This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Whittier Tech wrestling team. After all, the Wildcats lost several starters from last year's team — athletes who were expected to make big contributions this season — and their 2007-08 roster is chockful of underclassmen.

In preseason, Wildcats coach Rich Durkin said, "The kids are working hard, but we just don't have the experience. I always expect to lose one or two kids, but we lost four kids who would have been 24 points for us in a lot of meets. That's tough. With those kids not back, I'm hoping for a .500 record. That would be a great accomplishment."

Whether the Whittier mat men finish at .500 remains to be seen. But after a slow start to the season, Durkin's grapplers appear well on their way, as they've posted a 7-1-1 record in their last nine matches and also captured the Dan Gionet tournament in Pelham, N.H.

"We've turned it on the last month," said Durkin, whose 2006-07 squad qualified for the Division 2 dual-meet tournament. "We've picked up some upperclassmen (Bryan Trickett, Austin Brodie) and the inexperienced kids have stepped it up. They've gotten a month or so of wrestling under their belts and are improving. Many of them came into the season without any experience."

At the 10-team Dan Gionet tournament, the Wildcats showed superior depth, as they didn't crown a single champion but had eight placers on their way to scoring 1921/2 points, 18 more than runner-up Pelham. Garret Gadd (125 pounds) and Corey Chabuz (heavyweight) each took runner-up honors in their respective weight classes to lead the Wildcats.

"To win a tourney with a bunch of sophomores is pretty good," Durkin said.

Earning third-place points for Whittier were Pat Scheidegger (215) and Nick Deveau (heavyweight). Wildcats Anthony Eugenio (103), Sean McNiff (130), Joe Wines (171) and Sean Suzor (189) all captured fourth-place honors.

Prior to the tourney title, the Wildcats finished in 12th place at the Haverhill Invitational. Eugenio was the Wildcats top scorer. He placed fourth in the 112-pound weight class.

The team also performed well in a Commonwealth Athletic Conference match against Minuteman. The Wildcats recorded seven pins on their way to a 42-24 victory. Three wrestlers — Eugenio (119), Jeremy Bell (125) and Steve Surette (140) — pinned their opponents in less than a minute. Other Whittier winners include Shannon Constantine (103), Cameron Gadd (130), Brett Vellante (145) and Chabuz (heavyweight).

Durkin is pleased with the team's steady improvement. He noted the fine performances this season turned in by sophomores Eugenio, Surette and Constantine, among others.

"Before the season started we lost five kids, five legit kids. That's tough," Durkin said. "But I am pretty happy (with the way things are going). Kids have stepped up. And as they gain experience, they will continue to get better."

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