MERIDEN — Like indoor track, wrestling crowned its champions before COVID-19 brought the curtain down on the winter postseason.
Nonetheless, a season of accomplishment was still rimmed by what might have been.
For every area wrestler who won a state championship, there was a contender whose chances were undermined by injury. For every dramatic victory, there was a heartbreaking defeat.
Southington senior Billy Carr won the State Open championship at 182 pounds by one point with a takedown. Platt senior James Rondini lost the Class M championship at 132 pounds by one point on an escape.
Seven seconds remained in each match when the decisive move was made.
That’s the nature of this game. It can be a long six minutes on the mat.
Seven seconds can seem just as long. After Carr executed his takedown to go ahead 4-3 against unbeaten Simon Flaherty of Amity in that 182-pound Open final, he had to keep Flaherty from escaping to secure the victory.
Go back and watch those final seven seconds in Aaron Flaum’s video on myrecordjournal.com. Carr was as much rodeo cowboy as wrestler.
In riding out those seven seconds, Carr took a permanent place in the pantheon of Southington State Open champions alongside Bill Lee, Larry Liseo, Zach Maxwell and Zack Murillo.
And let there be renown for Rondini. His 144 career wins rank No. 3 in Platt wrestling history.
Rondini’s return from a dislocated elbow to wrestle in this year’s state tournaments should go into Panther lore as well.
In the balance, 2019-20 is a year that ranks well for Southington and Meriden wrestling. Five seniors signed off with 100 wins or more.
All three teams had winning records. Coach Bryan McCarty’s Panthers went 24-11. Joe Winoski’s Maloney Spartans were 15-10. Derek Dion’s Southington Blue Knights were 17-2.
Ranked throughout the season, the Blue Knights finished No. 6 in the Connecticut Wrestling Online state poll.
The Blue Knights also blazed a new path in another direction. What was it? Read on. It’ll only be, oh, six minutes.Platt
We spoke of accomplishments and what might of been in the 2019-20 wrestling season. Did anyone encapsulate that more than James Rondini?
The Platt senior was standing on a spotless 34-0 record when he suffered his disolocated elbow.
Rondini underwent a medical procedure to pop the elbow back into place. He missed the Maloney rivalry match. He missed the CCC Tournament.
He seemed likely to miss states as well until, on the very day the class tournaments opened, he was medically cleared to compete.
Traveling to Guilford High School with his teammates, Rondini was part of a Platt platoon that put six wrestlers on the Class M podium and advanced four to the State Open.
Those numbers would likely have been 7 and 5 if Isaiah Ross had been healthy. The senior was 36-2 and had just finished second at the CCC Small School Tournament at 126 pounds when a knee injury ended his season just shy of states.
Other Panthers picked him up. Senior 170-pounder Cristian Calero placed third in Class M and finished 38-8 on the season. Sophomore 152 Mathew Merrigan was second at the CCC Small School tourney, sixth in Class M and finished 37-5.
Both qualified for the State Open along with Rondini.
And then there was the big man, Luke Fuerstenberg. The senior heavyweight won the CCC Small School and Class M championships and, after a 2-2 showing at the State Open, signed off with a season record of 48-3.
Those 48 wins were the most among area wrestlers this year.
Fuerstenberg also had 34 pins. Those 34 pins weren’t merely the area high, they are a new Platt single-season record.
As for Rondini’s place in the all-time Platt pecking order? Here it is:
■West Johnson (2005-2009): 163-19;■Luis Murillo Jr. (1998-2002): 153-18;■James Rondini (2016-2020): 144-32.Maloney
It’s remarkable to think Maloney won just three matches three years ago.
With roster numbers on the rise, the Spartans won 15 matches in their second season under Coach Winoski and had three individual 30-match winners in senior 160-pounder Kody Talento (38-6), junior 220 Darel Rivera (38-7) and sophomore 120 Onil Carrion (30-10, the team’s R-J Scholar-Athlete who is an Athlete of Distinction here.
Maloney would likely have had a fourth wrestler surpass 30 wins had injury not intervened. Junior 152-pounder R.J. Plumberg stood at 24-7, with a first-place showing at the Wethersfield Invitational to his name, when a shoulder injury cut his season short.
Rivera and Talento carried the flag for Maloney in the postseason. Both placed in the CCC Small School and Class L tournaments and advanced to the State Open.
Rivera finished second in the CCC and earned a spot on the Class L podium with a sixth-place showing.
As for Talento, he chalked up career win No. 100 in the regular-season finale with Platt, then claimed the CCC title in the 160-pound division.
Talento advanced to the Class L tournament and pinned his way into the semifinals. There, a heartbreaking 3-2 loss awaited on an escape that came with just six seconds on the clock.
Talento battled back to take third place in Class L. His final career record was 108-37.Southington
Two days after winning his State Open championship, Billy Carr could point with pride to the banner in the Southington gym bearing the names of the four Southington State Open champions who came before him.
He’d soon be joining a list that includes his older cousin, Zach Maxwell.
Carr was 31-4 in the regular season despite some injury issues. He was a spotless 10-0 in the Connecticut postseason, sweeping to the CCC Large School, Class LL and State Open crowns at 182 pounds.
He was one of just two area wrestlers to qualify for the New England Championships in Methuen, Mass. The other was fellow Southington senior Jacob Vecchio, a 220-pounder.
Vecchio didn’t win any postseason titles but, boy, did he battle. In tournament wrestling, if there’s anything harder than losing, it’s getting back on the mat after you lose in the championship brackets. Want to measure the heart of a competitor? Look to the wrestle-backs.
In Class LL and again at the State Open, Vecchio rebounded to take third place, winning five of his six consolation matches by pin.
Carr and Vecchio both finished their careers with 100-plus wins. They had 40-win seasons as seniors. Vecchio, the CCC Large School runner-up at 220, was 43-12. Carr came away at 41-6.
A third Southington senior, 145-pounder Caleb Brick, joined the 100-win club this year as well.
Though Brick’s regular season was abbreviated by injury, it did feature first-place performances at the Greater Hartford Open and the Connecticut Challenge, two of the most high-profile events in Connecticut this side of the state meets.
Brick placed second in the CCC Large School Tournament and again in Class LL, pinning his way through the latter competition until falling 3-0 in the state final. He was 2-2 at the State Open and signed off with a senior record of 25-7.
The graduation of Carr, Vecchio and Brick leave three big holes in the Southington lineup. So will that of fellow senior Josh Vitti, who went 34-11, won the CCC Large School title and placed fourth in Class LL at 160 pounds. (Vitti was All-RJ in football and an Athlete of Distinction here in wrestling.)
Leading the returning charge for the Blue Knights will be Dawsen Welch and Ben Gorr.
Welch, a junior, went 34-11 this winter and finished second in both the CCC Large School and Class LL tourneys at 152 pounds.
Gorr, a sophomore, compiled a 39-9 mark, took the CCC Large School crown at 126 pounds and placed sixth in Class LL. Those 39 wins matched Gorr’s win total from his freshman year. With two seasons still ahead, Gorr already has 78 career victories.
Our final pick for the 2019-20 All-Record-Journal Wrestling Team? It happens to be our favorite. It is the one that pushed the envelope.
For the first time, the CIAC staged a Girls Wrestling Invitational this year in conjunction with the State Open. Among the first class of female state champions was Southington’s Ashley Reed.
The junior was dominant, winning three of her four state bouts by pin, including in the final.
Let the record show: Ashley Reed in 3:45 over Baylee Gagneir of Montville. A done deal. No “what might have been” about that.