INNER CIRCLE — Wrestling continues to make its comeback from the lost season of 2021.
For a second straight year, the area produced two state class champions, but this time sent more wrestlers — 15 — on to the State Open.
On the team front, Southington coach Derek Dion’s Blue Knights consistenly ranked in the top 10 of the CT Wrestling Online state poll and coach Bryan McCarty’s Platt Panthers picked up votes, too, as they recorded 20 wins in 25 matches.
Maloney had 20 wins as well, going 20-13 under first-year coach Angel Hernandez.
And Cheshire, under Drew Pichnarcik, fleshed out its lineup, grew more competitive and put two wrestlers into the State Open.
Those “non-contact cohorts of 4” in the pandemic winter of 2020-21? They are an increasingly distant memory.
This winter furnished an All-Record-Journal Wrestling Team that produced 367 victories, 11 podiums at the class meets and six at the State Open. Four wrestlers advanced to the New England Championships.
The All-RJ team is led by our two class champions, Southington senior Colton Thorpe and Platt junior Caiden Talento. Thorpe captured the 132-pound title in Class LL. Talento repeated as Class M champ at 152.
Thorpe and Talento, Talento and Thorpe: They were indeed T’n’T, and they are the 2023 Record-Journal Co-Wrestlers of the Year.
Thorpe, also the Central Connecticut Conference champ at 132 pounds, wound up placing fourth at the State Open and went 4-2 at the New England Championships. He finished with an area-high 46 wins in 52 matches.
Talento was fifth at the Open, went 3-2 at New Englands and sported a final record of 38-7.
The only other area wrestler aside from Thorpe to reach the 40-win plateau? Talento’s fellow team captain at Platt, Ahmed Hernandez.
A senior 170-pounder, Hernandez often bumped up a weight class or two during the dual-meet season. For the state tournaments, he locked in at 170 and placed second in Class M and fifth at the State Open.
Hernandez joined Thorpe and Talento at the New England Championships and finished the year with a record of 41-9.
The fourth area wrestler in Providence for New Englands was Southington senior Jared Mangiafico. The 126-pounder was third in Class LL, fourth at the Open and finished 36-9.
At that 126-pound slot, Mangiafico was part of a Southington Murderers’ Row in the lower weights. Thorpe followed Mangiafico and then came Josh Howard at 138. The junior went 38-9 after placing second in Class LL and sixth at the Open.
Two other class runners-up emerged from area rooms: Sheehan junior Jay Chase and Platt sophomore Cesar Rodriguez.
Chase, a 132-pounder, wrestled as an independent with Southington during the regular season before breaking off for states and placing second in Class S. Chase was also second at the SCC Tournament at 132.
Rodriguez, a second-year 106-pounder, built on his freshman season, rising from No. 6 a year ago in Class M to No. 2. He finished his sophomore campaign at 31-9.
Rodriguez was one of three outstanding local 106’s. In that group, count Southington’s Joe Garafalo and Maloney’s Logan Gagne.
Garafalo had a solid 31-15 sophomore season. He placed fourth in Class LL to earn his ticket to the State Open.
Gagne broke out as a freshman, winning 35 of 45 matches and finishing fourth in Class L to advance to the Open.
That’s nine All-RJ wrestlers. There are two more: Cheshire’s Rome Smith and Platt’s Mike Melendez.
Smith played a big role in getting Cheshire wrestling back on the map. The senior 170-pounder battled at states, grinding through the consolation brackets to finish fourth in Class L and sixth at the State Open.
In placing sixth, Smith recorded Cheshire's highest finish at the Open since Kyle Copes won the program's first and only title in 2010.
As for Melendez, he’s a junior 195-pounder and definitely one to watch — and not just for his 30 wins and third-place showing in Class M this season. Melendez wrestles with pure passion and emotion. You always know when Big Mike’s on the mat. And you definitely know when he wins.