On Friday, CT’s top wrestlers will head to New Haven to battle for the right to call themselves a 2010 Open champion. This past weekend’s Class tournaments set the field of sixteen for each weight, and top contenders will spend this week vigorously preparing for their chance at Open titles and New England tournament berths.
In past years, the team race has been an afterthought, as Danbury usually has too much firepower for any other team to overcome. This year, we have seen that they can be challenged and even defeated.
The 2009-10 Hatters certainly have more than enough to add another Open banner to their rafters; their six qualifiers include two returning Open champs (Brian Jennings, 112; Charlie Costanzo, 119) and three other returning placewinners (Dylan Bryant, 103; JD Damici, 125; John Smith, 160).
Costanzo and Damici are favorites to reach the finals and win at their respective weights, and Jennings, Bryant, Smith and Dylan Hancock (215) are all top six contenders. But with the right matchups and a little outside help, several other teams could challenge Danbury.
Warde, South Windsor and New Milford each bring seven wrestlers to New Haven, and Bacon Academy brings eight. Based on sheer numbers and talent, these four teams have the best chance at upending Danbury.
South Windsor showed that they could contend with the Hatters at the LL’s, where they finished second by 13.5 points. Casey Mitchell (130), Joe Sargenti (135) and Jake O’dell (145) are favorites to claim titles, and Sam O’dell (103) and Quincy Thomas (189) are top-four contenders.
With outside help, they have the best shot at beating the Hatters; they have shown their strength as a tournament team and their best wrestlers will not have to face Danbury’s top guys. If they get it done on the mat and wrestle to their potential, they can win three weights and send at least five to New Englands.
The Mustangs have podium contenders in Pharoh Eaton (103), Evan Fraser (125), Ian McAllister (135), Bobby Rigilano (145), and Mike Sullivan (160). Head-to-head matchups vaulted Warde past Danbury in the FCIAC. If Sullivan can maintain his place ahead of Smith and Eaton can upend Bryant, Warde has a shot to gain precious ground on the Hatters.
Nick Dodge (119), Sean McAllister (125), PJ Mickens (145), Dan Thompson (160) and Aren Norman (189) are top-six contenders for the Bobcats. Bacon’s biggest strength is the quality of their other qualifiers; Matt McAllister (103), Duncan MacKinnon (152) and Devin Covone (171) all have upset potential and could shake things up at those weights.
The Green Wave have a championship favorite in Conor Kirkegard (103) and podium contenders in Alex Thalassinos (112), Nick Amorando (119) and Adam Lynch (215). New Milford’s move to bump their wrestlers for the Class L tournament may impact their ability to contend at the Open.
But Lynch has shown the ability to beat tough opponents at 215, with wins over Hancock and Warde’s Marcio Ventura, and medal-winning efforts from Kirkegard and Amorando can go a long way if the Green Wave get some outside help.
At 103, Greenwich’s John D’elia and South Windsor’s Sam O’dell already defeated Bryant. If they can keep him lower on the podium or off it entirely, Warde, South Windsor and New Milford will gain valuable ground.
At 125, Damici is going to face serious challenges from Windham’s Miguel Calixto, Nonnewaug’s Tyler Tilbe and Hand’s Eddie Carroll. He will have to face at least one of them en route to the finals and if he falters, will have to take on at least one more, which could take away from his ability to score team points.
It’s going to take a lot for someone to overtake the Hatters in the Open field. But if this season has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed and no one should be underestimated.
Weight class previews
• Top individual: Conor Kirkegard (New Milford)
• Challengers: Sam O’dell (SW), Brian Amato (Newington), Andrew Chase (Bristol Eastern), Cody Keane (Glastonbury)
• Darkhorse: Josh Hoxie (Gilbert)
• Storylines: Newington’s Amato suffered from illness during the Class L tournament, contributing to his fourth-place finish. A healthy Amato will be a top challenger to Kirkegard, but he faces an uphill climb to get there.
O’dell’s first-period pin of Cody Keane in the LL semis set the stage for his state title. With a good seed, O’dell will have a fast track to the Open semis if he wrestles at the same level.
Andrew Chase may be flying under the radar. He was able to knock off Amato and gave Kirkegard a run in the L finals. Look for him to contend for a New England tournament berth.
• Top individual: Victor Ekpenyong (Middletown)
• Challengers: Tyler Keane (Glastonbury), Brian Jennings (Danbury), Ross Spencer (East Lyme)
• Darkhorse: Chris Catanzaro (RHAM)
• Storylines: If Ekpenyong continues to wrestle at this level, he will walk through the Open and contend for a New England title. His second major decision over Spencer, this time in the L finals, can attest to his abilities.
Tyler Keane pulled out a big win by defeating 2009 Open champ Brian Jennings in the LL finals, 4-3. Look for the experienced and poised Jennings to bounce back in a big way at the Open.
