With just five upperclassmen on the Highland Regional High School wrestling team, it is imperative the few older wrestlers in the program provide valuable leadership. Senior Joe Rodano understands this and has spent much of the last month doing his best to mold a host of young wrestlers into future standouts.
And in his spare time, he is also carving out quite a reputation for himself.
Rodano went 3-0 in the Tartans’ quad meet Saturday, improving to 10-1 on the season. He won with a first-period pin and followed with a last-second 6-5 decision before capping his afternoon off with a win by forfeit.
“I just came out here and gave it my all,” Rodano said. “It’s only six minutes, so you have to leave it all out there.”
No match defined the type of fighter Rodano is better than his 6-5 decision over Triton’s Cesar Dash. Trailing 4-3 late in the third period, Rodano recorded a single-leg takedown with three seconds left to earn the victory.
“I just told myself I had to get going,” Rodano said. “There was no way I could lose with the home crowd here. I told myself: 'I have to keep going, I have to keep going.' I kept shooting and he left his one leg out so I took the single and just ran with it as hard as I could.”
Highland head coach Michael Davidson praised the efforts of Rodano, saying his attitude is contagious around the Tartans’ practice room.
“He works hard and is a great leader,” said Davidson. “He is a great role model for the younger kids because he has a great work ethic and the kids follow him. He is a blessing in disguise for this team.”
Rodano understands he is in a position that requires him to be at his best at all times. Not only is the team counting on him to be a leader, but the Tartans are also counting on him to provide consistent scoring.
“You definitely have to show leadership,” Rodano said. “A lot of guys are coming from middle school and are not used to the high school life so you have to show them how to do it. If they have problems, you help them out.”
The Highland senior is positioning himself to be one of the favorites in his district when the postseason arrives, but he isn’t ready to think that far ahead.
“You always have to improve,” Rodano said. “You can never plateau. You just have to keep working harder and take it one match at a time. That’s all I am looking at right now.”
As a team, the Tartans were dominant, cruising to wins over Cherry Hill East (63-12), Triton (43-17) and Burlington City (51-21).
“We wrestled well,” Davidson said. “The effort was there. We are still real young, but we have good leadership and got a good group effort.”
With so few established wrestlers on its roster, Highland (6-1) entered the season with mild expectations from outsiders and as a result, Highland’s success has caught many by surprise. However, Cherry Hill East coach Mike Brown doesn’t think that will be the case much longer.
“Highland is going to be a top-ranked team by the end of the year,” said Brown. “They are under-known right now, but it won’t be that way for long.”