By JOHN GORALSKI
Derek Dion had already done the calculations long before the final bout on Saturday, Jan. 3. The coach had already predicted Zack Murillo’s technical fall in the second to the last match, and the decision by Shawn Wagner in the final match was a good finish, but the three-point loss to Branford left Dion disappointed.
Dion wasn’t mad at the final wrestlers. The coach knew that Southington lost the match somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t the loss that bothered him. Dion was mad about the effort. For the first time this season, he gathered his young team and let them have it.
“We just didn’t wrestle well, and we lost three matches where we were up by one with a couple of seconds left. In each one, we gave up two point moves to lose by one. If any one of them toughs it out, we would have won,” Dion said. “I haven’t really chewed them out this year, but I finally got my opportunity to let them know that those sorts of efforts aren’t okay.”
The ‘talk’ paid off. Southington responded with a pair of lopsided victories. The Knights didn’t get a chance to battle for a tournament title. The team didn’t get to test themselves against the powerhouse squads from Vermont or Massachusetts, but Dion still called the annual SHS Duals a success for his young team.
Southington finished the day 3-1 overall. More importantly, they seemed to come together as a team.
“Early in the season, it’s about learning how to battle. Hopefully, we learned that today,” said Dion. “The kids wrestled much tougher after [the Branford loss]. I’m hoping that it was a good turning point for our season, a good learning moment. I’m hoping that we can tough it out a little better in the future and maybe win some of those league matches that are coming up.”
Four Knights finished undefeated (4-0) for the day. Shawn Devin (170/182) scored three pins and a forfeit. Murillo (106) scored two tech falls and a pin. Wagner (113) finished with two pins and a tech fall, while Andrew Szymanski (220/285) scored a pin, a forfeit, and a major decision.
Austin Abacherli (120/126), Josh Gravel (160), and Richie Zayas (195) finished the day with three wins and a loss. James Ringrose (126), Kyle Solomon (132), Austin Garuti (138), John Vecchio (152), Steffan Mayette(170/182), and Jake Monson (220) finished the day with two wins apiece as Blue Knight wrestlers went 38-18 for the day.
“I had quite a few kids that impressed me in one match or another,” said Dion. “We had quite a few kids that toughed out some close matches, especially later in the day. We even had a couple of kids that lost but wrestled better. I think there were a lot of good moments. Sure, we had our share of bad moments, but we’re starting to get more good than bad at the end of the day. It’s a learning process.”
Southington opened the day with a 69-9 win over Amity before falling to Branford, 33-28, in the second round of pool play. The loss pushed the Knights into the consolation brackets where they finished with wins over Lyman Memorial (46-26) and Ridgefield (44-31).
In the medal rounds, Mt. Anthony (VT) cruised past Winchester (MA), 52-9, to capture the championship. NFA out-lasted Branford, 43-37, to capture third place overall.
“The teams that are here are battling,” said Dion. “Winchester and Mt. Anthony are tops at New Englands every year. Hopefully, our guys will get a look at them, get a shot at them, and learn about what it takes to win. When you have 12 teams, you’re bound to get a few in your wheelhouse. That’s always the intention at this meet.”
The victory came on the heels of a 40-26 win over Hall in the conference opener on Tuesday, Dec. 30. The Warriors scored victories in three of the first four matches to take a 17-3 lead, but Southington rallied for wins in eight of the final 10 bouts.
“We won some close matches, and they had a couple of kids out of their lineup,” said Dion. “We have a few studs that are wrestling well, and we have some new kids that are getting better. I think that’s going to be the story at every match this year. If we have enough kids that step up, we’ll win. We need three or four of them to step up every day. If they don’t, we’ll fall short.”
Wagner (113) and Mayette (170) scored pins. Abacherli (120) earned a technical fall, while Murillo (106) and Solomon (138) captured major decisions.
Devin (182), Vecchio (152), and Gravel (160) won by decision, and Ringrose (126) won by forfeit.
With the 3-1 record on Saturday, the Knights improved to 5-1 overall. On Wednesday, the Knights will look to improve to 2-0 in the conference with a home meet against Simsbury.
“A lot of our kids are starting to come around and wrestle a little bit tougher. We just need to toughen up in the middle,” said Dion. “We’re solid down low, and we have a couple of good guys up top, but all of our freshmen and sophomores need to start wrestling like juniors and seniors if we’re going to be competitive.”