BRISTOL - After repeating as Class L wrestling state champion, the Bristol Eastern wrestling team gets another shot at the State Open this weekend.
The Lancers finished outside of the top 10 teams at the Open last year and only had one wrestler place, Mike Barrett.
“I think last year we took it lightly,” Bristol Eastern’s Justin Marshall said. “Last year we had just won the Class L state championship and didn’t care about what happened afterward. This year we want the Open.”
Bristol Eastern has nine wrestlers competing in the State Open, six of which have a first round bye: Bryce Beebe (106 pounds), Jordon Champagne (113), Diego Fernandez (145), Justin Marshall (152), Mike Barrett (160) and Trinidad Gonzalez (195).
Barrett (No. 1), Gonzalez (No. 3) and Marshall (No. 3) were all seeded in the top three.
Tom Nichols (120), Carson Sassu (126) and Hidekal Mangual (220) round out the Lancers’ wrestlers competing.
Bristol Eastern, the No. 2 team in the state, will be tasked with topping powerhouse Danbury. Earlier this season at the Mad Hatters holiday tournament, the Lancers finished second behind Danbury with 145 points. The Hatters finished with 186.5 points.
“Danbury is Danbury,” Bristol Eastern head coach Bryant Lishness said. “They’ve been here over and over again. It’s a great program and a great wrestling culture. They expect to win and to have that confidence is a pretty big deal in a sport like this. “
Danbury will bring 11 kids to the Open. Foran leads the way with 12 kids going to the Open and Xavier also has more wrestlers going than Bristol Eastern, with 10.
“My guys are hungry and they’ve been working hard,” Lishness said. “They should have done better last year and they know they should’ve done better last year. At this point it falls on them. Anything is possible.”
This year’s Open is an opportunity for Bristol Eastern to put a stamp on a successful season and avenge last year’s tough performance.
“They’re working hard right now, they’re loose in the gym,” Lishness said. “It’s a different attitude. They’re going in expecting to win matches this year. I haven’t talked to them about winning the Open, but I talked to them about wrestling to their ability. This year we want to see them really fighting. I know 100 percent that they can compete there.”
Following is a breakdown of Bristol Eastern’s key wrestlers.
As the sixth seed in the Open, the senior Beebe will get a bye. His draw lines him up to take on Danbury sophomore Tyler Johnson in the round of 16.
“People have been asking if we can beat Danbury,” Lishness said. “Maybe we can beat Danbury. Beebe is going to get a shot at Danbury right out of the gate, most likely.”
He’s wrestled Johnson twice and both have been close losses, but Beebe has showed potential this season to make a deep run in the Open.
“I don’t think it’s a mismatch [with him and Johnson],” Lishness said. “I think it’s a completely winnable match. They’ve had a couple good matches.”
If Beebe were to get past Johnson, a matchup with East Catholic’s Jacob Marselli (No. 3 seed) would likely surface.
While Marselli is a higher seed than Beebe, the common opponents the two have faced favors Beebe, as he has beat opponents that Marselli has lost to.
“If [Beebe] gets the right run going, I think he can medal for us,” Lishness said.
Marshall is a Class L state champion and is wrestling at a high level going into the State Open.
“I feel good with Justin in the open,” Lishness said. “With him being third, it puts him on the opposite side of [All-American] Luth from Foran. If Marshall gets by his first match, he’s probably going to end up wrestling Tagan Welch or Ben Coppock (No. 6 seed). I think Marshall is due for another run. He’s peaking at the right time for us.”
Barrett is the favorite in the 160-pound weight class, coming in as the No. 1 seed.
He has put together another impressive season and is coming off another Class L championship in his weight class.
Barrett’s bracket sets him up to face off against either Izaake Suschana (No. 4 seed) of Fairfield Warde or Joshua Schwartz (No. 5 seed) of Northwestern in the semifinal round.
“Mikey is the favorite in the 160-pound class,” Lishness said. “If he wrestles the way he’s known to, he’ll win that weight class.”
In the 145-pound weight class, there’s a wrestler that everybody knows of, Danbury’s A.J. Kovacs, one of the most dominant wrestlers in the state as a sophomore.
His semifinal opponent may very well be Fernandez, an up and coming wrestler that those in Bristol know of, but the state may just be getting to know.
Fernandez was the Class L state champion at 145 pounds.
“Diego is a wild card,” Lishness said. “I don’t think you can really scout Diego and know what you’re going to face. I’ve seen a lot of Kovacs. Diego is a person that many people haven’t seen.”
Nichols is in a stacked weight class, headlined by Danbury’s Ryan Jack.
Nichols, a freshman, lost to Jack earlier this season by major decision, but it was an impressive showing for the young Nichols early in the schedule. He didn’t give up a technical fall or get pinned. He also had a takedown in the match and Lishness believes he has a good tournament in him.
“Tom is a year-round wrestler and he doesn’t back down at these kinds of events,” Lishness said. “I think he has at least a few wins in him.”
Gonzalez is another wrestler peaking at the right time.
Fresh off of a Class L state title, Gonzalez will look to redeem himself at the Open after losing in a match last year right before the placement rounds.
“I like Trinidad [in this year’s Open] and I feel really confident with him,” Lishness said. “If he wrestles to his potential, he should be in the finals. He’s wrestling really well right now. He’s putting a lot of points on the board and he’s a tough kid to get points against. He frustrates people with his style.”
Gonzalez could draw the No. 2 seed, Brett Nutter (Trumbull) in the semifinals.
Champagne is in good position to advance to the round of 16. With a bye in the first round, he will take on the winner of Bryce Arnold (Wethersfield) and Gavin Rickaby (Ellis Tech).
If Champagne advances against either of those two, it will likely be another Eastern vs. Danbury match, as he is set up to take on the Mad Hatters’ Ben LeBlanc (No. 3 seed).
Champagne has lost to LeBlanc in a 2-1 decision and has also lost to him by major decision.
As the No. 14 seed, Sassu’s run to the medal rounds won’t be easy, but he’s the type of wrestler to pull of some upsets.
“The one thing about Sassu is that he’s a fighter,” Lishness said. “He’s got experience and can surprise. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Sassu could face off against Aaron Occhipinti in the round of 16, a Class LL state champion from Newtown.
First Sassu will have to beat Nathan Cuoco, a freshman from Fairfield Warde.
Mangual comes in as the ultimate underdog for Bristol Eastern, as he is the lowest-seeded wrestler for the Lancers at No. 20 out of 24 in the bracket.
His first round match will come against Avon’s Christopher Gens, a sophomore.
If Mangual can beat Gens, he will face East Hartford’s Isaiah Jiminian in the round of 16.
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org