SOUTHINGTON — The legacy of Southington wrestling continued to grow last weekend as the Blue Knights added two more champions to the all-time ledger at the Class LL state tournament.
Senior 145-pounder Jacob Cardozo and junior 170 Billy Carr ended up at the top step of the podium wearing shiny gold medals on Saturday night at Trumbull High School.
Veteran Southington wrestling coach Derek Dion said both grapplers earned their way to the top.
“They both really have tough-minded attitudes,” Dion said. “They are as hard of workers that you are going to find. They are both great leaders, and those three things add up to being champions.”
Cardozo sports 125 career victories. Saturday’s 3-2 win over Fairfield-Warde’s Cole Shaughnessy in the Class LL final was the biggest of them all.
“He was really strong and got that first takedown,” Cardozo said. “That’s always a crucial point, but I got the reversal in the first. After the flip, I was on bottom and got the escape and I just rode him out.
“He was really tough. I thought he was going to stand up and I ended up getting the ride-out.”
The title run was a long time coming. Cardozo has been wrestling since the age of 5. He came up through Southington’s youth wrestling ranks.
He described himself as a “mediocre” youth wrestler. He hit his stride when he became a Blue Knight.
“That’s something I had been working for, for way more than four years,” Cardozo said of the title. “I’ve devoted my entire life to that. Everything that I’ve done has been working toward that. It was one of the greatest feelings out there. It’s unexplainable. It’s an accomplishment I’ve wanted for a while. Just amazing.”
Cardozo, who also plays lacrosse, did not make the Class LL tournament as a freshman. He finished fourth in both his sophomore and junior years. He was also fourth in the State Open last year.
“Last year, I thought I had a shot,” Cardozo said. “I didn’t reach my goals and that left a chip on my shoulder to finish it off for my senior year.”
Cardozo, now 37-6 on the season, will be the No. 3 seed at 145 pounds at this weekend’s State Open in New Haven.
“I am going in with the same mentality as LL’s,” Cardozo said. “I’m just going to wrestle my matches and look to make another run and see what I can get.”
Beyond Southington, Cardozo said he plans to wrestle in college. That’s a decision he will make after the season. He’s weighing Division III options throughout New England.
As for Carr, he is the No. 4 seed at 170 pounds in the State Open. He edged out top-seeded Andrew Seaton of Amity 5-4 in the Class LL final.
Leading 3-2 late in the third period, Carr got a takedown to push his advantage to 5-2. Good thing. With Seaton answering with a reversal before the final buzzer, Carr needed every point.
“I’ve never been so nervous before,” Carr said. “I’ve never been in that big of a spot, especially by myself. I’ve usually been with teams in big games. All I know is that I got a late two at the end of the match to seal the victory. It was 5-2 and then he got really aggressive late and so I gave up a two. It was 5-4 and the last five seconds I fought him off.
“It was awesome,” Carr added. “I got a whole rush of energy going through me. That was nice because I was so tired at that point.”
Carr, a three-sport athlete at SHS, has compiled a 30-6 record so far in his junior year after a 30-win sophomore campaign.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was in fifth grade,” Carr said. “I haven’t done much club stuff because I do three sports — football, wrestling and baseball. I haven’t had time to do anything in the offseason … I’ve haven’t won anything before when I was younger, but now having this under my belt feels good.”
Carr said his teammates were a source of inspiration for him.
“Paul Calo, our two-time New England champion, got hurt this year, but he has taught me a lot,” Carr explained. “Guys like Cardozo, their work ethic rubs off. Hopefully, it will rub off on me a little more because they are great wrestlers and great guys.”
As far as the prospects of Carr and Cardozo winning it all at the State Open, Dion is confident in his guys.
“It’s hard to say,” Dion said. “There are some serious studs in both of their weight classes at Opens. I wouldn’t count them out in any match. It will be a test, for sure. We will find out if they are ready to pass those tests. They are both tough and there is no reason why they both can’t make it to New England’s. We will see what we can do.”
Carr and Cardozo lead a contingent of 14 area wrestlers to the State Open.
Two class runners-up are in the mix: Platt junior 120 James Rondini (Class M) and Maloney senior 182 Nikolas DeBaise (Class L). Both are six seeds at the Open.
Maloney junior Kody Talento, sixth at 152 pounds in Class L, will make the trek to New Haven with DeBaise. Rondini will be joined by three Platt teammates: junior 126 Isaiah Ross (3rd Class M), senior 182 Ryan Greene (4th) and senior 195 Andy Flores (4th).
The Blue Knights have qualified eight. Along with Carr and Cardozo, the Southington contingent features two third-place finishers from Class LL, senior 138 Jason Brault and junior 160 Josh Vitti.
Seniors Matt Jacobson (182) and Caleb Chesanow (195) both finished fourth in Class LL along with freshman 113 Ben Gorr. Junior 220 Jacob Vecchio qualified with a sixth-place showing.
The Open kicks off Friday at 3:15 p.m. with the Round of 32. The quarterfinals will be completed before the night is through.
Action resumes Saturday at 10 a.m. with consolation bouts. The championship semifinals start at 12:15. The traditional Parade of Past Champions ushers in the finals at 4:15.