BRISTOL â€• Wednesdayâ€™s dual meet between the Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central wrestling teams felt different from the climactic 14 rounds of grappling that traditionally take place each year when the two squads meet to close out their regular seasons in a celebration of their cityâ€™s deep wrestling history.
The event still came down to the final match of the night, which earned Eastern a 45-34 win, but lacked the high level of competition where several matches feature battles between student-athletes who both expect to place at the state tournament. Nine of Wednesdayâ€™s 11 matches ended in pins, with seven of those falls coming in the first period as both sidesâ€™ experienced wrestlers dominated their less-hardened opponents.
The entire meet lasted just over an hour and featured three forfeits, which is unheard of in this rivalry as both sides generally build tremendously deep rosters of competitive wrestlers. Despite Bristolâ€™s wrestling pedigree, which is recognized statewide, losing a season to the pandemic impacted both high school wrestling programs the same as other schools.
â€śIn terms of the kids, in terms of the injuries, in terms of not being on the mat and not being able to wrestle, you could see it in both teams,â€ť Central head coach Matt Boissonneault said. â€śThe match was competitive score-wise, but this isnâ€™t where we usually are as two programs and five years from now it will be different.â€ť
While covid set back most of the state by taking away the 2021 season, Bristol should recover quicker and more easily than other towns that donâ€™t have as much passion and commitment to the sport. In addition to historically successful high school teams that are led by high-level coaches, the Bristol Gladiators program at the Boys and Girls Club has kids wrestling from young ages and many, if not most, of them make their way to competing in high school.
â€śWeâ€™re very hopeful,â€ť Eastern head coach Eric Sassu said. â€śWe donâ€™t have a ton of young kids, but a ton of kids who are wrestlers at heart and really love the sport. Weâ€™ve even had kids coming in throughout the year trying the sport out and trying to build a team. The wrestlers on the team, even the seniors, were recruiting guys because they care about how the team does next year. Iâ€™m very hopeful weâ€™re going to pick up a lot of kids, especially from Gladiators, and Iâ€™m sure Central is going to do the same and weâ€™re going to keep Bristol chugging along.â€ť
With the regular season over for both teams, they can already start to measure the trajectories of the programs moving forward. Now hoping to build continuity from season-to-season, Eastern and Central can appreciate the growth of their wrestlers from the start of the season.
The season started off rusty for many wrestlers as they got reacclimated to the mat, but the groundwork is now set to make large strides in the right direction in the coming years and rebuild both programs to the size and skill they were at in previous years.
â€śComing into the season we had four kids with experience and two of them had season-ending injuries,â€ť Boissonneault said. â€śThe young kids have really developed pretty well. Weâ€™re 10-3 on the season with this loss so Iâ€™m really happy with them. Weâ€™ve had a lot of competitive matches and the younger ones are levels better than where they were two months ago and thatâ€™s the number one metric we look at.â€ť
For the outgoing seniors, many of them will be able to leave a mark on the program as leaders who helped reestablish a culture for the less experienced student-athletes, who will be the ones to bring the high level of success back to their teams.
â€śI think the biggest thing I see and I love from these guys is the passion thatâ€™s growing inside of them,â€ť Central senior Umar Malick said. â€śThis is it for me and Iâ€™ve been able to come to terms with it, but I can see these kids and I can see how much they care. It really makes me happy because I know I did my job, and I know they did their jobs and makes me hopeful for the future for this team.â€ť
Both teams will finish their 2021-22 campaigns with trips to the Class L state tournament next week, with the top-level grapplers reaching the subsequent postseason tournaments. After that, several months will pass before the next time many wrestlers touch a mat again, but having the expectation of a season next year gives them something to work for.
â€śIf youâ€™re a competitor you put your head down and you go to work,â€ť Boissonneault said. â€śWe canâ€™t control what happened in the past, we can control what we do now and we can control what we do in the future and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re trying to do.â€ť
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.