By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington wrestling had a good season in 2017-2018, but fans were left with a little bit of a what-could-have-been feeling. Injuries kept the Blue Knights from reaching their true postseason potential, even though the season was as strong as any.
Southington was 13-2 overall in dual meets. The Blue Knights won the CCC West Division and captured the first-ever CCC Tournament. In state postseason competition, Southington tied for third in Class LL and finished fifth in the State Open, a half-point shy of a three-way tie for second place. The Blue Knights finished their season by taking eighth place at the New England meet.
Southington plans on being back and ready to go this season. The Blue Knights a lineup filled with leadership and quality wrestlers in the starting lineup, and there are other good wrestlers who would be starters on most other teams behind them. Captains Paul Calo, Jacob Cardozo, Jason Brault and Caleb Brick lead the way for the Blue Knights.
“Those are four kids who have dedicated themselves to the sport of wrestling,” coach Derek Dion said.
Calo is the two-time defending New England champion at 170 pounds. Cardozo wrestled in the CCC, Class LL, State Open and New England tournaments while Brault and Brick both placed in the CCC and Class LL state tournaments. Those four wrestlers also compete during the offseason. Calo took part in a preseason national tournament and finished fourth. Brick traveled to Budapest, Hungary, with the Connecticut national team, and he also wrestled in the nationals in Fargo, N.D. Cardozo and Brault went to prestigious camps.
“I have high expectations,” Dion said of his team, which could fill all 14 lineup spots with quality wrestlers.
Dion knows he has a good crew, but the season-opening matchup with Bristol Eastern – which is Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. in the West Gym at SHS – will be a good barometer for where Southington stands. Bristol Eastern is the two-time defending Class L state champion and a Top 5 team in the state. Southington is likely a Top 5 team as well, which makes for a major matchup on opening night.
“That’s going to be a pretty good challenge,” Dion said.
Dion wants his wrestlers to compete and do well in that match against the Lancers, but it’s all about peaking at the right time for the Blue Knights. To get there, Southington has a murderer’s row of a tournament schedule lined up. There are the SHS Duals and CT Challenge at home for starters. The Blue Knights will also travel to heralded competitions such as the Lowell (Mass.) Holiday Tournament, the Eastern States Wrestling Classic (N.Y.) and the Timberlane Invite (N.H.).
“We’ll see the best teams that New England has to offer,” Dion said.
In state, Southington goes to the Bristol Central Invitational and will send wrestlers to the Greater Hartford Invitational, which is the same Saturday as the Eastern States Wrestling Classic. The objective of all these tough weekend tournaments is to have the Blue Knights ready for the big time in the postseason. Some coaches look to get their wrestlers top records and the highest possible seeds in their individual brackets. Southington prefers to take on challenges throughout the season that will be make its wrestlers better.
“If you get the kids challenged throughout the year, they’ll be battle-tested,” Dion said.
Southington’s wrestlers will also be challenged in their own wrestling room, known as the pit.
“We have a great room,” Dion said. “The kids are going at it really hard.”
Returning wrestlers Andrew Kudla, Nick Mangene, Josh Vitti, Colby Johnson and Jacob Vecchio all placed at the CCC Tournament, along with the four captains. Brick, Cardozo, Brault, Billy Carr, Calo and Vecchio all finished in the Top 6 at the Class LL state meet and went on to wrestle at the State Open. Calo and Cardozo wrestled at the New England meet.
Dion prefers to have 35-40 wrestlers on his roster, and there were 35 in the week before the season opener. Having 35 wrestlers gives Southington depth, but it can also create some issues.
“It’s a luxury, but it’s also a challenge,” Dion said.
Those wrestlers who don’t start need to be prepared, and there will be opportunities to wrestle at tournaments like the Greater Hartford Invitational. Southington wrestling never stops working, and it starts to count for real on Dec. 12 against Bristol Eastern.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com