SMYRNA — Joseph Natarcola loves wrestling.
But that doesn’t mean the Smyrna High senior loves everything about the sport.
“There’s nothing fun about it,” Natarcola said before practice on Wednesday. “You come in, you sweat, you bust your butt. I just fell in love with ‘the nit and the grit’ of it and how tough it is.
“I play golf. I go to golf practice and I laugh and swing the club. I come to (wrestling) practice and I get beat up. I get slammed and I get head butted.”
This season, Natarcola could have added wearing a mask for two hours at practice to the list of things that wrestlers have to endure. There’s also the uncertainty of how much wrestling will even take place this season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, three Henlopen North matches were postponed because of a lack of available competitors — at least some of it because of COVID-19 issues.
Still, wrestlers like Natarcola and Smyrna teammate Gabe Giampietro are in the wrestling room, working toward whatever competitions are ahead.
Both are two-time DIAA individual state champions. As a junior, Giampietro still has a shot at being a rare four-time state champ.
Eagles coach Aaron Harris admits his main goal is preparing his wrestlers for the individual state tournament, if there is one.
“There’s a long list of one and two-time state champions,” said Harris. “But there’s not a long list of three-time ones. Gabe has the potential to be a four-timer, which is an even shorter list.
“Those guys (would have) had the opportunity to place and win at the Beast of the East and the Ironman this year. They don’t have that. So we’ve got to push them to do the best they can at the state tournament.”
The Eagles are slated to open their season on Saturday with a noon Henlopen North match at Polytech. Smyrna currently has seven dual meets scheduled, with six against Henlopen North schools plus a non-conference date with Salesianum.
The Eagles have reached the DIAA Division I dual-meet state finals for seven years in a row, winning the title five times in that span.
Harris said it hasn’t been easy this winter, though.
Because the district did not permit Smyrna to begin pre-season until late December, the Eagles have had only 12 practices — less than half of many programs in the state. Smyrna is also missing wrestlers for a number of different reasons.
The Eagles have 26 wrestlers in the program this winter where normally they’ve have about 50.
“I’m proud of the guys that are here,” said Harris. “But I’m not upset at the guys who aren’t because there’s real-life issues going on.”
Giampietro, a 113-pounder this season, said even if he knew there wasn’t going to be an individual state tourney this year, he’d still be at practice. The sport means that much to him.
After seeing how much the long layoff took away from the Eagles as wrestlers, Giampietro likes seeing the team build itself back up.
“It’s just the environment with all the guys here,” said Giampietro. “I love it. Just being able to come back with my teammates and see us all grow together— especially through this pandemic.
“I love seeing us come back in here and grind it out. That’s what motivates me to keep it going.”
A wrestler since he was seven, Giampietro said he’s always loved the combination of individual accomplishment and team atmosphere.
He tries not to worry about the things he can’t control this season.
“These are the cards that we were dealt,” said Giampietro. “You’ve just got to do whatever you can to grind to get ready for that moment.”
“You have to take it one day at a time,” said Natarcola. “If COVID cases spike in the next week and our season gets shut down, there’s nothing I can do about it. As of right now, you keep coming (to practice), you keep working hard.
“You just to have tunnel vision. I don’t know what a month from now looks like but I know what today looks like. There’s a month and a half left, I might as well give it my all. I’ve been doing it for so long.”
In some ways, the situation is a little more difficult for seniors like Natarcola. This is his last season.
For him, winning a third state crown would be an accomplishment that no one could ever take away.
“You open that program when you go to the state tournament and there’s a couple pages dedicated to state champions,” said Natarcola. “One day I want to show my kid I was on the elite list.”