BRISTOL – Bristol Eastern High School Senior Ella Nichols recently won a nationals wrestling event in Virginia Beach and hopes to earn the chance to compete internationally this year.
“It felt really good, like all my work paid off,” said Nichols, who said Friday that she participated in the competition a couple weeks ago. “There were more than a thousand girls at that competition.”
Nichols has been wrestling since her brother Tommy first got her interested in the sport when she was eight years old.
She started wrestling with the Bristol Boys and Girls Club Gladiators team soon after and has gone on to win several state championships and regional events as the only female member of Bristol Eastern High School’s wrestling team.
Nichols began competing at the national level in 2019, representing Connecticut as part of the all-female Ansonia-based Team Tugman Wrestling during the off-season from her school.
“I like that you have to put in a lot of time, effort and hard work to get your body and mind prepared to compete,” she said. “The Boys & Girls Club of Bristol were a great support for me; they coached me from second grade to my eighth grade year and helped to make me who I am.”
Nichols also thanked her family, friends and coaches for pushing her to achieve her athletic accomplishments. She especially thanks Blair Tugman, who coaches Team Tugman, and Bristol Eastern wrestling coaches Dave Thompson, Bryant Lishness and Eric Sassu.
“They pushed me to better myself in every aspect of my life, on and off the mat,” she said.
In 2020, Nichols trained at the Olympics Training Center in Colorado Springs and qualified to compete in Russia. However, a concussion that she suffered at the Olympics Training Center that year prevented her from taking the trip.
“It took me four months to recover,” said Nichols.
Nichols said that in July she will be competing in the Women’s Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota where there will be 10,000 girls competing. If she makes it into the top three, she will be able to qualify for the world team again. From there, Nichols said, she will have her choice of competing in Russia, Japan or Sweden.
“If I qualify, I would choose Sweden,” she said. “I’d want to check out the culture and the food.”
Nichols said that she has a 35-win, 7-loss record at Bristol Eastern High School, wrestling against boys. She said that while some boys didn’t want to wrestle with her, she didn’t care and kept moving forward.
Eric Sassu, who teaches Nichols at Bristol Eastern High School, described her as an “absolutely fantastic” wrestler, who is “very technical”, “very aggressive” and “pins her opponents 90% of the time.”
Sassu began coaching Nichols in the 2021-2022 season, but knew her from the Gladiators at the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol and was previously a volunteer coach at Bristol Eastern.
Sassu said that he has been very impressed with Nichols.
“She is very easy to coach and she understands her role on the team even though she is so good,” he said. “She takes a lot of time to understand the concepts and techniques and even helps to roach the younger kids. To have that sort of instruction coming from me is one thing. To have it coming from a former state champion and one of the captains of the team is another.”
Sassu added that Nichols invites other team members over to her parents’ house after competitions and makes sure to include the younger members of the team. He also noted that she often comes to him with suggestions on team lineups, since she is very familiar with how other members of her team wrestle.
Nichols said that she has become an inspiration for other girls getting into wrestling.
“There are a lot of girls that look up to me,” she said. “There are two girls that are going through the Gladiators now that absolutely love me and ask me for advice. They say that they ‘we want to be who you are.’ It’s so cute; they try to be like me and it’s really amazing to see.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.