MERIDEN — One of the most grueling roads in any given sports year? Any given bracket at the wrestling State Open.
It’s a best-of-the-best tournament. No match can be taken lightly. You get to the final four there, you’ve done some heavy lifting, and you’ve done it all by yourself.
In looking at our final four for Wrestler of the Year, it’s astounding who didn’t make the cut — nine State Open qualifiers, including two seniors who finished their career with more than 100 wins.
Those two guys are Caleb Brick of Southington and Kody Talento of Maloney. Both are going on to wrestle in college — Brick at the Milwaukee School of Engineering and Talento at Plymouth State in New Hampshire.
I’ve left them off the list of finalists at my own peril. Brick wrestled this year at 145 pounds, Talento at 152. That puts me in their weight class. Oh, boy.
Truth be told, the original list of Wrestler of the Year finalists was limited to three. My colleague Aaron Flaum, the man behind the cameras, took me to the mat for a fourth. I’m glad he did.
I won’t say who the fourth guy was. I’d be bumping up way too many classes.
If I do get called out, I won’t make it back, so let’s get our finalists for 2020 Wrestler of the Year out on the mat right now.
It’s the last we’ll see of them at the high school level. All four are seniors: Platt teammates James Rondini and Luke Fuerstenburg and Southington teammates Billy Carr and Jacob Vecchio.
It’s an impressive group with impressive post-graduation plans. Fuerstenberg has enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Machinist Mate-Nuclear. Vecchio is also service-bound. He’s going to the Coast Guard Academy, where he’ll play football.
Rondini and Carr are heading to college and they, too, will continue their athletic careers. Rondini will wrestle at New England College. Carr will play football at Springfield College.
Few would dispute Carr could wrestle at the college level. He was a Class LL champion as a 170-pound junior and again this year as a 182-pound senior.
Carr went on to take this year’s State Open championship at 182, winning the title bout 4-3 by taking down an undefeated opponent in the waning seconds.
With the victory, Carr became Southington’s fifth State Open champion. He joined Bill Lee, Larry Liseo, Zach Maxwell and Zack Murillo.
Carr went 44-5 his senior year, which gave him a final career record of 107-29. He was one of just two area wrestlers to qualify for this year’s New England Championships.
The other? Jacob Vecchio at 220 pounds.
In Class LL and again at the State Open, Vecchio wrestled back to take third place. That sent Vecchio to the New England Championships, where he wrapped up a 41-11 season and a 105-35 career.
We’ve said it before and it bears saying again: In tournament wrestling, the heart of a competitor is perhaps best measured by what happens after a loss. Vecchio won five of his six consolation matches in Class LL and at the State Open by pin.
Now, when it came to pins, heavyweight Luke Fuerstenberg was the kingpin of 2020. The Platt senior went 48-3 this year en route to the CCC Small School and Class M championships.
Of those 48 wins, 34 were by pin.
The 48 victories were the most this year among area wrestlers. The 34 pins were a new Platt single-season record.
James Rondini also exits Platt with his name in the record book. With a career record of 144-32, Rondini ranks behind only West Johnson (163-19) and Luis Murillo Jr. (153-18) for the most victories in program history.
It’s likely Rondini would have had more than 144 had he not dislocated his elbow late in his senior season. The injury kept him out of the Maloney rivalry match as well as the CCC Tournament.
At the time, Rondini was the area’s lone undefeated wrestler, standing at a spotless 34-0.
He did return for the state tournaments and wound up advancing to the Class M championship final at 132 pounds. That bout was tied when Rondini’s opponent escaped with just seven seconds remaining.
At the State Open, Rondini logged his last victory, No. 144. I get the feeling, though, that we haven’t heard the last of him.
The Record-Journal “Best of the Bunch” awards video airs next Thursday, June 18 on Facebook at 6:30 p.m. and will be on myrecordjournal.com after that. The R-J is giving away an iPad Mini to one person who watches the event live on Facebook. Enter at myrecordjournal.com/ipad. Tomorrow’s finalists: Perseverance Award.