Lavinsky Collins, pictured during a match last year, is a returning EHS wrestler who is expected to excel during the upcoming season. (File photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Chris Seifert’s first two years drilling in practice against Ewing High School wrestling head coach Matt Dalessio were pretty lopsided.

Now Seifert is a more experienced and dedicated junior, and it’s often him putting the challenge out to Dalessio.

“He’s getting tough,” Dalessio said. “In years past, I had my way with him. It would just be takedown after takedown and escape after escape, and I’d turn him on his back. This year, it’s different. He’s hard to move, he’s hard to get anything on.”

Dalessio had to talk Seifert into coming out for wrestling again last year. He was going to take off his sophomore year following a minor knee injury in football to heal and focus on preparing for football. Instead he enjoyed a breakout year that saw his win total jump from seven as a freshman to 16 as a sophomore, and he saw the sport in a whole new light.

“It was due to the success I had,” Seifert said. “I always looked at wrestling as a complement to football. After actually having a good year, I found I liked it.”

Seifert took third place in last year’s Mercer County Tournament with a pin of Notre Dame’s Omar Santos, then advanced to his first Region 5 tournament after reaching the consolation match at the District 22 tournament.

“I learned how to fight adversity, not give up in situations, how to get out of a situation I could get pinned in last year and take smart shots,” Seifert said. “I learned how to take losses better and not be so down over it.

Chris Seifert

“It exceeded my personal expectations,” he added. “I felt a little unsatisfied. After that last loss, I wanted to do more. When I was walking off the mat, I wanted to go back and do it again because I think I could have done better. It left a big hunger.”

Seifert returned to the mats this preseason healthy, something that he wasn’t last year, and anxious to be even better. He figures to wrestle in one of the upper weights for the Blue Devils, who are optimistic about this year’s team.

“We had a really good first two and a half weeks of practice,” Dalessio said. “We’ve shed some bad attitudes over the last year, and we just have a group of kids that want to work hard and want to get better. For as experienced as we are in the varsity lineup, we’re extremely young everywhere else.”

“That youngness comes through in our lineup at certain points with some freshmen that look to crack the lineup or some sophomores that look to crack the lineup,” he added. “We’re getting older now and expecting some good things from our team this year. They understand the expectations and they’re working to live up to those expectations.”

The talent and work ethic that Ewing returns is what is most uplifting. County fourth-place finisher Devon Kueny returns at 106 pounds, but she will have a strong challenge this year from Alexander Samayoa.

“He’s tough as nails,” Dalessio said. “He’s a football player. He’s one of those kids who want to get in there somewhere.”

Wayne Staub and Matt Hedrick also return in the lower weights, and Taih Harris is another wrestler that Dalessio thinks could contribute.

“He’s a sophomore who wrestled a lot of JV for us last year,” Dalessio said. “He’s a kid that I need to find a spot for. He’s certified to get down to 138, and hopefully he’ll fill a void in our lineup there eventually.”

Ewing has big-name potential in the middle of its lineup. Lavinsky Collins was a state qualifier at 152 pounds who finished 37-4 after reaching Atlantic City, and James Kim is his practice partner who nearly knocked off a state qualifier in the district quarterfinals before bowing in overtime.

“We expect James to be on the podium at Mercer Counties,” Dalessio said. “He wants to win our tournament to start off. He wants to get to AC, that’s his ultimate goal. He’s ready for the fight. He’s put in an incredible amount of work these first couple weeks in the wrestling room. This is coming off football season where he was one of our four starting wide receivers. He’s a tough kid that we’re going to like.”

“It helps us out a lot,” Seifert said. “In matches, it gives us a little relief. He’s almost like a lock. Even though I’m a different weight class, he can come help anyone. The intensity he brings, he doesn’t let up on anybody. He always goes hard and even if it’s a younger guy, he makes sure they learn.”

‘You can tell everyone is hungry. You can see it in practice. Everyone takes is seriously.’

Chase Springett will bounce back and forth to fill the weight class around Collins. Springett continues to juggle wrestling and bowling as well.

Ewing’s upper weights are cause for excitement. They have as much potential as any year at Ewing. Joseph Gachetti, Christian Roman-Deveney and Seifert are a terrific threesome to anchor the upper weights.

“Joe Gachetti is a kid that will drop to 170 eventually,” Dalessio said. “This kid looks like he ate weights all summer. He’s a chiseled out kid that comes in the room every day and works hard. He’s got a little chip on his shoulder. He’s broken into the lineup here and there, but hasn’t had the success he’s wanted. This is a kid that will be in the Marines next year. He’s already enlisted, so he’s doing some stuff on the weekends to get himself ready.

“Christian Roman-Deveney is the most unassuming wrestler you’ll ever come across,” Dalessio said. “That works to his favor so many times. A lot of people walk on the mat and look at him and think, ‘I’ve got this,’ and he goes out there and grinds out matches. He doesn’t look like very much. You don’t want to get your weight caught in the wrong spot because he’ll put your straight to your back.”

Then there’s Seifert, who is more determined and more prepared to be a big-time wrestler.

“I packed on more weight,” he said. “I’m stronger than last year. My move variety has improved. Last year my season started a little late because of injuries from football. I didn’t take it as seriously last year.”

Seifert jumped right into wrestling after football ended. He’s taken advantage of his practice partners as well.

“I get pushed a lot, most by the coach,” Seifert said. “He whoops me pretty good. I wrestle other kids, and how they all wrestle are different. I get to look at how different wrestlers will attack me. Christian is very technical, Javon (Strong) and Josh (Munroe) use more athleticism.”

Seifert is feeling more prepared for any situation and style that he could see. He’s been working to make himself a more complete wrestler.

“One thing I struggled a lot was being on top and bottom,” he said. “I think I’ve worked a lot on getting out on bottom. I still have room to improve. And then seeing opportunities to take shots better. I’m better at seeing openings for shots, seeing opportunities.”

Seifert is trying to help his teammates as well. Being a three-year varsity wrestler has given him experience and earned him credibility on the team.

“It’s very different,” Seifert said of being a junior. “Now instead of being a kid who has to look up to everybody, more guys are looking up to me. I can answer questions. I can almost teach.”

Dalessio sees the growth in Seifert every day. He is developing into a wrestler who can contend for championships at any level.

“He’s a tough kid,” Dalessio said. “Last year, the majority of his matches came at 285 when he was 205. He was wrestling heavyweights, giving up 60-70 pounds sometimes, up to 80 pounds sometimes. He was able to beat a lot of them.”

Seifert has returned with more confidence in himself and the team. Ewing is looking for double-digit wins in the county, more district medals and region qualifiers and the opportunity to push the Blue Devils to a new level.

“I feel like we can compete with a lot of teams this year,” Seifert said. “We have a lot of talent returning. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores returning. We have a lot of talented seniors. I think we could have a really good year as a whole. You can tell everyone is hungry. You can see it in practice. Everyone takes is seriously.”