If there is one sport in which area teams always seem to excel, it is wrestling.
Whether it is Berlin or Southington beating some of the best teams in the state or other programs such as New Britain, Newington or Plainville looking to find solid footing to get better, a new season offers the chance for any one of them to rise up and be a program to contend with.
Last year was no different, as there were plenty of big moments throughout the season.
The wrestlers and their coaches are expecting even bigger things this season, despite the losses of some of the biggest area names to hit the mat in recent years.
Following is a closer look at the local teams.
Head coach: Jordan Jacquo (1st season)
Key losses: Jordan Rowe (120), Kevon Davis (285).
Key returnees: Joseph Padilla (sr., 113), Elijah Watson (jr., 126), Raul Mateo (jr., 132), Mariah Williams (jr., 138), Jovany Rodriguez (sr., 160), Ben Buinickus (sr., 170).
Outlook: The Hurricanes are hoping a new voice can help take the program to another level and make it just as competitive as some of the other schools in the area as Jordan Jacquo replaces long-time coach Charles Ferguson.
The good news for Jacquo is he will be working with a more experienced group after New Britain went through the ups and downs of some growing pains the last couple of seasons. It certainly helps having only one significant loss in State Open qualifier Jordan Rowe. And overall, the new coach is excited for what could be in store once the meets start to become meaningful.
“This year looks very bright for us,” Jacquo said. “We are returning a lot of upper classmen and lost very few wrestlers from last year. We are looking forward to place top three in our conference. We have a great team of committed wrestlers and overall outstanding young adults. We can’t wait to hit this season in stride.”
Head coach: Jim Day (36th season)
Last year: 12-7
Key losses: Nick Arborio (113 State Open champion, two-time New England placewinner).
Key returnees: Nate Orde (so., 119), Dan Veleas (jr., Class M champion 138), Jacob Sparks (so., 145), Josh Woods (so., 152), Moses Marino (sr., 160), Vin DeFrancesco (so., 160), Josh Veleas (sr., 4th Class M 170), Max Schwein (jr., 182), Marr Pampuro (sr., 197), Mike Rivera (so., 220), Evan Graves (sr.).
Newcomers to watch: Cameron Verricchio (fr.), Matt Wieczorek (fr.), Tyler Barber (fr.), Joshua Bois (fr.), Noah Cintron (fr.), Tyler Fuschino (fr.), Jake Kaplan (fr.), Michael King (fr.), Michael Williams (so.), Aiden O’Connor (so.), Sebby Malespini (jr.).
Outlook: After an off year by Berlin standards in 2015, the Redcoats rebounded with a highly successful 2016 campaign, finishing with a State Open champion, a Class M title winner and another state place winner. This season shouldn’t be any different.
Berlin once again has a good mix on its roster of veteran wrestlers who know now to win, and win a lot, as well as some up-and-coming youngsters that could help swing the course of a meet or two throughout the year. The Veleas brothers - Dan and Josh - headline the Redcoats’ talent and the return of Moses Marino, who was lost midway through last season with an injury, should cause other teams plenty of trouble.
But Berlin head coach Jim Day knows this season’s team success will determined by how quickly those underclassmen continue to develop.
“So far, the team is displaying a growing work ethic and a positive mental attitude,” Day said. “Our development should be fun to watch as the season progresses.”
The Redcoats will certainly see what they have early in the season with a formidable CJ McCormick Tournament on tap for the first Saturday of the schedule with Mount Anthony (Vermont state champions), Bristol Eastern (Class L state champion), Foran (second place Class M) and Windham (second place Class S) all coming to Berlin.
Head coach: Derek Dion (24th season)
Key losses: Richie Rivera, Austin Abacherli (152 Class LL champion), Kyle Solomon, Julian Robles.
Key returnees: Shaun Wager (sr.), Jacob Cardozo (jr.), Paul Calo (jr.), Tagan Welch (sr.), Caleb Brick (so.), Timothy Budnik (sr.), Josh Vitti (so.), Jimmy Starr (sr.), Jacob Vecchio (so.), Caleb Chesanow (jr.), Tim Budnick (sr.), Cole Brock (sr.).
Newcomers to watch: Emmett Vitti (fr.), Jackson Cardozo (fr.), Dawsen Welch (fr.).
Outlook: The Blue Knights were one of the most, if not the most, successful team in the area last season, placing fourth in both the Class LL state meet and the State Open. This season, despite the departure of some key seniors, Southington is expecting to see much of the same results.
“We’re expecting a big year like last year, competing in the big tournaments and being successful,” Blue Knights head coach Derek Dion said. “We always expect to win the league, have some great placing in the state tournament and getting to the State Open.”
Shaun Wagner, Jacob Cardozo, Paul Calo, Tagan Welch - all place winners from the Class LL tournament, while Calo took the New England Championship in the 160-pound weight class - return to form a strong core with plenty of young wrestlers and other veterans mixed in. As Dion put in, this is the most depth he’s had on a team in the last 10-15 seasons.
“We’ve had a lot of kids put in the work in the offseason,” Dion said. “We have seven or eight kids that have a chance to place and will be fun to watch as the season goes on. It goes back to having a competitive room. We have four or five weight classes that are pretty much locked up, the rest are still up for grabs.”
And as the head coach said, that should provide some exciting matches for Southington.
Head coach: Tony Nguyen
Last year: 3-15
Key losses: Tyler Savluk (126).
Key returnees: Emilio Cruz (so., 113), Jacob Zotti (so., 126), Kevin Gonzalez (jr., 132), Matt Buslewicz (so., 160), Wyatt Bernard (jr., 220).
Newcomers to watch: Aiden Cordeiro (fr., 106).
Outlook: The Indians look a small step in the right direction last season in terms of team wins, claiming one more victory than in 2015, and this season will be all about continuing that growth.
“We are a young team learning the sport of wrestling and building up our program,” Newington head coach Tony Nguyen said.
With so many young wrestlers, there are certainly going to be some bumps and bruises along the way. But there should be plenty of reps to go around and with those reps comes experience, which should benefit both the individual wrestler and the program in the long run.
The departure of Tyler Savluk could be a concerning one. Not only does if leave a big hole in the lineup, but the team’s leadership aspect as well. Who fills both of those roles will be interesting to see.
Head coach: Rusty Spence (7th season)
Key losses: Grant Sarra, Jon Tattersall, Tyler Rizzo.
Expected key returnees: Ben Root (sr.), Sebby Soli (jr.), Mason Sarra (so.).
Outlook: The Blue Devils were beset by injuries and weight issues last season, leaving them with a limited roster throughout much of the schedule. Still there were plenty of positive learning moments for many of the younger wrestlers. Now it’s just a matter if they can build off that experience and translate it onto the mat.
Sebby Soli leads a group that might end up surprising some opponents this season. But until Plainville starts getting into its schedule, it will have to be a wait-and-see approach to figure out what kind of team the Blue Devils will be.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org