By BRIAN JENNINGS
Out of all of Southington’s winter season teams, the Blue Knight wrestling team is returning the most postseason experience. Southington’s only CIAC Class LL state title came in 1978, and they finished as runner-up to Danbury in 2000 and 2001. But Southington coach Derek Dion said that the progress the program made last year was definitely a step in the right direction to gear up for another run at the Class LL title.
“We’re trying to build up to where we were right around 2000 when we were the top team in the poll,” the coach said. “We’re trying to prepare the kids for the Class LL meet as best as we can and get them through to the state open. I think we’re definitely going in the right direction with that, but it’s a process.”
Southington finished last year’s regular season with a 12-3 record, going 8-0 in dual meets. The Knights also won the CCC West title by posting an undefeated 6-0 divisional record.
In the postseason, Southington placed fifth out of 25 teams at the Class LL championship and tied for 20th at the state open.
Although Southington flexed its individual strength by sending six wrestlers to last year’s state meet and open, Dion said that he thought the team was still balanced between individual success and team success.
“It wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but we’re still going in the right direction,” said Dion. “You try to getter every day. If you take care of each individual kid, the record and dual meets will take care of themselves.”
Southington’s lineup was a little top-heavy last year, holding most of their strength in the lightweight classes, but Dion said that he sees a more balanced lineup this season. He said there might even be a few wrestlers that will surprise you.
“We might not have a superstar in every weight class, but there shouldn’t be any holes,” he said. “There’s not a kid that’s never seen a mat before that’s going to step out there. We should get a decent match out of every kid.”
Dion said that the team goal for this season is to bring 14 wrestlers to this year’s open.
“They’re going to have to work every day,” said Dion. “The room’s going pretty good right now though. They have to get themselves to the right weight classes, but probably the biggest thing is that we have to stay healthy.”
The Knights lost just two wrestlers—Logan LaRosa and Andrew Szymanski—to graduation, but returned 24 wrestlers from last year’s varsity team, including the “four horsemen” of senior Austin Abacherli; juniors Shaun Wagner and Tagan Welch; and sophomore Paul Calo. LaRosa wrestled at the Class LL championship and state open, medaling in the 170-weight class with a fourth-place finish at the state meet. Szymanski advanced to the quarterfinals of the 220-weight class at the state meet.
The four horsemen qualified for the Class LL championship and state open. Abacherli finished as runner-up in the 132-weight class after suffering a 9-0 major decision, advancing to the quarterfinals at the open. Calo finished as runner-up at the state meet as well, coming up just short in the final seconds of a 1-0 decision in the 126-weight class. Calo then went on to medal with a fifth-place finish at the open.
Wagner medaled with a third-place performance in the 120-weight class at the state meet after securing a sudden victory pin fall of 5:57. Along with Calo, Wagner also medaled with a fifth-place finish at the open. Welch medaled at the state meet by finishing fourth after falling in a 5-1 decision in the 106-weight class, making it as far as the round of 32 at the open.
But Dion said that he is just as excited about the other key returners. Those wrestlers include seniors Jason Calvi-Rogers, Josh Gravel, Julian Robles, and Kyle Solomon; juniors Cole Brock, Ethan Greig, and James Starr; and sophomore Jason Brault. All wrestlers competed at the state meet. Calvi-Rogers medaled at the state meet with a sixth-place finish and qualified for the open, where he went as far as the round of 32.
“It was great to see Calvi-Rogers place, and Starr would have placed if he didn’t get injured,” said Dion. “I think he could make the finals easily this season if he has a good year and stays healthy.”
New additions to the team include seniors Kamil Kuziora, Alex Rodrigues, Joshua Sargado, Jacob Vecchio, and JC Vecchio; and sophomore Colby Johnson. The team also added 11 freshmen to their varsity roster.
“Looking up and down the lineup, we have experience in every weight class,” said Dion. “In some weight classes, it’s going to be a battle. I’m not sure who’s starting, but we should have an experienced, skilled wrestler in every weight class that could place in the top six up and down, all the way.”
Dion has spent 25 years coaching in the wrestling program, entering his 16th season as head coach of the varsity team.
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