The 2019-20 wrestling season has not been considered the best by the Blue Knights. It was a year in which quite a few Blue Knights battled injury and illness.
However, when it was all said and done, head coach Derek Dion led his team to its fifth consecutive top-five finish in Class LL, and his third straight third place finish—with only 11 of their 14 wrestlers competing.
The true measure of Southington’s success is that seven wrestlers advanced to the state open, which begins today at 3 p.m. at Hillhouse High School’s Floyd Little Athletic Center. Five of those seven are returning to the open for a second consecutive season.
Danbury remained the perennial powerhouse in Connecticut, winning its fifth straight Class LL crown. Fairfield Warde finished second to Danbury for the third time in five years.
Southington had four top-three finishers, including a senior who won his weight class in Class LL for the second straight year.
“Quite a few of our guys wrestled very well,” Dion said. “We only sent 11 guys to Class LL this year which is kind of unusual for us. They battled injuries all season long, and I think if we were at 100% we could have taken second place. But we have some pretty tough kids on this team and everyone that came here picked up at least one win.”
Billy Carr became a Class LL champion for the second straight season, winning in the 182 weight class bracket. As the No. 2 seed, Carr gained the upper hand over two underclassmen in the quarterfinals and semifinals to set up a match with No. 4 seed Tyrell Jones of Danbury. Carr won the championship bout, 9-5 to secure the title.
Dawsen Welch and Caleb Brick were the two others to make it to the finals in their respective weight class, both facing up against wrestlers from Fairfield Warde. As the No. 3 seed, Brick pinned his first three opponents on his way to the finals, but had to battle No. 1 seed William Ebert in the final, where Ebert came out on top with a 3-0 decision.
Welch fought in a few close matches after winning by major decision in the round of 16, but pulled out 8-5 and 6-4 decisions to advance to the final. The No. 1 seed, Cole Shaughnessy was too much for Welch in the final, pinning the junior in 47 seconds.
“Dawsen and Caleb making the finals was great,” Dion said. “Both of them went up against some of the most talented kids in the state and held their own. Caleb fought himself back from injury that kept him out until the middle of the season, so it was nice to see him make it to the final.”
Despite three championship appearances, Dion said Jacob Vecchio’s performance last Saturday was also championship-worthy. Vecchio placed third in the 220 weight class bracket as the No. 7 seed.
Vecchio met his match in the quarterfinals when he took on DJ Donovan of Danbury. Vecchio was the only wrestler in the bracket to not lose by pin to Donovan, and it was a match all the way until the end. Donovan escaped with a narrow 3-1 decision. Vecchio then pinned each of his opponents in the consolation bracket for a spot in the third place match, which he won over No. 5 seed, Nick Miller of Enfield, by a 4-2 decision.
“In my opinion, Jacob wrestled better than anybody all weekend,” Dion said. “He faced a kid from Danbury that was probably the best wrestler in that whole gym and very well could have won that match. He went after that kid. He had a phenomenal weekend.”
Josh Vitti was the other Blue Knight who had a shot at a bronze finish, but was taken down by Yarian Grant of New Haven to finish fourth. Colton Thorpe and Ben Gorr also qualified for the open with fifth and sixth place finishes, respectively.
Dion said a lot of his wrestlers improved greatly this season, regardless of whether they moved on to the state open or not.
“Colton Thorpe was another bright spot for us this weekend and he wrestled very well,” Dion said. “Quite a lot of our kids got better throughout the year. Jared Guida and Emmett Vitti were two of those. Emmett played well against the sixth seed in his bracket and Jared was so close to moving on in his bracket. We are also looking forward to having Darius Mangiafico back next year.”
If the Blue Knights advance through the second round of their bracket today, they will be back at Hillhouse tomorrow at 9 a.m. to try to earn a spot in the New England championships.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at Sports@SouthingtonObserver.com.