CANANDAIGUA —The return of high school winter sports has been an exciting surprise for all involved, but it’s been extra special for Batavia/Attica wrestling coach Rick Stewart.
Last year, while many wrestlers watched their season come to a screeching halt due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus, Coach Stewart had already ended his 2020 campaign early due to his duties as a Chief Warrant Officer in the Army National Guard. Stewart’s service often takes him overseas, and in the middle of last season, he departed for the Middle East where he served for many months before returning in mid-November.
On Saturday, Stewart’s Blue Devils welcomed their coach back to the mat with a 37-24 road win over the Canandaigua Braves.
“It was great to be back coaching the team, even as different as it is now,” said Stewart. “We have a short time to get this young team ready, and it showed on the mat. But our veterans came through.”
One of those veterans is Stewart’s son, Casper, a two-time defending sectional champion who began his season by pinning Canandaigua’s Jayden Winkler in 1:50. There was something different about Casper as he made his way inside the circle on Saturday, and it wasn’t difficult to identify what had changed since the last time he was on the mat.
After spending last season at 113 pounds, Stewart experienced significant growth during the offseason and, as a result, has jumped up three weight classes. His win over Winkler on Saturday came at 132 pounds.
“Casper is ready to go,” said Coach Stewart. “He trains year-round and is in great shape to begin the year.”
B/A’s Travis Kauffman, another defending sectional champion, began his season with an 11-1 major decision over Canandaigua’s Reese Hibbard. It was a rematch of last year’s Class A 132-pound final, which Kauffman won to earn his first career Sec. V title.
“Travis dominated from the start,” said Coach Stewart of Kauffman’s win at 145 pounds on Saturday. “He was in control the whole match and was never in any trouble. He looked really good.”
Kauffman will wrestle next year at Alfred State College.
Another highlight of B/A’s win was the 160-pound matchup between Kaden Marucci and Canandaigua’s Grant Johnson. Marucci bumped up a weight class to face Johnson, a sectional finalist a year ago. Trailing by three as time winded down, Marucci scored a four-point takedown with eight seconds remaining to earn the comeback win.
“Kaden was clutch tonight,” said Coach Stewart after Saturday’s match.
Tyler Budziniack pinned Canandaigua’s Michael Shelhart in 42 seconds at 152 pounds, while Nick Lamkin (110 pounds) and Wyatt Bryman (126 pounds) each earned wins by forfeit.
Canandaigua dominated the heavier weight classes, earning wins at 172 pounds, 189 pounds, 215 pounds and 285 pounds.
“We need to continue to develop our young, new wrestlers,” added Stewart. “Best way to do that is to make it a fun experience, so they continue with the sport and become solid competitors.”
Looking ahead, Batavia/Attica will take on the Palmyra-Macedon Red Raiders on Wednesday night.
“Pal-Mac is tough,” concluded Stewart. “They have three returning all-state wrestlers, two of which have signed to wrestle (Div. I in college).”
After Pal-Mac, the Blue Devils will hit the road to Lyndonville on Thursday.