BRISTOL - As the Bristol Central gym was clearing out early Saturday evening, all one could see was the color blue all over.
It was because Bristol Eastern wrestling was celebrating back-to-back Class L state championships, the first time doing so in school history.
“It means a lot,” Lancers senior Mike Barrett said. “We broke history at our school. We’re the first team to go undefeated two years in a row and win back-to-back state championships. Last year we had three state champions and this year we had four. We’re getting better and better every year.”
Bristol Eastern took first place of 24 teams competing finishing with 231 points, 34.5 points ahead of second place Xavier.
The Lancers sent six wrestlers to the championship bout and had four come out champions. Diego Fernandez (145 pounds), Justin Marshall (152), Barrett (160) and Trinidad Gonzalez (195) all were champions in their respective weight classes.
Fernandez, Marshall and Gonzalez all won by decision. Barrett won via a major decision.
“It’s crazy that we can stay at this level and keep going up,” Marshall said. “We just keep fighting and are not letting anyone take over.”
Bryce Beebe (106) and Jordon Champagne (113) took second place.
“To be part of this group is fantastic,” Beebe said. “I grew up with all these guys through Gladiators. And from freshmen to senior year it’s amazing how much we grew as people and as wrestlers. To win back-to-back state championships is phenomenal.”
Also placing for Bristol Eastern was Carson Sassu (126 pounds), Tom Nichols (120) and Hidekal Mangual (220). Sassu was 4th, Nichols was 3rd and Mangual was 5th place.
Fernandez’s story is especially interesting, as he has been wrestling for just over a year. From being on the junior varsity team to now being a state champion is an accomplishment that took plenty of work but paid off big as Fernandez shined in his final match.
“I love working hard,” Fernandez said. “Every time in practice I ask Mike [Barrett] to go hard and we go 100 percent wrestling. We all work hard and train. Working hard pays you back.”
Gonzalez and Barrett both repeated as state champions after having won their weight class last year.
For a junior, Gonzalez’s career has been dominant and he still has more left this year with state opens approaching and a chance to go to New Englands.
“It shows how hard we practice every day,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t give up.”
Bristol Central placed 7th in the tournament with 102.5 points and had a state champion at 120 pounds in senior Chris Trelli.
Trelli won by a major decision and avenged his loss from the finals last season.
“It was a goal of mine,” Trelli said. “But this is sort of like a qualifier. I’m looking on to State Opens, New Englands and Virginia Beach Nationals. But it’s a big confidence booster for me.”
The Rams had three other wrestlers place. Mike Guzman (220) finished in third place, John Duncan (285) and Damian Mahaffy (170) both placed fifth.
Having its four seniors place was a goal coming into the tournament for Bristol Central.
“They were the four seniors we had in the lineup,” Rams head coach Matt Boissonneault said. “So getting them to place and extend their season was a goal coming in. I thought that they each wrestled really well.”
Duncan’s performance stood out, as it wasn’t long ago that placing at the Class L tournament was seen as far-fetched and something that Duncan had to train hard in the gym in order to do.
“For me my performance was more than I could ever dream of,” Duncan said. “At the beginning of the season I didn’t expect to even come close to placing. Even when I was in my coaches room going over film last week he said that before this week the dream of placing in Class L’s would have been a pipe dream. Today he said pipe dreams can come true. I’m ecstatic and so happy. I truly believe I couldn’t have gotten here without my coaches.”
Next up for both programs is the State Open. The Lancers are hoping to make a splash and win the tournament as a team. Danbury is considered the favorite to win the State Open.
“I believe we could come out and upset Danbury,” Beebe said. “A lot of people think we could just go out there and put on a show for everybody and I think a lot of us are going to go out knowing what we can do and just wrestle the way we are.”
The Rams hope their four seniors build off of their performance in Class L’s.
“They have to win those close matches,” Boissonneault said. “They have to keep getting better and keep improving. The 9-7 losses need to become 9-7 wins and that’s how you change it.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org