The success that James Kim and Christian Roman-Deveney experienced in their first years as full-time varsity wrestlers has them motivated and confident that they can do even better this season.
It’s just the mindset that the Ewing High School wrestling team needs. The Blue Devils don’t have many experienced seniors, but their returning wrestlers are a source of hope. Kim, a sophomore at 152 pounds, and Roman-Deveney, a junior at 182 pounds, are two underclassmen leaders for the Blue Devils.
“I can’t speak enough about how hard James and Christian Roman-Deveney work,” said Ewing head coach Matt Dalessio. “They both were varsity guys last year. Christian will wrestle anybody in our room above 170 and go after them. It doesn’t matter if they’re lighter than him, it doesn’t matter if they’re heavier than him, he’s going to either outsmart them or outmuscle them and figure it out what’s the best attack.”
Roman-Deveney was 12-16 in his first full season of varsity at 182 pounds. Winning a dozen matches in his breakout year motivated him for this season.
“I was happy with it,” Roman-Deveney said. “I wasn’t expecting big things, and neither was my coach. But I ended up winning a lot of surprising matches and I had over 10 wins, so I’m expecting close to 20 this year.”’
Kim went 17-14 as a freshman at 138 pounds. Only two other Ewing wrestlers —Mercer County Tournament champion at 106 pounds Wayne Staub and 160-pounder Lavinsky Collins—won more matches than he did a year ago.
“I want to strive for more,” Kim said. “I thought about last year, and this season I want to do much more than go 17-14, try to win counties in my weight class and advance out of districts to regions.”
Kim’s wins last year were the product of hard work coming into his inaugural year of high school, and he will benefit again from having Collins—arguably Ewing’s best wrestler—as a practice partner for the second straight season.
Collins took first place at 160 at the Blue Devils Tournament on Dec. 17, and Kim finished in second at 152. Overall, Ewing finished in fourth place.
“He pushes me to my best,” Kim said. “We go at each other every day. It can go back and forth, him taking me down and me taking him down. I did wrestle him last year. He taught me a lot throughout the season, a lot of technique.”
Kim’s approach this year shows a different confidence in himself. It was a tough adjustment in his first year to find Collins up against him every day in practice. It was a challenge that made him better, and he’s embracing it more this season.
“Last year, he’d hide a little from Lavinsky in the room, and go and find other wrestling partners,” Dalessio said. “Not to take it easy, but he knew he had a better chance of taking someone else down than him (Collins) so he’d stay away from him.
Both Kim and Roman-Deveney credit hard work in the training room for their success. “I think it comes down to practice with conditioning,” Roman-Deveney said. “It’s how hard our coaches — Coach Dalessio and Coach (Darren) Basich — work us at the end of practice.”
That practice enabled Ewing’s wrestlers to improve throughout the season. The Blue Devils won seven matches last season, and even with their youth this year, they feel ready to improve on that number.
“We’re a very young team, but we have good wrestlers in our lineup like Lavinsky Collins, Wayne Staub, Patrick Smith,” Kim said. “We’re going to give competition to other teams in the county.”
The Blue Devils feel good about the potential for their lineup. At the lower weights, Stephen Cirello is a senior in his fourth year on the team, Staub returns highly motivated after a 24-11 season at 106 pounds, and Jacob Basich is a promising junior at 126 or 132. John Westervelt looks ready to contribute at 132. Khalil Castro is a pleasant surprise at 138. Da’Juan Fulford is in place at 145 and then Kim comes at 152 and Collins at 160.
“He had 25 wins his freshman year, and over 20 wins last year as a sophomore,” Dalessio said of Collins. “His goal this year is Atlantic City (for the Tournament of Champions). Anything less isn’t acceptable to him. He’s at Rhino Club all offseason, he and Wayne were up there multiple days weekly.”
Patrick Smith won 15 matches at 152 last year. Joe Gachetti has a shot at 170 pounds. Alon Walker won 14 matches a year ago, and looks to wrestle at 170 or 182 for his final season.
“He’s going to go out there and hopefully be one of our senior forces to reckon with this year,” Dalessio said. “Last year was his first full season on the mat and he was pushing to be one of those really good wrestlers. I’m interested to see how he does.”
Roman-Deveney plans to be at 182, though he opened the season for the Blue Devils Tournament at 195 pounds. Chris Seifert is a 195 or 220 pound candidate with a big upside.
“He’s probably the strongest kid in my room right now,” Dalessio said. “He’s good at picking things up and putting things down.”
He said that Seifert benches well over 300 lbs, squats nearly 500 lbs and deadlifts over 400 lbs. “He was a little sloppy last year because he just didn’t know enough, but seeing him wrestle this summer, he just got real comfortable with his shot and learned to overpower kids that way. I expect 20 wins out of him this year.” Dalessio said.
Two new Ewing wrestlers are hoping to fill the upper weights. Khalil Smith and Yusif Bangura are football players that are new to the wrestling team.
“The upper weights, there’s a lot of kids up there, and it’s hard competition,” Roman-Deveney said. “I think upper weight is what we’re going to have to rely on to win the close matches and get the pins for us.”
Having some success last year helped Roman-Deveney get a head start for this season. It opened his eyes to his potential. “It made my mindset a lot different. It made me more focused on the sport, wanting to win, striving for winning.”
Even with some less experienced wrestlers, Ewing is confident it can compete well this year. If progress is fast enough, they could surprise some people while taking on an improved schedule.
“I think we’ll be able to hold our own in the county,” Dalessio said. “We are wrestling Manville as we do every year, we’re hosting Seneca at the end of the season. We’re hosting Matawan at some point. I tried to beef up our schedule a little bit. Other than that, we’re going up against Region 6 competition, all those Shore teams. If we don’t start seeing them now, we’re going to be in for a rude awakening come districts and regions.”