By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knights wrestling team (4-2) kept busy over the week, wrestling in two tournaments, while gaining exposure and experience for the state meet…as well as a few bumps and bruises along the way.
Southington wrestled some of the best talent in New England when they competed in the 49th annual George Bossi Lowell Holiday Wrestling Tournament at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, MA on Monday, Dec. 28 and Tuesday, Dec. 29. The Knights placed 22nd out of about 70 schools. Chelmsford, Mass. (212) won the tournament, followed by Newtown (181), Timberlane, N.H. (176), Mount Anthony, Vt. (165), and Central Catholic, Mass. (147).
Shaun Wagner was one of two Southington wrestlers to medal in the tournament, finishing in sixth in the 120 weight class after being pinned (3:41) in the semifinals and falling to a 7-3 decision in the consolation round. Wagner advanced to the semifinals on a 6-1 decision in the first round, a 14-2 major decision in the second round, a 9-2 decision in the third round, and a 4-2 decision in the quarterfinals.
Austin Abacherli was the other Southington wrestler to medal in the tournament with his sixth place finish in the 138 weight class. Abacherli advanced to the semifinals, where he fell short to a 7-4 decision, dropping down to the consolation round where he would settle for sixth in the weight class with a 4-2 decision.
On his way to the semifinals, Abacherli won with pins (3:34, 2:26) in the first two opening rounds, an 8-3 decision in the third round, and a 9-6 decision in the quarterfinals.
Taegan Welch (113) and Paul Calo (132) were the only other Southington wrestlers to advance as far as the quarterfinals.
“It’s a tough tournament because there’s 70-something teams in it,” said Southington coach Derek Dion, but he said that it’s a good opportunity for his wrestlers to be seen by college coaches. “It’s great exposure for the kids, but it’s a real meat grinder. You’re going to have to wrestle seven tough matches in that tournament. Most kids go to tournaments this time of the year and have a couple skilled wrestlers for the first two matches. In this tournament, you’re going to get seven, really tough bouts.”
Dion said that most times if you’re a young wrestler or haven’t been through so many consecutive bouts before, it will get to you.
“We got beat up by the tournament a little bit, but that’s what we wanted,” he said. “That’s the way you learn. You can’t mimic that without being there and getting through it. When we get to states and the state open, we’ll have felt that. Now I know what it feels like to go into six or seven really tough bouts. They can go back to that and learn from it, and hopefully do better in those tournaments that really count.”
Dion went on to say that there is no question that the Lowell Tournament is the best wrestling tournament in New England during the regular season. The tournament served to prepare Zach Murillo and Bylykbashi for their postseason rallies into the New England championship.
On Saturday, Southington returned home to host their first home event of the season, the Blue Knight Duals. Over 10 schools competed, and Southington entered two squads into the tournament. There were four pools in the tournament and Southington’s junior varsity team was placed in Pool D, where they fell short to Winchester, 68-12, and NFA, 64-18. Southington’s varsity squad was placed in Pool B, where they advanced to semifinals of the championship pool.
The Knights defeated Cheshire in their first match, 61-18. Devin Lord (106, 2:58), Abacherli (132, 2:53), Ethan Grieg (138, 1:15), and Logan LaRosa (170, 2:26) all had pins in the match.
In the next round, Southington defeated Ridgefield 56-18. Abacherli (132, 1:08), Grieg (138, 0:27), Jason Calvi-Rogers (160, 0:45), LaRosa (170, 0:29), Andrew Szymanski (220, 1:48) all had pins in the match.
In the semifinals of the championship pool, Southington fell short to Mount Anthony of VT, 57-23. Abacherli (132, 3:35), Szymanski (220, 1:51), James Starr (285, 3:35), and Wagner (120, 3:58) all had pins in the match. Mount Anthony pinned Southington six times in the match.
In a fight for third place, Southington took fourth overall in the tournament after dropping to Platt, 36-29, in the consolation round. Kyle Solomon (132, 1:35) and Calo (126, 1:50) had the only pins for Southington in the match. Platt pinned Southington four times in the match.
Winchester defeated Platt, 41-21, in the semifinals, leaving Mount Anthony to take the tournament title for the third straight year by winning four bouts with a 57-16 victory over Winchester in the championship. Mount Anthony came into this tournament as a three-time defending New England champion.
“We didn’t do our best today, which is real disappointing,” said Dion. “We were right in there battling with Mount Anthony, which is one of the best teams in New England. We had two or three matches that we lost in the last five or ten seconds. We talked about it and We thought we fixed it. Then, we had three matches we were winning against Platt with not much time on the clock. We ended up getting caught in two or three of them. We have some things that we have to fix. It kind of exposed the issues we need to work on. That’s why you try to get good competition. I think it will make us better in the long run.”
The Knights are currently in a three-way tie for first place in the CCC West with Farmington (4-2, 1-0) and Conard (6-3, 1-0). The Knights will host Farmington in their first home dual meet of the season on Wednesday, Jan. 6, then will set out for Hall High School in West Hartford on Saturday, Jan. 9 to compete in the Greater Hartford Open.
“I think we have a lot of work to do,” the coach said. “I’m hoping to be quite a bit better by the end of the season than we are now. This is where the grind of the season starts. Hopefully, we can do well through that grind and get a little bit better everyday, so that by the end of the year we can be pretty good.”