I got sick and couldn’t compete,” Matton said.
Correa got sixth at Sectionals last year, and narrowly missed out on becoming an alternate at All-States.
The team’s future looks even brighter.
“With only one senior, we have a lot of potential,” said Manoukian.