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The Making of a Great Team

by: Kenny Vilorio The Bulldog wrestlers finished with a solid record of 9-5 this season, placing third in the region and finishing third in the whole district. Due to the results in the Wrestling North Atlantic District/Region XIX Tournament, the team was able to qualify six wrestlers for the 2023 NJCAA Wrestling Tournament. The strong performances come down to its Head Coach that has steered them through this journey—Coach Chris DiSanto.

 One might wonder: What do you contribute to a cohesive wrestling team? “It’s all about having fun,” said DiSanto. It’s also not solely about being a good wrestler that’s most important; moreover, he delves into how success outside the mat can provide great lessons as inside of it.

“What you do off the mat, that will reflect what you do inside the mat—so you get good grades, going to school, that’s all going to allow you to wrestle, and I think that’s super important and once you get past that, it’s all about having fun,” DiSanto said.

DiSanto works in the Office for Testing Services and sees his players sometimes and chats with them every now and then. It’s important for him to stay in touch with all those participating in the team. Communication is key, and he strives for all his wrestlers to adhere to. “It’s a must for all my wrestlers”, he said.

When it comes to wrestling, it’s very much a fight or flight situation. You don’t have a coach in your corner like in other sports, i.e., boxing. It’s just you and the other person at the other end of the mat trying to either pin the other or win on points. If you lose, you have no one else to blame but yourself out there. So, what separates the winning side on the mat and the losing side? DiSanto spoke about what makes or breaks wrestlers.

“You can talk about what you need to do pretty much. You know, I need to make sure I get to my offense, I need to do certain things during that match. You’re thinking about all these things before you step on the mat. And once you step on the wrestling mat, there are some people who can apply everything they thought about and do those things they said—get to their offense, make sure they’re moving their feet, make sure they’re getting secure and takedowns.”

It’s about knowing the right tools before getting on the mat and implementing what you’ve learnt and applying them in the heat of the moment. Having “these variables that you would need to do to have a good wrestling match.” But there are certain people who have a mental block that makes it difficult for them to pull the trigger, which has long fascinated DiSanto. 

“What’s the mental block? And, I’ve been trying to discover, what is the mental block? What has prevented certain people from doing the uncomfortable thing—ideally getting to your offense—could be somewhat uncomfortable because you don’t know what the reaction’s going to be.”

This mental block could create self-doubt in the person before he/she even steps on the mat. As a result, you’ve defeated yourself before the match has even begun. Having these nerves, as he pointed out, “is the biggest factor because you don’t know—you’re walking into the unknown.” But, if you can set aside those nerves, and venture into uncharted territory, it could mark the difference between winning and losing.

Jack Farinaro (184 lbs), one of the top wrestlers of the team, ought to know well. He was one of the six who competed in the NJCAA Tournament and qualified in Nationals, competing against D1 athletes. But what does he think of his performances this season and of his teams? It comes down to hard work. 

“I attribute this success to a group of dedicated athletes, dedicated wrestlers, who love what they do. They love to work hard. They love the act of sport in general. And we wake up every morning, we come to practice, we work hard, we make sure we improve our techniques,” Farinaro said.

While wrestling is traditionally seen as a men’s sport, the team could break the mole by introducing us to more female wrestlers competing for the team soon at Bergen. Both Natalia Morales (133lbs) and Soraya Safforld (125lbs) are the first female wrestlers in the team’s history. Natalia defeated a male wrestler at one point in Middlesex by pinning him down.

So, how did it feel for Natalia? “It felt good,”she said almost nonchalantly. She spoke about the support she had with her teammates in getting through the match. And even though she and Safforld didn’t do as well in Nationals as they had hoped, it was an extraordinary experience to get to compete against folks at the highest levels, despite it being a “difficult tournament, but you know, get fun people out there, and it makes it great.”

But what does she make of her success, and being one the two female athletes to compete for Bergen? Well, it’s business as usual.

“It’s not just about men—if you can put in the work, anyone can do it no matter what gender you are,” said Morales.

This steely mentality, coupled with having fun and working hard is one that DiSanto hopes for in his wrestlers. And they seemed to have taken his teachings and applied them to compete at the highest levels to be one of the top teams in the region. And, they aren’t stopping anytime soon.

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