SOUTHINGTON - Sitting in the Southington High School library, Austin Abacherli put pen to paper and made it official.
In front of his family, friends and school officials Friday afternoon, the Southington senior signed his Letter of Intent to attend and wrestle at Sacred Heart University beginning this fall - trading in the blue and white for the red and grey.
“I looked at about 20 different colleges over the years, with my sister being an athlete as well,” Abacherli said. “I looked at Springfield College, Rhode Island, Western New England, all these good colleges, but I really didn’t feel as though I was home there. At Sacred Heart, I stepped on campus and loved it.”
Even a head coaching departure at the school after he committed was not enough to deter the senior.
“I loved the coaches there,” Abacherli said. “This actually happened with my sister [Allie]. She wanted to go to William & Mary and the coached backed out, so I was kind of worried. She got taken out of that program and that recruiting class and the new coach kind of kicked everyone out. At first I was nervous, but I already sent in my letter saying I was going. I still love the college and I’m going there to get an education. I’m a student-athlete, not an athlete-student.”
For Abacherli, the signing was a culmination of the hard work he put in over the years, both in season and in the offseason. Over his four years in the Southington uniform, the senior consistently got better.
He ended his freshman year with a fourth place finish at the Class LL tournament, then a third place his sophomore year, second his junior season and finally a Class LL title his senior year, earning his first trip to the New England Championships in the process. During that same stretch, Abacherli has gone up in weight class, starting at 113 pounds before moving up to 120, 132 and 152 pounds this past season. He now sits around 170.
When all was said and done, he ended his high school career with more than 100 wins and was a four-time all-conference selection. And Abacherli’s head coach, Derek Dion, believes his now-former wrestler is only going to be better.
“Austin’s done a lot of offseason work over the years and every year he’s gotten better,” Dion said. “I don’t even think his body has even developed into his man-muscles yet. So it will be exciting, watching him over the next few years and he’s dedicated, so that usually translates.
“Wrestling is a different sport. You’re going to get exactly what you put in. It’s really the only sport that guarantees that. He’s put in a lot of hard work. You can see it in the results and I don’t think he’s even touched his potential yet. He’s fearless and his attitude is great. I don’t think there is any level of success that he can’t attain.”
Any future success for Abacherli is a result of what he was able to build upon at Southington. Reflecting on his high school career, Abacherli said what made him better as time went on was how he matured on the mat with his different techniques.
“I was looking at old wrestling videos, because I like to look back at them every once in a while, and I look like a little baby boy my freshman year,” Abacherli said with a laugh. “Things I would do in matches then make me cringe now because the stuff I was doing was absolutely ridiculous. Looking at it now, I just see myself as so much more mature.”
It will be hard for the Blue Knights to replace one of their top wrestlers. For Dion, the thing he will miss the most about the Division I-bound athlete is what he brought each and every time he stepped on the mat, whether it was in practice, a dual meet or a tournament.
“It’s his never-say-die attitude,” Dion said. “When he goes out there and steps on the mat, you’re going to get a high level of effort the whole match. Even if he’s down points, he’s going to throw moves at everybody and try to score big moves. That relentlessness is good, not only for him, but for the other kids to see.”
As his senior year of high school draws closer to the end, Abacherli said he is going to miss some of his close friends such as Shaun Wagner, Tagan Welch and Paul Calo - along with him, dubbed the Big Four - but is excited for the next chapter of his wrestling career.
“This means a lot to me because it means I have a crack at an athletic scholarship in the future, helping my parents out,” Abacherli said. “My parents don’t have a money tree in the backyard and having another kid go through college right now and being an athlete, I got more money [from the school], so that definitely helps.
“I definitely want to wrestle varsity. I wrestled varsity four years here. I’m looking forward to practice and see how that works out.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach