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Revived Stepinac Wrestling Team Eyes Postseason

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The Archbishop Stepinac High School wrestling program has come a long way since being revived just three years ago when the White Plains parochial school team was an unrecognized club team.

“I was always interested in the idea of wrestling but never really knew anything about it,” said 120-pounder Brandon Gray, who boasts a record of 18-10 this season. “When I was a freshman I heard they were starting a wrestling club team at my school. I saw this as an opportunity to learn what it was all about. As I learned more about it I fell in love with the sport, and decided that I wanted to learn more and get as good as I could in the sport.”

Gray joins a group of 10 wrestlers who joined the club team three years ago under coach Bill Lee and assistant Thom Gwin with the goal of reviving a program that had last competed in 1971. The Crusaders are now headed for the City Divisionals for qualifying on Feb. 4 and hopefully to the Catholic High Schools Athletic Association state championships Feb. 11.

Senior captains A.J. Revellese (152 pounds), Chris Bernard (160) and Omer Turhan (220) join juniors Gray and Daniel Vitagliano (145) as leaders of the team.

“I wrestle because I enjoy the one-on-one combat between my opponent and me,” said Revellese, who has a record of 19-3. “There aren’t many sports where you go out into the middle of the gym by yourself with no help from anyone else. I enjoy the thrill of victory when you win a wrestling match. I’ve played many sports in my life, but winning is not as satisfying in any other like it is in wrestling.”

Bernard, who is 16-7, said his goal is to qualify for and place in the upcoming CHSAA State Tournament.

“I am working extremely hard in practice and at home,” Bernard said. “I train hard on the mat with my teammates and fellow captain A.J. Revellese. We try very hard and push each other’s limits so we can do our best at the City and State tournament.”

Turhan, who also plays football for the Crusaders, has set high goals but is enjoying the journey of building the school’s program.

“I always set my goals high so even if I don’t meet them I’ll still have done well,” Turhan said. “This season I want to be CHSAA New York City champion and possibly even CHSAA state champion. However, I have to take one step at a time and concentrate on placing top five at the city divisional tournament to qualify for states.”

Revellese and his teammates agreed that “cutting weight,” or staying on their wrestling weight, was the least attractive part of a sport they have embraced.

“The one thing I can say I don’t enjoy about wrestling is having to cut and watch my weight,” the senior captain said. “Sometimes it can be challenging, but being dedicated and wanting to win matches will make a wrestler pay close attention to his weight.  Not being able to eat the night before a match or tournament is hard, but then when you do make weight you are fueled for your matches.”

And despite the demands of the sport they have helped to re-establish, the bonds they have found on the mat at Stepinac are lasting.

“The closeness of these wrestlers is unlike any other,” Revellese said. “We are able to have a bunch of jokes and laugh, but in the end work hard to be tough when it counts. Finally, I like the toughness wrestlers develop throughout a season and how much we are able to handle.  In my opinion, wrestlers are the toughest of all athletes.”

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