By John Goralski
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, Travis Daly was tossing around his opponent like a cat with a ball of string, but that wasn’t enough. The defending state champion had to score a pin late in the meet if his team had a chance to win.
Bristol Eastern was consistently out-wrestling the Knights on their home floor, so Daly had to push for something that wasn’t there. His opponent capitalized on a mistake and pinned the defending state champ.
Dion was clear about one thing. There’s no need for alarm after the 37-28 loss.
“He could have just sat on his lead when he was up 10-0 or 12-0, but he tried to force it knowing that he had to do it for the team,” said the coach. “He made just a little mistake, and he got caught. I’m not worried about that. He’s still got to get in shape after the extended football season. He’ll get there. He’ll still dominate. He’s just got to get in shape and finish.”
It wasn’t the start that fans might have liked, but Dion said that his wrestlers are focusing on the big picture—the postseason. His team had to scramble for opening day because of an extended football season, so it was just bad luck to draw a team like Bristol Eastern.
“They’re a good team, and they just wrestled a little harder than we did,” said Dion. “We intentionally start the season not in our best shape because we don’t want to peak early. When you get a good team right off the hop, you’re going to pay. Today, we got out-toughed in the third period. We have a lot of work to do. We still have to get some of our kids down into the right weight classes, but we’ll get there.”
Some of the matches fell the way they were predicted. Nate Solomon (132), Ryan DuPuis (160), and Zach Maxwell (195) rallied for pins. Tyler Hyde (170) manhandled his opponent with a 15-1 decision. Zach Bylykbashi (120) and Austin Sullivan (182) battled for decisions, but the Lancers ran out to a 25-9 lead which gave Southington a slim margin for error.
“We blew a couple big leads in some matches, and we’ve got some work to do,” said Dion. “They were in a little better shape than we were today, and they really wrestled tough. My hat’s off to them. They came out here and they really wrestled well. They set the tone on us. They got physical on us, and they finished their matches better than we did.”
There were some bright spots for the Knigths, even in some of their losses. Freshmen wrestlers Trevor Godston (220) and Zach Murillo (106) lost tight decisions to experienced wrestlers late in the match.
“Trevor held his own against a junior with a lot of experience and really wrestled tough. He stayed in great positions and wrestled hard,” said Dion. “So did Murillo against a much bigger kid. The kids that we needed to tough it out and play off their backs did a really good job.”
A better measure for the Knights was Saturday’s Lancer Tournament in Waterford. Dion expects his team to be a good tournament team, and this was a chance to measure themselves against some of the better wrestlers in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Windham scored 180 points to take the team title, but Southington battled for 171.5 points to claim second place, two champions, and a top four finish in nine of the 14 divisions.
“It started off slow, but we built some momentum at the end,” said Dion. “I think that this was our day to wake up. We were kind of sleeping against Bristol, and we were still sleeping in the morning. But as the day went on, we kept getting better.”
Jacob Leahy (145) shrugged off an early loss to finish 2-2. Gino Camputaro (113) battled back from an opening round loss to place third overall with three straight pins. Sullivan (182) fought off a loss in the opener to capture a third place medal. Daly fought back from a mid-day loss to capture third place in the heavyweight division. Every Blue Knight earned at least one victory.
“We had three brand new guys in the lineup, and they all got pins,” Dion said. “Trevor Godston had a pin. Allesio Diana had a pin, and Jacob Leahy had a pin. None of them ended up placing, but they all got pins, and that was good.”
Southington wrestlers rallied for four championship finals and came away with two titles. Solomon went 2-1 to finish second in the 132 pound class, and Alex Martin matched his performance in the 152 pound division. Ryan Dupuis (160) and Maxwell (220) capped undefeated days with tournament championships.
Dion said that he hopes that this will be a turning point as the Knights build toward the postseason, and a second place finish to Windham was a good start.
“I have Windham as a top three team in the state on my voting, and we still have two kids that should be in our lineup but aren’t yet,” said Dion. “If and when they get into the lineup, either one of them could be the difference. We only lost by seven points, and we aren’t even hitting our stride yet. I’m optimistic.”