NEW CANAAN — The Danbury High School wrestling team achieved something it may never have accomplished in its prestigious history.
In addition to capturing their 32nd FCIAC championship in 33 years today at New Canaan, the Hatters placed all of their wrestlers in the top six in each respective weight class.
“It was a total team effort,” Danbury’s veteran head coach Ricky Shook said afterward. “I asked (former Danbury coach) Mike Morris, who was announcing today, if he ever had all of his guys place top six and he said he didn’t think so and I don’t think I ever have. I don’t think it’s ever happened before in FCIAC history.
“We didn’t win every match we should have, we won some and we lost some, but overall it was a good tournament.”
Danbury racked up 257 points to outdistance runner-up Trumbull (200). Fairfield Warde took third (177), Staples was fourth (131) and Brien McMahon rounded out the top five (124).
The Hatters led the way with eight wrestlers in the finals and four emerged as champions, including North Carolina State-bound Ryan Jack at 126 pounds, Kyle Fields at 132, Kai Odell at 106 and Liam Byrne at 99.
Ryan Jack, whose older brother Kevin was a two-time All-American at N.C. State and a standout with the Hatters, scored an 8-4 decision over Ridgefield’s Ben Smart for his third straight conference crown.
“I think we performed pretty well as a team,” said the junior, who has a 28-2 record this season. “Everyone that loss stepped up in the wrestlebacks and everyone in the finals pretty much won and wrestled their hearts out.”
Odell, who is just a freshman, won a dramatic 2-0 decision over Trumbull’s Michael Longo in double overtime.
“I’ve known him (Longo) all my life,” said Odell, who is now 30-9. “I’ve had some really crazy matches with him. I wasn’t all that tired because of how exciting it was and having the team behind me.”
Fields (31-6) earned a third-period pin to wrap up the title after finishing second at the same weight last season.
Trumbull had three champions, which tied with Warde for the second most. For the Eagles, Travis Longo (113) secured his second consecutive league title and first with Trumbull, Jack Ryan (120) scored a thrilling 6-5 decision over Danbury’s Tyler Johnson and Joseph Palmieri (182) had a heart-stopping 7-6 decision over Greenwich’s Andrew Nanai.
“I’ve been working all year, for four years, and it all came down to this,” said Palmieri, a senior who was recognized as the Most Outstanding Wrestler in the upper weights for his efforts. “It was my last match here so I gave it everything I had and it worked out.”
Trumbull coach Charlie Anderson said he was pleased with his team’s performance, especially his champions, as well as sophomores Matt Ryan (285) and Jason Mercado (170) and junior George Bomann (145) for placing in the wrestlebacks.
“We always use this as a building block for next week (states), trying to find things we need to fix and we found the things we need to fix so hopefully next week we’ll be even better,” he said.
Warde went 3-for-3 in the finals. The Mustangs’ champions were Joe Gjinaj (195), who scored an 8-3 decision against Danbury’s Montez Osbey, Hunter Rasmussen (170), who earned a 10-0 major decision, and Noah Zuckerman, who had an 8-1 decision.
Jason Shaughnessy, Warde’s veteran coach, said his team didn’t get off to a strong start but he liked the way his wrestlers rallied today.
“To have three champions and have 11 kids place, I was overall very pleased reflecting on our weekend performance,” said Shaughnessy, who won his 400thdual meet this season and will be inducted into the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in May. “The three kids (who won) all wrestled and beat their opponents close during the regular season, and today they each extended the lead and all won comfortable matches. It’s nice to see them progressing.”
It was the second FCIAC crown for Gjinaj, who prevailed as a sophomore and was second last season.
“Getting up in the first period was what I really wanted to do,” said Gjinaj, who grabbed a 2-0 lead going into the second period against Osbey. “My defense is a lot better than my offense so I had to get up in the first period in order to force him to shoot (for a takedown). That was our game plan and it worked out well.”
New Canaan and Staples each had two champions. Leading the Wreckers were two-time winner George Harrington (220) and Jacob Rizy (285). For the Rams, Tyler Sung (145) and Justin Mastroianni (138) also became two-time league champions.
Sung, who is 36-2 this season, was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler for the lighter weights.
“I feel I’m doing well,” said Sung, who helped the Rams place sixth overall (113 points). “This year has been a good year for me and I feel I have a clear path right to states. I feel I’ve gotten better each and every single year and have improved on the little things.”
New Canaan coach Paul Gallo said Sung and Mastroianni are elite wrestlers who put in the time and effort in their training.
“We wrestled well and it was a good tournament for us,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll wrestle better at states.”
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for Staples under first-year coach Fred Mills. The Wreckers were eighth in the FCIAC a season ago.
“They really stepped it up today,” Mills said of his wrestlers. “Yesterday we had a couple tough losses but today we came through, especially in the finals. I’m very happy and George and Jacob both grinded it out.”
Harrington (26-2) locked up a hard-fought 12-9 decision over McMahon’s Jeff Cocchia and Rizy (30-7) pinned in 4:12 to become Staples’ first multiple FCIAC champions since the late 1990s.
Ridgefield’s Lazar Agoev had quite an entertaining match with New Canaan’s Christian Sibbett in the finals at 160, with Agoev coming through with a 10-6 decision. The Tigers also had three wrestlers in the finals to help them place seventh (88).
McMahon had two wrestlers in the finals, making it five that coach Joe SantaLucia has had in his career.
Overall, the weekend belonged to Hatters and the thing that is scary for the rest of the FCIAC is that Danbury will have a number of its wrestlers still in the fold the next few years.
“We’re pretty young,” Shook said. “All of (the champions) are underclassmen except for Kyle Fields.”