BRISTOL - The State Open wrestling tournament begins today, with Bristol and New Britain area schools sending 38 grapplers to the 14-class, 336-member field.
Bristol Eastern, winners of three straight Class L state championships, sends seven wrestlers to the State Open, led by its three individual state title winners: Tom Nichols (132 pounds); Justin Marshall (152), who finished sixth in the Open last year; and Trinidad Gonzalez (220), who made it to last year’s Open finals but lost in overtime.
The Lancers will also send Trent Thompson (106), Mason Lishness (113), Alexander Marshall (145) and Noah Piazza (160) to the tourney.
“Justin, Trinidad and Noah are all seniors, so this is their last go,” Bristol Eastern coach Bryant Lishness said. “Trinidad had some real high goals, so he was pretty disappointed last year. Justin has some high goals too. … Everyone going is definitely capable of winning matches. Everyone who’s going has wins over kids that are there.
“Some guys have a little more favorable run. Trent has beaten almost everyone in his field at some point in his career, and he’s lost to some of those guys too. He’s in the mix to do some major damage, and so is [Nichols].”
For Bryant Lishness’ wrestlers, remaining calm on the big stage is perhaps the most vital factor in going home with a medal or empty-handed.
“At this point, it’s really just about being in the right spot mentally,” he said. “These kids have all been on the mat forever, and we’ve had a lot of conversations about being on-point mentally and being offensive - wrestling your match, setting your pace and not getting overwhelmed by the moment.
“When you get to this one, you really don’t want to be hesitant. If you’re hesitant, you’re trying to steal wins. You don’t want to try and steal wins, you want to go out and take ’em. If your mind is in the right spot and you embrace that, you have a good shot. I’ve had some kids do really well at the Open in the past, and really why they did so well is because they stayed loose, confident and aggressive. If you wrestle that way, you’ve got a great shot at putting up some points and getting a medal.”
Bristol Central, the eighth-place Class L finisher, has five wrestlers in the tournament, all first-time participants in the Open: Will Hamilton (106), Jacob Aldi (113), Jason Feto (132), Jakob Salinas (195) and Eric Facey (285).
“All five guys have never qualified before, and they’re all coming back next year,” Bristol Central coach Matt Boissoneault said. “We’re all going down there to just try and get our feet wet a little bit. We’ve got two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. We’re pretty young, but we’re wrestling the best we’ve wrestled all season. All five have kids in their bracket they’ve beaten before, so they know they can compete down there. It’s just a matter of getting it done.
“It’s important that they get this experience now, so that when they go back there in two or three years, it feels like just another tournament. As much as I say that, we’ve had years where we bring kids down, their eyes get a little bit big, and they don’t compete to the ability I know they’re capable of. … Inexperience can be an advantage, too. There are a lot of upsets at the Open, and we don’t have any seniors where it’s ‘win-or-bust.’”
St. Paul and Terryville have Ben Foligno (220) and Caleb Leclerc (145), respectively, as their lone representatives.
In a first-round matchup between area wrestlers, No. 15 Matthew Jacobson (Southington) faces No. 18 Kaleb Korona (Plainville) at 182 pounds.
Southington, Class LL’s third-place finisher, has two state champions as part of its eight-man crew in the tournament: Jacob Cardozo (145) and Billy Carr (170).
The Blue Knights also have Ben Gorr (113), Jason Brault (138), Josh Vitti (160), Jacobson, Caleb Chesanow (195) and Jacob Vecchio (220) in the contest.
“With our schedule, we wrestle in some huge tournaments, some of them bigger than the LL [state tournament] and a couple bigger than the State Open,” Southington coach Derek Dion said. “A lot of tournaments you go to, you only get a couple good matches - in the semifinals or finals. But the tournaments we go to, kids are grinding out one-point matches in the first round and going after it round after round. You get five battles just to get to the finals. It’s a pretty good way to prep the kids for the State Open.”
Having such a successful program with the most area wrestlers to qualify for the Open does not, Dion believes, put any added pressure on the Blue Knights this weekend.
“I guess there’s some pressure there, but I think it builds a little more confidence with our kids,” Dion said. “Our kids work really hard to work to where we are, so I think it builds more confidence than pressure. We’ve got a great bunch of kids. They’re really hard-working kids who work their butts off. We’ve got a really good thing going.”
Plainville, which finished ninth in Class M, has five representatives in the tournament: Dominic Perdolini (126), Alex Hernandez (152), Kyle Voisine (160), Korona and Travis Boone (220).
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org