MERIDEN — Balance is the byword for the inaugural All-Record-Journal wrestling squad.
The group of 10 runs the range of the weight class chart from 132 pounds to 285. Each of the four locals schools that offer an interscholastic program are represented. There are three state class champions.
Half of the group will graduate in June. Four will return as seniors with lofty expectations for their pursuits as athletes and leaders. One — Paul Calo of Southington — brandishes a New England championship with two high school seasons still in front of him.
Here’s our team for the 2016-17 season.
Austin Abacherli, Southington
The senior 152-pounder topped off a memorable career by going 42-7, winning a Class LL championship, taking third at the State Open and going 4-2 at the New Englands. As a junior 132, he was 36-10 and finished second in Class LL.
“Austin has been working his tail off for 10 years,” Southington coach Derek Dion said. “He’s dedicated. He was wrestling his best matches at the end of the year. Even the kids that beat him he really went after. They knew they were in a match. If you get physical with him, he gets physical right back. He can go with anybody.”
Black, a three-sport star who will play lacrosse at Merrimack College, went 28-6 as the only championship-caliber wrestler in the Rams’ program. The 138-pounder took fourth in Class LL and went 4-2 at the State Open.
“He comes from good stock,” said Dion, alluding to Sean’s father Drew, who is the wrestling coach at Wesleyan University.
Black played varsity soccer in the fall.
Paul Calo, Southington
Calo finished his sophomore season at 39-4 after winning the New England championship at 160 pounds against Ryan Devivo of Xavier, who defeated him in overtime in both the Class LL and State Open.
“Paul is one of those special kids that comes along once in a lifetime,” Dion said. “He’s got a feel for everything. We’ll bring coaches in the [practice] room and he’ll beat all the coaches. He’s deceptively strong, deceptively fast and he’s comfortable in any position.”
Calo’s record for his first two seasons is 75-13.
Mannash Carlson, Platt
Carlson was 0-12 as a sophomore when his first victory propelled Platt past Maloney in the 2015 Silver City Showdown. He hasn’t stopped winning since.
Carlson went 40-7 this year as a 145-pound senior, took third in Class M and won four of his six State Open bouts.
“He’s done so much in three years,” McCarty said. “He pinned that kid and was hooked forever. He broke the school record for takedowns in a season (63). He’ll be sorely missed.”
Demetre Carnot, Maloney
Carnot was 34-6 this season en route to the Class L title at 132 pounds. The junior took fifth at the Open and qualified for his first New England tournament. He goes into his senior season at 110-18.
Above and beyond his wrestling skills, which he hones year round, Carnot became an ad hoc assistant coach to his first-year mentor Eric Bergeron.
“He has the ability to make people around him better,” Bergeron said. “He took the time this year to teach them, like the second day of the [Class L tournament] when he showed younger guys who hadn’t been there how to go about things. It’s nice when you don’t have to worry about it all yourself.”
Platt’s heavyweight capped a strong senior year (he was also All-RJ in football) by going 43-6, winning a Class M crown, placing third at the Open and fifth in New England.
“He’s done everything this year and a little more,” McCarty said. “Ironically, after he lost at the New Englands, he wrestled totally fearless. It can go one or two ways after you lose that first match: that’s my season and just pack it in or decide to fight. He just really fought. You should have seen that gleam in his eyes.”
Martone tied West Johnson’s school record for amassing the most team points.
Rich Rivera, Southington
Rivera played basketball as a freshman and sophomore before a leg injury that would limit his playing time convinced him to consider wrestling.
He checked in with a 29-10 record this year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The senior 220-pounder took fourth in Class LL. He gained the 13th seed for the Open, wrestled his way to fifth and qualified for the New Englands.
“He had an amazing year,” Dion said.
“He only wrestled for a year-and-a-half and learned faster than I’ve ever seen anybody learn. He’s just a tremendous athlete and a smart kid.”
Stratton put together a 36-6 junior season, finished second in Class M at 160 pounds and qualified for the Open, but his best is yet to come.
“He’s always been our most technical wrestler, but this year he emerged as a leader, too, and helped out the other captains by helping the younger guys,” McCarty said.
“He tied the school record for pins in a season (28, with current Platt assistant West Johnson and the late Anthony Gonzalez), which is very impressive.”
Shaun Wagner, Southington
Wagner continued to improve on a stellar sophomore season by going 33-8 as a junior. He placed fourth at 132 pounds in Class LL and went 4-2 at the Open. He was 37-13 last year competing at 120.
“Shaun was in a tough weight class — probably the toughest — and he ran into some pretty tough kids,” Dion said. “I think he can come back next year and be in the finals of any tournament he goes to. He’s mentally tough and strong.”
Wagner also plays on the football team.
Tagan Welch, Southington
Welch overcame an early season struggle to finish at 27-13. The junior 138-pounder was seeded ninth in Class LL, but wrestled up to take third and qualify for the State Open, where he went 2-2.
“He lost his freshman year with a broken leg, but he was as good as anyone [at the youth level],” Dion siad. “Toward the end of the year, he was wrestling aggressively and confidently. He’s got a toughness to him.
“He did a lot of work lifting in the offseason and went from a 106 to a very strong 138. He started to gain his confidence at the end of the year and really wrestled well. He wrestled hard in a tough weight class. If he can come back strong, he can go up another few weight classes.”
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