By BRIAN JENNINGS
On Saturday, Jan. 28, Paul Calo rolled over his opponent and went to work. Pulling his arms back like a police officer handcuffing a violent criminal, Calo rolled his foe onto his back while avoiding his desperate kicks.
Calo never flinched. He just leaned into his opponent, tying him into a knot while listening for the referee’s whistle.
It was just another day at the office for Southington’s 160-pound sheriff.
“He was unhappy with his semifinal performance,” said Southington coach Derek Dion. “Then he really turned on the aggressiveness. When he’s passive, he’s vulnerable. But when he’s aggressive, he’s really tough to handle and a handful for anyone.”
Calo finished Saturday as the only Blue Knight to win his weight class by defeating Cameron Berger of New Milford with a 17-0 technical fall.
“He’s got an amazing feel with very strong hands,” the coach said. “He has really good feel in every different position. He’s put in a lot of time in over the years in big tournaments.”
Calo’s win was the highlight of the day as Southington hosted 17 teams at the annual Connecticut Challenge. Southington fielded two squads and the varsity group came away with third place overall. Dion said that it exposed some areas of improvement for Southington down the stretch.
“It’s been a rough couple of weeks, but we just can’t seem to get our legs underneath us,” said the coach. “It’s just about trying to get better for states.”
New Milford (195) won the tournament for the second time in three years, finishing with three individual champions and six finalists. Cumberland, R.I. (189) finished as runner-up with a pair of individual champions and five finalists.
It wasn’t the best finish Dion was hoping for, but it also wasn’t a terrible performance for the Knights.
“There was good competition here, so I don’t want to take that away from us,” the coach said. “I thought as a team, we could have done a lot better. Guy for guy all day long, I thought that underperformed a little bit. We need to really work harder.”
Although Southington advanced just one Knight to the championship of a weight class, a late charge by Austin Abacherli (152), Jimmy Starr (285), Ritchie Rivera (220), and Shaun Wagner (132) helped the team finish third on the day, as those wrestlers took third in their respective weight classes.
“Our big guys came through pretty well right at the end there to pass out Trumbull for third place,” said Dion. “Ritchie and Jimmy have been doing a great job working hard. We were pleased with that.”
Jacob Cardozo (113) and Tim Budnik (145) capped off the day with fourth-place finishes.
“There’s a lot of technique that we need to improve on and tighten up,” said Dion. “We need to ramp up our conditioning a little bit. We have all these really tough competitions to try to expose any flaws before states.”
Win at Newington
JAN. 25—Kyle Solomon (126) opened the scoring with a 4-2 decision, and the rest of the Knights fell in line. On Wednesday, Southington rallied for 14-straight victories to shut out Newington, 73-0.
Solomon, Tim Budnik (145), and Jason Brault (120) won by decision. Caleb Brick (106) scored a major decision. Shaun Wagner (132), Tagan Welch (138), Austin Abacherli (152), Paul Calo (160), Rich Rivera (220), and Jacob Cardozo (113) won by pin.
Southington scored four forfeits in the victory.
The Knights will return to the mat this week when they host Conard on Wednesday, Feb. 1. The Knights are also scheduled to travel to Waterford High School for the Waterford Duals on Saturday, Feb. 4. Southington is currently 10-1 in dual meets and undefeated in the conference.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at bjennings@ southingtonobserver.com.