By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
With another long slog of a high school wrestling season about to get underway for the Amsterdam Rams, it's perfectly normal to feel like last season never ended.
For some, it never did.
"It's really exciting, but the season didn't really end for me or a lot of people, because we do it year-round," said senior captain James Marquez.
Still, after a long offseason of club wrestling and preseason team practices, the Rams are set to open their 2012-13 schedule today split between a pair of tournaments -- the most-experienced wrestlers will head to Cicero-North Syracuse High School for the annual Anderson Invitational, while a 'B' team of younger varsity wrestlers will stay in Section II to compete in the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Invitational.
Today will serve as the first test for a relatively young Amsterdam squad that lost a pair of Section II runners-up in Mike Garrison and Gaetano Lanzi to graduation.
"This is probably one of the youngest teams we've had in the last eight years, but they're showing a lot of enthusiasm," said Rams head coach Ken Benton. "The chemistry's coming together really well. But, you don't know how things will go until you're tested."
From what junior team captain and two-time state tournament podium finisher Brandon Lapi has seen in practice, the relatively inexperienced Rams have plenty of potential.
"We lost a lot of seniors. We're young this year, but we're training pretty hard," Lapi said.
The Rams' relative youth puts pressure on several wrestlers coming up from the modified program -- including Chris Garrison, Richie Altieri, Jake Rodecker, Romeo Jones and Rafael Garcia -- to step in immediately and make either full or part-time contributions to the varsity lineup.
"These are all guys new to the sport, but there's a lot of potential," Benton said.
Though there is plenty of youth and inexperience in the Rams' wrestling room, Amsterdam does return a core group of veteran performers who helped the team win a school-record 31 dual meets and a seventh consecutive Big 10 title in 2011-12 while finishing second as a team in the Section II Division 1 Class 2 Championships and fourth overall in the Section II Division 1 meet.
"They've contested at a very high level and they've achieved greatly," Benton said. "Now, it's just setting that bar a little higher of how much higher you want to stand on the podium, setting those goals and doing what you've got to do to get to those points.
"That's what our schedule does. It prepares us for the postseason, and they general respond well to that level."
Ken Garcia, Rob Santiago, Dal Orengo, Chris Velasquez and Marcus Torres join Lapi and Marquez as key returning contributors, and Benton said that group has done a lot in preseason workouts to help Amsterdam's substantial group of younger wrestlers in their transition to the varsity level.
"We've got a lot of guys that have great leadership roles," he said. "We have seniors that support each other. We're going through a lot of growing pains because of the inexperience, but they're picking things up quick and they're very coachable."
And with the sheer length of the Rams' schedule, Benton will be seeing a lot of his team. The Rams will be at a tournament essentially every weekend from now through late February, in addition to a rigorous dual meet schedule that kicks off Wednesday in "The Pit" at Lynch Literacy Academy with a Big 10 matchup against Christian Brothers Academy.
"I kid around with my wife when I say goodbye in the morning that I go to school in the dark and come home in the dark," Benton said. "It's a long season."