TERRYVILLE - The smallest wrestler on the Terryville team had possibly the squadâ€™s biggest season.
The Kangaroosâ€™ 106-pounder Cayleb LeClerc found lots of success on the mat this season, finishing the regular season with a 19-2 record.
â€śIt felt really good,â€ť LeClerc said. â€śComing into this season, I wanted to get a two-win to one-loss average and it turned out way better than that.â€ť
That mark earned the freshman grappler the No. 2 seed in the Class S state tournament, where he followed his first-round bye with a pair of third-period pins and a major decision on his way to the finals. In the championship match, LeClerc faced East Catholicâ€™s Jacob Marselli, the top seed in Class S. But it took only 1:08 for LeClerc to pin Marselli to claim the class title.
LeClercâ€™s win over Marselli was not just important because the Class S title was on the line.
â€śWhat was nice about that was he lost to the No. 1 seed earlier in the year,â€ť Terryville coach Peter Veleas said. â€śHe made some adjustments. Heâ€™s a confident kid. He knew he lost to him earlier in the year but he was excited. He wanted that challenge and he was up for it. It was good to see him respond in a positive way. He went right after it and got it.â€ť
Last season, Terryville finished sixth at the Class S meet, led by a strong class of seniors. This season was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding year after those seniorsâ€™ departures but, with help from LeClerc, the Kangaroos claimed fifth at this yearâ€™s class meet. LeClerc and teammate Jason Hume (285 pounds) also earned Terryville its first Class S titles since Elliott Wilion and George Andrews won the classâ€™ 132- and 152-pound championships, respectively, back in 2015.
Â â€śIt felt really good,â€ť LeClerc said about winning the Class S title. â€śFreddie [Ellegard] took 2nd [and] those seniors did really good. It felt really good to do it as freshman.â€ť
By winning his weight class at the class meet, LeClerc punched his ticket to and secured a high seed at the State Open. Coming out of a first-round bye, LeClerc took down James Rondini from Platt in a 6-2 decision but was knocked down to the consolation bracket in the next round by Bristol Centralâ€™s Chris Trelli in a 21-6 technical fall.
Unfortunately for LeClerc, he could not get anything going in the consolation bracket, as he was eliminated by Sheltonâ€™s Steven Reyes in a 4-0 decision.
â€śIt was really exciting,â€ť LeClerc said about competing at the Open. â€śI felt like I could have done better when I dropped into the [consolation bracket]. I was cutting a lot of weight to make 106 and my strength wasnâ€™t there. But Iâ€™ll come back next year and make sure my body feels good.â€ť
At the State Open, LeClerc was once again part of the Kangaroos bucking the idea that they are in a rebuild. No Terryville wrestler won a match in a championship bracket at last yearâ€™s Open. This year, three wrestlers - LeClerc, Hume and 195-pounder Josh Wright - combined for four championship-bracket wins.
For Veleas, competing on the big stage at the State Open is only a good thing for a young wrestler like LeClerc.
â€śWhenever you wrestle against that kind of competition and see that kind of competition, it bodes well for the future,â€ť he said. â€śKnowing what it takes to compete there, thatâ€™s a good thing. Heâ€™ll get up on the podium next year, hopefully. Itâ€™s always good to see that kind of competition.â€ť
While this is his first season on the mat for the Kangaroos and he grappled his way to the State Open, LeClerc what not as much of an unknown as freshmen tend to be.
â€śThere were some expectations for him because he had wrestled before,â€ť Veleas said. â€śHe had an older brother who wrestled for us so there were some expectations that he would do well. That being said, it was good to see him do well. He had some bad habits but he broke them.â€ť
Like last year, the Kangaroos will be without some key seniors next season, as Hume and Wright will not be back next season. But LeClerc has shown he can put up points for Terryville, which is a good thing for the team.
â€śItâ€™s nice to see he will be around for, hopefully, three more years, barring injury,â€ť Veleas said. â€śWe need more guys like him. It looks like we have some possible interest in the middle school. We hope it will continue to grow. When you have success, people want to be part of it. Hopefully, people want to join and be part of our team.â€ť
This season is going to be a tough act to follow for LeClerc but he is ready to do the work he needs to do to get back to the State Open and keep getting better.
â€śThereâ€™s a lot of pressure,â€ť he said about doing all this in his freshman season. â€śIâ€™m definitely using it as motivation.â€ť
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @K_baum30