RHAM’s Catanzaro showed strength, grit and determination on his way to a Class M title. He is talented enough to crack the top six, but he will need to knock out returning placewinners Josh Dess (Bristol Eastern) and/or Ricky Jorge (Xavier) to do it.
• Top individual: Charlie Costanzo (Danbury)
• Challengers: Taylor Grauer (Windham), Jason Richardson (Law), Ben Pierre-Saint (Stamford)
• Darkhorse: Nick Amorando (New Milford)
• Storylines: Costanzo is on a mission to become a three-time Open champ, having already won titles in 2009 and 2008. As the favorite to win New Englands at 119, he should have no problem adding another Open title to his mantle.
Windham’s Grauer bounced back from his ECC finals setback to Bacon’s Nick Dodge, dominating Law’s Jason Richardson in the Class M finals, 13-5. Grauer’s aggressive, scrambling style will cause problems for his Open opponents.
• Top individual: JD Damici (Danbury)
• Challengers: Miguel Calixto (Windham), Tyler Tilbe (Nonnewaug), Eddie Carroll (Hand)
• Darkhorse: Tony Pedraza (Manchester)
• Storylines: The 125-pound bracket features some of the top overall wrestlers in the state. Tilbe and Carroll were 2009 Open placewinners at 119, Damici qualified for New Englands at 125 last year and Calixto is quickly emerging as one of the best wrestlers in CT.
Damici already scored wins over top contenders with a pin over Warde’s Evan Fraser in FCIAC finals and a 4-2 decision of Cheshire’s Jed Cervero in the LL finals. Carroll has also defeated Cervero, 3-2 in the SCC finals, and Calixto knocked off Tilbe in the Eagle Classic finals, 3-2.
The top four are tactical wrestlers who can manage matches and win the close ones, so the 125 semifinals may look more like collegiate matches than high school ones.
• Top individual: Casey Mitchell (SW)
• Challengers: Brendan Quinn (Pomperaug), Nick Cyr (Bristol Central), Ben Anderson (Trumbull)
• Darkhorses: Forrest Dolby (Cheney Tech), Christian Hammon (NFA)
• Storylines: With two dominating wins over New Milford’s Andrew Golden and an upset of BC’s Cyr in the last two weeks, Pomperaug’s Quinn has emerged as a top contender at 130. He is strong on his feet and on top, can scramble well and can score in bunches.
Cyr’s loss may be the best thing for him going into the Open. With the pressure of the undefeated season off, he can focus solely on winning an Open title. Look at how well Bethel’s Ford recovered and you know what Cyr is now capable of.
Cheney Tech’s Dolby used superior strength and aggressiveness to win a Class M title. If he comes to the Open with that same drive, he will punch his ticket to New Englands.
• Top individual: Joe Sargenti (SW)
• Challengers: Brandon Walsh (Griswold), Seth Vose (Bristol Central), John Jongbloed (Hand)
• Darkhorse: Johnny Bello (Conard), Zach Deer (Waterford)
• Storylines: Sargenti is the defending champ, but Walsh and Vose will give him all he can handle. Vose defeated both Ian McAllister (Warde) and Jongbloed at the L’s, and Walsh has two wins over Ledyard’s Gunnels and a victory over OSW’s Dalton Ahern under his belt so far.
Waterford’s Deer can shake things up at this weight. As the tenth seed, he reached the M finals and nearly upset Gunnels. A win over Jongbloed shows that Deer is good enough to place if he continues to wrestle at this level.
• Top individual: Nick Giulietti (Sheehan)
• Challengers: Tyler Cunningham (Xavier), Nick Cipriano (NFA), Linbert Cousley (Derby)
• Darkhorses: Tim Proctor (Guilford), Matt Tanner (Plainville)
• Storylines: Giulietti had his two close matches of the year in the Class M tournament, as he edged Guilford’s Proctor in the finals, 4-1, and Plainville’s Tanner in the semis, 4-3. Look for both Tanner and Proctor to make some noise in the Open once they get away from Giulietti.
Xavier’s Cunningham has faced and defeated many of the top contenders at 140, boasting wins over Proctor, Cipriano and Shelton’s Ricky Jordan. He is a smart, aggressive and technically sound wrestler who learns from his losses, so Giulietti should be wary of a rematch.
• Top individual: Jake O’dell (SW)
• Challengers: PJ Mickens (Bacon), Cam Gonzalez (Fitch), Bobby Rigilano (Warde)
• Darkhorses: Alex Pyne (Amity), Alex Amador (Fairfield Prep)
• Storylines: Fitch’s Gonzalez defeated Warde’s Rigilano for the second time this season with a 7-2 Class L finals win, indicating that he has the Mustang’s number and will be able to keep ahead of him in the Open.
