Caskey's home debut as Montville coach on hold due to quarantine
Montville — This was a two-part endeavor Wednesday night: One, the Montville High School wrestling team in its first home dual meet of the season vs. Fitch and two, interim Montville coach and former state champion Jake Caskey home in COVID-19 quarantine getting updates on the match from his mom, Nicole.
Caskey was a former volunteer coach with the program, slated to be its full-time assistant coach this year. He was pulled up to the head coaching ranks about two weeks into practice this season, he said, when former head coach Gary Wilcox resigned.
Caskey hasn't spoken to Wilcox and didn't want to speculate on his reasoning for stepping down but said his retirement came right after the Montville team had its first COVID outbreak of the season.
Now Montville's head coach is a 25-year-old mixed martial arts fighter and distinguished program alum.
The team lost to Fitch on Wednesday 42-21, with Montville fielding just six wrestlers due to its most recent COVID quarantine, but finished fifth as a team at the recent Casey Yates Memorial Tournament in Lebanon with three runner-up finishes and two thirds.
"I love it, you know. This has been a position I've sought after for a long time," Caskey said in a telephone conversation after the meet. "Coaching is always something I've been passionate about. I still have that fire. That drive is something I think I can instill in these kids.
"The team ended up placing fifth overall (at the Casey Yates Tournament). For a lot of our younger guys it was our first real wrestling setting. A lot of them got their first look into wrestling. I'm not where we'd like to be. The road doesn't end there. I'm not satisfied. I think they're definitely starting to get that hunger. We might not be the most experienced on paper, but gosh darn it, we're going to be scrappy."
Among the highlights for Montville against Fitch were pins by James Linder (126 pounds) and Yaniel Crespo (145) and an exciting 12-7 overtime decision for Raphael Vogt over Fitch's John Luethy in the 195-pound match.
Wrestling season throughout the state was canceled last year due to COVID-19, making this a reboot of sorts even for the most experienced wrestlers.
"I'm a three-sport athlete so I was able to do the modified football in the fall (in 2020), then we fortunately got our lacrosse season in the spring (of 2021)," said Vogt, who is a senior. "In the winter, I got a gym membership and was just lifting like crazy to keep up with it. Football and lacrosse, the footwork are really similar (to wrestling). But the first practice, the first week of practice, it was pretty rusty for me."
Linder, a sophomore, said he wrestled during the time the sport was not held last year, practicing at home, at least some of the time against his 11-year-old brother David.
Both speak highly of Caskey, who is 1-1 in his MMA career, with his first victory coming Nov. 6 in Plymouth, Mass., promoted by Cage Titans Fighting Championship. Caskey has taken a break from fighting for the wrestling season, something he plans to do as long as Montville will have him.
"He's got one hell of a resume. It's amazing, man," Vogt said of Caskey, a two-time Class S state champion at Montville who went on to wrestle for three seasons at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. "He's coming in young ... and he's got the experience of some 50-60-year-old coaches. Jake kind of holds us to a little bit of a higher standard, which I think is good for us."
"Jake is a great coach," Linder said. "He's always there to help us and push us. Every day we're improving and that's because of him. He's teaching us great technique. Everyone feels like they're learning every day. We love to wrestle every time we can; like tonight, we'll wrestle with six guys if we have to. Every match, (Caskey) is wrestling right there with us."
Montville is 0-3 in dual meet action and battling the numbers game. If there's one thing Caskey has emphasized it's for his wrestlers to roll with the punches — "We're going to grit our teeth, grin and bear it and conduct ourselves as professionals," he said.
His draw to mixed martial arts?
"There's something just very cathartic about getting punched in the face," he said. "It's a very surreal feeling in the cage. There's no other time I've felt more alive."
Caskey said he believes that still competing himself, he only asks of the athletes what he asks of himself. He worries that not every parent of his wrestlers approves of his offseason vocation in the cage, but he prides himself on bringing a professional manner to his coaching role.
"I feel like I'm a positive role model," he said. "... I want to focus on the Montville wrestling program. I want to build a new dynasty."