Wins are just icing on the (low-calorie) cake

Rota's Phillip Rivera puts Sigonella's Ben Latimer in an uncomfortable position in a 120-pound match Saturday at Aviano Air Base, Italy.


By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 9, 2017

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – Two meets into the season, it appears the defending Division II champion Aviano Saints have the strongest wrestling program south of the Alps this season.

Five Aviano wrestlers won their weight divisions Saturday as the Saints (100) comfortably topped Italy rivals Naples (80), Sigonella (65) and Vicenza (61) as well as newcomer Rota (60).

But team standings don’t really mean a lot at this time of the season. Several Saints were wrestling in weight classes different from the ones they’re likely to compete at in the postseason. Almost two dozen wrestlers from the five teams weren’t competing for various reasons. And coaches said they’re more interested in getting their kids matches than they are about wins at this point.

“We just want to see them demonstrate what we work on in practice and execute it here,” Rota coach Luke Spencer said. “It’s all about improvement.”

Rota was competing in its first match of the year. Its only other regular-season meet is at Stuttgart on Jan. 13.

“We’ve just got to take advantage of every opportunity we get,” Spencer said.

Sophomore Phillip Rivera did just that, winning all five of his matches at 120 pounds. That included one of the most entertaining matches of the day, a 32-20 victory over Sigonella freshman (and first-year wrestler) Ben Latimer.

The Jaguars were the only team to field less than 10 wrestlers, though they’ll do so at full strength. Munro Manning (113), Jacob Payne (160) and Joe Perroni (heavyweight) won all their matches. Naples matched that with Jackson Blivin (152), Augusto De Sousa Matos (195) and Nick Clarida (220) going perfect.

Vicenza’s Ethan Johnston was his school’s lone winner at 182, upending Aviano’s Aiden Capps in the process.

Capps is one of four wrestlers who wrestled in last year’s championships for the Saints. Jacob Gamboa (138) and Mitchell Schaal (160) each won their weight classes and were joined by Ethan Herrera (106), Julis Gaduang (126) and Anthony Cervantes (145) as weight-class winners. Liam Knowles, who finished second in Europe a season ago with Gamboa, moved up a weight class as there wasn’t anyone to battle at 132 and lost to Gamboa.

All five teams now have the next four weekends off, with some wrestlers focused on not losing battles at holiday dinner tables to be at their ideal weight classes when competition resumes.


Aviano's Mitchell Schaal gets the best of Naples' Nick Lumanarias in a 170-pound match Saturday at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

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