BERLIN - As the Berlin wrestling team was putting away its mats Thursday night, Peter Veleas pulled one of his wrestlers aside to show off the back of his shirt.
In bold white letters, it was hard miss. “Six minutes of pressure,” it read.
“This was something Coach [Jim Day] always preached to me when I was wrestling,” said the Redcoats’ first-year head coach, who took over for Day after he passed away in February. “We’re looking to get to that and we haven’t gotten there yet. We have to learn to do that and that’s the biggest thing. Show people you can wrestle the whole six minutes and that they’ve wrestled somebody and wrestled somebody from Berlin.”
That has at times also been a challenge for the Redcoats, who left their dual meet with a 61-18 loss to Bristol Central. Berlin doesn’t have a lot of experience at the varsity level and only has three seniors - defending Class M champion Dan Veleas (145 pounds), Sebby Malespini (182) and Max Schlein (220) - on its roster.
Those three were also responsible for all of the Redcoats’ 18 points, which all came from falls. Veleas pinned Matt Duquette in 4:41. Malespini took down Jacob Boucher in 53 seconds, with Schlein pinning Michael Thaxter in 10 seconds.
That meant a number of younger grapplers were on the mat, with the elder Veleas saying the lineup was mostly constructed of freshmen and sophomores. It tended to show. Of the Rams’ eight pins, three came in the final 1:30 of matches.
But there have also been some positive moments along the way.
“I’m definitely starting to see the younger kids start to try things that we’ve been working on [in practice],” Dan Veleas said. “But at the same time we can open up even more. It’s good to see them put some stuff together, but it’s got to be for the whole six minutes and not just trying something here or there. There has to be more consistency and we have to wrestle the whole match and not just little increments.”
That is likely to come in time and Berlin will have a good chance to build on its mantra over the second half of the season, beginning today at the Bristol Central Invitational, something both Veleas’s said would be a good learning experience for the team. The tournament is set to host, among others, No. 2 Bristol Eastern, No. 3 Southington, No. 10 Avon, Ledyard and, of course, the Rams.
But along with learning experiences, there also has to be growth. This has at times proven frustrating for both players and coaches because of the expectations that come with wrestling at Berlin, which is used to not only making a run at class championships, but have state place winners, State Open participants and New England champions.
That means, as the head coach said, making sure to put in the necessary work in the wrestling room. The elder Veleas has seen glimpses of it through the season so far, it just now has to come on a more regular basis.
“This is not the level of wrestling Berlin is used to producing, but I think we’re getting there,” Peter Veleas said. “We have good things going on in our room every day and the kids are working hard. They have to learn what it means to be tougher and they’re getting there. We’re starting to see signs of life. When you wrestle someone like Bristol Central, they’ve been doing it for a long time at a steady level. You have to bring the intensity every night.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org