A look back at the most dominant local wrestling teams of all time

Published on Tuesday, 14 April 2020 20:05
Written by RYAN CHICHESTER and MATT HORNICK

@SportsinCT

The local area has produced state powerhouses in wrestling over the years, both past and present. Berlin one of the most dominant teams in Connecticut during the 1980s and 1990s, has plenty of entries on our list of the most memorable wrestling squads of all time, which continues our series of looking at the most unforgettable teams in the history of high school sports.

Bristol Eastern, one of the best teams in the state during the 2010s, also features prominently on this list.

Here are the top wrestling teams in area history:

BERLIN, 1985-86

The Redcoats are loaded with rich wrestling history, but this is the team that started it all, securing the program’s first-ever state championship, back when the team competed in Class S. Berlin went 15-3 in dual meets that season, winning the Northwest Conference and dominated in state competition, tallying a total of 234 points in the Class S state championships, which at the time was the highest collective mark by any Connecticut team in any state tournament.

The Redcoats finished in first place, 25 points ahead of the second-place finisher in Class S, marking the program’s first-ever state title. The team produced seven conference champions in Scott Boissoneau, Rob Galas, Jim Soyka, Rocky Urso, Bob Ferraro, Paul Hackney and Todd Pampuro, the latter being named the NWC’s outstanding wrestler. Urso (157) was a state champion after what was his second straight undefeated season in duals competition, while Hackney won a state title as well after a dominant season where he pinned every one of his opponents except one.

Urso would go on to become the first Connecticut wrestler ever to win first place at the New England Championships.

BERLIN, 1990-92

Under head coach Jim Day, the Redcoats followed up their first state title in 1986 with another in 1989, thanks in large part to Ken Pera’s perfect 35-0 record, and after coming up short the following year, Day’s group went back to its dominant ways with two straight Class M state championships in 1991 and 1992.

The 1992 team, which became the first in school history to repeat as state champions, was led by Josh Clifford (275), who went on to win at the New England Championships after Berlin’s state championship victory. Clifford would go on to be named All-American that season, and Day would be named Coach of the Year in Class M.

BERLIN, 1995-96

After a lull without state championship victories, the Redcoats got back to their winning ways in 1996, taking home the program’s fifth state title behind the freshman season of Anthony Reynolds, who was just beginning a career that would make him one of the best in school history.

Reynolds won the NWC championship in 1996, his first of four titles (only three other grapplers have achieved that feat in the NWC), and led the Redcoats to victory in Class M competition, where Berlin finished with 182 total points, well ahead of second-place Killingly’s 166 ½.

The Redcoats finished the season with a 19-3 record and was voted ninth in the state in the final CT Wrestling poll.

BERLIN, 1998-2001

For a time, it looked like Reynolds’ freshman season would be the only time he would be part of a state champion, but that changed in his senior season, when the Redcoats set a new state record with 261 ½ total points in the Class M state championship, shattering the old state record that at the time was still held by Berlin’s 1986 team.

One of the most dominant teams in school history, the 1998-99 squad finished the season 23-2, also surpassing a 1986 record of 22 wins. Reynolds and the rest of the senior class of Jason Siegal, Rob Levesque, Jeremy Osakowicz and Adam Nogiec finished their careers with 76 career duals wins, tying the 1989 state champion team for most by a senior class in school history. Reynolds and Joe Clearly won first place at the Class M championships, while Reynolds also grabbed a victory at the State Open.

BRISTOL EASTERN, 2016-17

The start of a dynasty, the Lancers had 10 grapplers take the podium at the Class L state tournament to win its first of three consecutive state championships. Eastern edged out four-time reigning Class L champion New Milford by one point on the final scoreboard to win its first state championship since 1996. 

The Lancers boasted three state champions from that tournament highlighted by junior Mikey Barrett (160) who went 4-0 at states with three pins and a major decision. The second seed in the tournament, Barrett finished off his championship run with a third-period pin of top-seeded Jacob Commander of New London. Barrett went on to finish third at the State Open and the New England tournament, which earned him a spot at the NHSCA National High School Wrestling Championships. He finished the season with a 51-6 record.

Eastern’s other two state champions were sophomore Trinidad Gonzalez (170) and senior Zac Marquis (182), who each took 4-0 paths to win the tournament. Gonzalez’s season ended with a 38-6 record while Marquis went 26-4.

The Lancers’ assault on the podium in 2017 also included fourth-place finishes from Bryce Beebe (106), Jordon Champagne (113), Anthony Lozier (145) and Justin Marshall (152), fifth-place results for Carson Sassu (120) and John Kachidurian (132) and a sixth-place finish for Hidekel Mangual (220). 

BRISTOL EASTERN, 2017-18, 2018-19

The Lancers built off of their 2017 championship to become one of the most dominant programs in the state in 2018. Not only did they repeat as Class L champions, they won a third straight in 2019. 

The 2018 season was the peak of the team's success as it won the Class L tournament by 34.5 points over Xavier and had nine wrestlers earn top-five places highlighted by four state champions.

Barrett and Gonzalez, who bumped up to 195 pounds, doubled down on their championships from the year before with dominating performances as their weight classes’ top seeds. Gonzalez went on to take second at the State Open while Barrett took fifth and finished his high school career with the city record of 156 wins in his career.