Bacon’s Mickens got a run for his money in the M’s; he was taken to overtime in the semis by East Haven’s Mike DiNicola and edged by Bethel’s Will Bonagura in the finals, 2-1. He will need to step it up if he wants to take out Jake O’dell (SW).
• Top individual: Andrew Ford (Bethel)
• Challengers: Jesse Broderick (New Fairfield), Brian Onofrio (Hand)
• Darkhorses: Rob Garlick (Somers), Travis Tiger (Ridgefield)
• Storylines: The Ford-Broderick-Onofrio triangle is as good as it gets in CT wrestling. Ford has pins over both of them, but Broderick pulled out the upset over Ford in SWC finals, and Onofrio controlled Broderick in the Danbury tournament finals.
Ford and Onofrio put on pinning clinics at their respective Class tournaments and will hold the top two seeds. But do not sleep on Broderick; he recovers from a loss as good as anyone, as seen in his turnaround from an 8-0 loss to a 3-2 win in two matches with Ford.
Another one to watch is Ridgefield’s Tiger. He uses his leverage to his advantage and is a strong scrambler. His upset over Xavier’s Dillon Carter set him up for a Class LL title and showed that he is doing his best wrestling right now.
• Top individual: Alex Carpenter (Amity)
• Challengers: Justin Scalise (Hall), Brohen Krsulic (Woodstock), Dustin Wilcox (Montville)
• Darkhorse: James Cole (Weaver)
• Storylines: The top three at 160 are almost too close to call; Amity’s Carpenter gets the nod for defeating Shelton’s Will Pogacsas three times, but Hall’s Scalise and Woodstock’s Krsulic are both more than talented and driven enough to take the top spot.
Montville’s Wilcox is also certainly in the mix, having dominated Bacon’s Dan Thompson in the Class M finals. It will come down to whoever wrestles the best this weekend. Little mistakes could be the difference and to take this weight, the winner will have to be near-perfect.
• Top individual: Devon Carrillo (Middletown)
• Challengers: Eric Brainard (RHAM), Shane Sullivan (Ledyard), Kyle Copes (Cheshire)
• Darkhorse: Michael Sheehan (Ludlowe)
• Storylines: CT’s other big back-and-forth is at 171, where Middletown’s Carrillo defeated RHAM’s Brainard at the Warde Invite, but fell to Ledyard’s Sullivan at the BC Invite. This past weekend, Brainard edged Sullivan with a late takedown in the Class M finals.
Carrillo showed last year that he can win when it matters most; at the Open. He is a slight favorite to take it this year, but Sullivan, Brainard and Cheshire’s Kyle Copes are right on his tail.
• Top individual: Tito Slaughter (New Haven)
• Challengers: Shane Battista (Waterford), Quincy Thomas (SW), Cosmo Iadanza (Westhill)
• Darkhorses: Tyler Cyr (RHAM), Jake Pietrowicz (Plainville)
• Storylines: Waterford’s Battista won his second Class M title this weekend, beating Bacon’s Aren Norman for the third time this season. Battista is the top challenger at 189 and will be highly motivated to return to the Open podium after making it in 2008 and missing it last year.
Slaughter will try to win one for the home crowd. He claimed New Haven’s first SCC individual title this year in the program’s fourth year of competition and was the third-place finisher at last year’s Open. An Open title would go a long way in helping develop the New Haven wrestling program.
• Top individual: Pat Gillen (Shelton)
• Challengers: Luke Wiggins (Waterford), Ken Vollaro (Somers), Mason Powers (Berlin)
• Darkhorse: Ted Kostopolous (Law)
• Storylines: Shelton’s Gillen is head and shoulders above everyone else at 215 in CT; he is a New England title contender and arguable one of the top three best overall wrestlers in the state. Look for him to be relatively unchallenged en route to his first Open crown.
Waterford’s Wiggins avenged an earlier loss to Berlin’s Powers and has himself on track to challenge Gillen in the Open finals. Somers’ Vollaro is also in the finals discussion, having finished fifth last year.
• Top individual: Larry Burns (Conard)
• Challengers: Joe DeMichele (Hand), Jeff Starr (McMahon), Matt Kunkel (Xavier)
• Darkhorse: Dean Tsopinades (Torrington)
• Storylines: At 285, the Open is going to be all about rematches. The top contenders reordered themselves over the last two weeks, but the names stay the same: Burns, DeMichele, Starr and Kunkel.
Kunkel defeated both DeMichele and Starr earlier in the year, but lost to them recently, and Burns just defeated DeMichele in the Class L finals. Kunkel has the ability to take the top spot if he gets back to his mid-season form, but Burns is wrestling the best right now.
Starr and DeMichele are both peaking at the right time as well, and Manchester’s Steve Storozuck should not be counted out of the race yet either.