PLAINVILLE - Heading into the Plainville wrestling teamâ€™s first home meet of the season on Wednesday night, head coach Rusty Spence was worried how his young team would fare against Berlin, a team with a two-time state champ in Dan Veleas and a long history of dominance against the Blue Devils, who hadnâ€™t beaten Berlin since 2005.
â€śI was nervous about the match,â€ť Spence confessed. â€śWe hadnâ€™t beaten [Berlin] in a long time.â€ť
Spenceâ€™s nerves were calmed almost immediately, as Plainville jumped out to a 15-0 lead by taking the first three matches of the evening, two of them by pin. The lead eventually swelled to 36-13, before a late forfeit and a win by Veleas left the final score at a more respectable 39-30 in favor of the Blue Devils.
For Plainville, the win was another reason for optimism around the suddenly rejuvenated program. At this time last year, Spence found himself staring at a number of empty roster spots, resulting in forfeits that crippled the teamâ€™s chances of racking up wins. On Wednesday night, over 40 Blue Devils dressed in uniform to watch their teammates claim their eleventh victory of the season.
â€śWe have 44 kids this year,â€ť Spence said. â€śThatâ€™s crazy for high school. Last year we were giving up 30 points a match because we had so many holes in the lineup.â€ť
A massive influx of eager freshmen provided a boost for Spenceâ€™s once crippled roster, and while most newcomers arrive with no experience, fresh bodies are better than no bodies.
â€śIâ€™ve got five kids that have actual experience,â€ť Spence explained. â€śI have 24 freshmen coming in this year, and only two of them knew how to wrestle. But everyone on this team is good.â€ť
Spence has been most impressed with his young teamâ€™s desire to battle, even when matched up against wrestlers with superior experience or talent. Berlinâ€™s Veleas, a defending Class M State Champion, looked to finish off Plainville freshman Dakota Dinielli multiple times in the final match of the night, but Dinielli battled to last the full six minutes. It was a loss on the scorecard, but the reaction from the Plainville bench suggested otherwise.
Earlier in the match, Plainville freshman Dylan Bucci was the victim of a hard takedown from Berlinâ€™s Shan Naeem, but just when it seemed Bucci was toast, he pulled a quick reversal to secure the victory.
The fight from the Blue Devils has only increased the confidence of Spence, whose nervous energy prior to the Berlin meet may have subsided after seeing the performance from his young crew. Even with seventh-ranked Middletown on deck, Spence believes his replenished roster can put up a fight.
â€śIf we show up like we did [Wednesday] against Middletown, I think we can be competitive.â€ť Spence said.
The promise stretches beyond the Middletown match. With an overwhelming presence of young wrestlers, Plainville can look ahead to the future with high expectations.
â€śWeâ€™ve got a lot of new kids,â€ť sophomore Kyle Voisine said. â€śThe next few years are going to be really good. Weâ€™ll have a lot of kids and a full roster.â€ť