TRUMBULL - When the Southington wrestling team entered the Class LL state tournament last weekend as the No. 5 ranked team in the state of Connecticut, the Blue Knights knew they would be competing with two teams ranked higher than them, Danbury and Xavier, but they still believed they could finish in the top two, team wise, at the meet.
With Danbury as the top-ranked team in the state, Southington head coach Derek Dion figured the Hatters would finish first, but he also thought his team had what it took to take down Xavier, who was just one spot ahead of Southington in the poll.
The Blue Knights had a chance for second place if a few close matches would have gone their way. But as Dion said, it just wasn’t their day, and Southington finished out the tournament with fourth place. Even in a disappointing day, however, there were plenty of positives to come out of the tournament for the Blue Knights.
“We are sending eight guys to the state open,” Dion said. “I was hoping to get 10 guys in there, but eight is still a pretty good number and we are going to focus on the positives.”
As for what the team needs to do to ensure the State Open doesn’t end in disappointment like the Class LL tournament did, Dion plans to re-focus his team in the week between.
“I think we just need to have a really good week of work,” the head coach said. “We have really good wrestlers, we just have to tone down the mistakes and we will be fine.”
One Southington wrestler who did not have a disappointing weekend was Austin Abacherli at 152 pounds. The senior was the lone winner for the Blue Knights and won his first career state championship.
Abacherli is on a roll right now and will head into the state open with plenty of confidence, although he has tempered expectations going up against the best wrestlers in the state.
“I know I’m going to be facing some really good kids so it definitely won’t be easy,” Abacherli said. “But I want to qualify for New England’s and that is what I will strive for.”
Dion believes that Abacherli is wrestling at a high level at this point, but also knows that the state open is a different animal.
“The competition up there is really tough,” Dion said. “I think Austin has a shot there though because he has really upped his game recently. We expect him to get to the New England’s.”
While Southington’s 152-pound state champion is tempering his expectations for the rest of the postseason, its 160-pound runner up, Paul Calo, is doing no such thing.
For the second straight year, the sophomore came up just short of being a state champion as he lost the title match in a back-and-forth battle. Xavier’s Ryan Devivo ended up getting a take down in the overtime to squeak out the win but the loss has not shaken Calo’s confidence.
“That match could have gone either way and I gave him some points that I really shouldn’t have given up,” Calo said. “I am planning to go into the state open and win there and then qualify for New England’s and win there.”
Dion is in agreement that while Calo might have fell short at the state championship tournament, he still has a chance to make some big noise in the coming weeks.
“Paul can definitely win the state open,” Dion said. “He made a couple of crucial mistakes against the kid from Xavier, but I am confident that we will fix those mistakes in the week between and he will be in there for a shot to win the whole thing.”
Michael Woolfson can be reached at 860-801-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @Bigwoolf5