BRISTOL - Both the Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central wrestling teams are about to get one heck of a tune-up on Wednesday before the CCC Tournament, as the two rivals will meet on the mat at Bristol Eastern High School in the final match of the regular season.
“Like I tell the kids, there’s no environment that can match the intensity that you have in a Central-Eastern dual meet, regardless of records or who you’re wrestling,” Bristol Central head coach Matt Boissoneault said. “It’s intense and exciting. It’s why we put in the hours of training that we do, to be prepared for something like that.”
The upset-minded Rams will be looking to take down Eastern in its home building, but it’s the Lancers who find themselves in a bit of unfamiliar territory, as the team is coming off a dual meet loss for the first time in nearly three years.
Eastern, a mainstay at No. 2 in the state rankings since the season started, slipped to third in the most recent poll after losing a duals match to previously sixth-ranked Simsbury, which leapfrogged the Lancers and moved up to No. 2 in this week’s rankings.
The loss was the Lancers’ first in 51 matches, the fourth-longest streak in state history.
Eastern will be looking to get back on track before the conference tournament arrives this weekend, and what better way to avenge a recent loss than by taking down its city rival.
“I like the added pressure of it,” Eastern head coach Bryant Lishness said of Wednesday’s match. “I think it’s good for the kids to feel that going into a match like this. It gives us a lot to work with as coaches and teach the kids to manage their emotions.”
Wednesday’s battle will feature much more than bragging rights on the line. Central has an impressive 18-6 record, and an upset victory would mean a three-way tie atop the conference, giving the Rams a share of the title.
On top of conference implications, the Lancers currently boast an eight-match winning streak over Central, turning the local rivalry into a lopsided one of late.
Despite the colliding narratives, Boissonneault and the Rams are choosing to approach the contest with a business-as-usual approach as they try to keep their young group composed.
Central’s projected lineup has eight underclassmen, including four freshman, so keeping emotions in check will be crucial on the road against an Eastern lineup that projects to throw out nine seniors.
“More than anything, we try to look at it as just another day of competition,” Boissonneault said. “We’re fortunate to have quality competition at the end of the season. They’re one of the best teams in the state for a reason. So we look forward to the opportunity to compete in that environment.”
The approach can be the same, but once Central steps on the mat, the opponents staring back will be anything but ordinary.
Eastern boasts top wrestlers like Justin Marshall, who recorded a win against Simsbury on Saturday and has yet to lose a match all year.
The defending 152-pound champ in Class L leads a Lancers group looking for a three-peat in the state meet, and even if Central is preparing normally, they would love to shock their rival heading into the postseason, and Eastern knows it.
“I know it’s very important to the kids,” Lishness said. “They grow up as rivals in all sports. It definitely doesn’t stop with wrestling. Usually the result is up for grabs, no matter how strong either program is, because the kids really fight so hard for the win. They don’t want to lose to their rival.”
Many wrestlers from each side came up in the sport together as part of Bristol’s Gladiator youth wrestling program, and would love to hold bragging rights over their friends and fellow competitors after Wednesday’s action.