Leonardo Fernandez (145) and Justin Marshall were Eastern’s other two state champions and Marshall earned a sixth-place result at the State Open, where his team came in a three-way tie for second.

The 2019 Class L championship was the most difficult to come by as the Lancers edged past Simsbury by half a point. Gonzalez (220) and Marshall posted two-loss season and each repeated as state champions. Gonzalez finished off his high school career by winning the State Open and taking third place at New Englands. They both received all-Conference honors along with sophomore Tommy Nichols (132) who took home a state championship after 47-6 season and went on to place third at the State Open.

Reynolds graduated prior to the 1999-2000 season, but Berlin kept rolling, finishing 19-0 in dual competition that year to become the first Redcoats team to ever go undefeated. Cleary won another state championship that season, while Matt Moran and Aaron Trusty also finished in first place. Both teams were inducted into the Berlin Athletic Hall of Fame.

The three-peat was completed in 2001, when Berlin moved up to Class L but just kept on winning. The Redcoats’ third straight state title came with 222 total points, well ahead of second-place Simsbury’s 144 ½ (at the time, it was the largest margin of victory in Class L in state history). John Szymanski (135) took first at the state championships, as did Jim Punkunus and Trusty.

Berlin finished that season 21-5 and was fourth in the final State Coaches Wrestling Poll, and became just the eighth school in the state to win at least three straight state championships.

BERLIN, 2002-03

The Redcoats’ last state title came with plenty of adversity, as eight wrestlers had to battle through the consolation round at the Class L state championships to get Berlin the points it needed for its fourth state title in five years.

John Russo (275) and Eric McCurdy (160) both took first place at the state championships. McCurdy secured his title with a thrilling 9-7 decision over Newington’s Tom DiScipio.

The 2003 championship was also the fifth straight year in which Berlin was at least a runner-up in state competition, and was the continuation of a dominant stretch where the program won eight state titles in 14 years.

BRISTOL CENTRAL, 1984-85

Head coach Dennis Siegmann’s first state championship team was unbelievably successful at the Class L state tournament. The Rams won the tournament by 38 points over runner-up Hall and saw six wrestlers win individual titles. 

All six Class L champions were also able to earn top-four finishes at the State Open, but only Craig Bourbeau (112) was able to win both. Bourbeau bested Guilford’s Mat Gonzalez in the Class L championship round and then moved on to take the top spot on the podium at the Open with a win over George Figueroa from Bulkeley. 

Four of Bourbeau’s teammates finished the year with a Class L championship and second-place medals from the State Open, highlighted by Pete Folino (126) who finished his career as one of the most successful grapplers in program history after posting a perfect 28-0 season in 1986. 

Frank Dalessandro (145) was able to beat Fitch’s Pete Martin in the Class L championship, but the two met again in the final of the State Open and Martin earned his revenge. Gary Marrone and Mike Mitchell additionally followed their Class L wins with second-place finishes at the State Open while Duane Korytko had to settle for Class L championship and a third place State Open medal. 

BRISTOL CENTRAL, 1997-98

The Rams returned to Class L supremacy in 1998, Siegmann’s second-to-last season. They posted a 21-1 record and topped Ledyard by 24 points to win the state tournament and finish third in the state coaches’ poll. 

Central had no individual wrestlers win a championship at the Class L tournament that year, but had a combined six grapplers take second or third place. Kevin McKenna, John Dresser and Nick Richardson were each the runner-up in their weight classes while Casey O’Connor, Jeff Poirier and Frank Chiarillo earned third-place medals. 

O’Connor was able to compete all the way to the championship match of the State Open as well, but took second place again and Chiarillo finished in sixth place at 215. Chiarillo also earned all-American honors for his second-place finish at the National High School Wrestling Coaches Association Tournament. 

SOUTHINGTON, 1977-78

The Blue Knights secured their lone Class LL championship in just the fourth year of the program’s existence. They finished with a 17-0 regular season record and featured two individual state champions while winning their second straight conference title as well.

Led by champions Jon Smith and John Sperry, Southington had seven wrestlers stand on the podium at the end of the tournament. Captain Steve Fernandes was unable to recreate his state championship performance from the year before, but took second at both the Class LL tournament and State Open and finished the year with a 15-1-1 record.

Despite not wrestling until he was 15 years old, Fernandes finished his high school career that year with a 62-7-1 record and went on to win a Division III national championship at The College of New Jersey.

HONORABLE MENTION: PULASKI, 1978-81

Pulaski High School in New Britain no longer exists, but when its doors were still open, the wrestling team was an absolute force, especially during a three-year stretch from 1979-1981.

In that time, Pulaski won three straight Class S state championships, which at the time was the second-highest streak of state titles in Connecticut history. Pulaski finished with five state championships, but the 3-peat was the school’s peak, led by Russ Cliche, who went on to post a perfect 18-0 season in 1982. It wasn’t always dominant, as the school’s 123 total points in the 1980 state championship was the lowest total Class S had ever seen, but they returned to all-out dominance the following year, posting 202 total points to complete the three-peat.



Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, Southington on Tuesday, 14 April 2020 20:05. Updated: Tuesday, 14 April 2020 20:08.