SOUTHINGTON — As good as Southington wrestlers were this winter at sticking opponents on the mat, they were just as good at sticking with it academically in class.
For a second straight year, the Blue Knights had five of their number named Academic All-American by the National High School Coaches Association.
Three were repeat performers: seniors Billy Carr and Jacob Vecchio, and sophomore Ben Gorr. Joining them were senior Caleb Brick and freshman Colton Thorpe.
“To have five Academic All-Americans for the second year in a row, I think, is pretty awesome,” said Southington wrestling coach Derek Dion. “All these kids coming through are hard workers, not just on the mat, but in school, too. All around, and it shows.
“It’s a real good positive peer pressure,” Dion added. “It’s a real good culture right now.”
This year indeed continues tradition. Recent Blue Knights Jacob Cardozo, Zack Murillo and Zach Bylykbashi were Academic All-Americans who went on to wrestle in college — Cardozo at Roger Williams, Murillo at Wesleyan and Bylykbashi at Washington & Lee.
Of this year’s group, only one for certain will be continuing his career on a college mat this coming season. That’s Brick, who is going to the Milwaukee School of Engineering and will wrestle Division III.
Carr and Vecchio are expected to play football at their next ports of call — Carr at Springfield College, Vecchio at Coast Guard. (Both of those school, it must be noted, also have wrestling programs.)
Each of Southington’s graduating All-Americans won more than 100 matches in their career. Carr (107-29) was this year’s Class LL and State Open champion at 182 pounds. Vecchio (105-35) was third in both tournaments at 220 pounds. Brick (120-43) was runner-up in Class LL at 145.
“Those three kids have just been such great role models for the younger kids,” Dion said.
To qualify for Academic All-American, wrestlers have to hold a grade-point average of at least 3.6. They also have to place in their state tournament.
The GPA for each Southington wrestler was listed at 4.0.
Gorr, only a sophomore, made the All-American grade for a second year. Sixth in Class LL this season, Gorr finished 36-12 and aleady has 75 wins for his career.
Succeeding Gorr as Southington’s freshman Academic All-American is Thorpe, who went 26-10 and placed fifth in Class LL in his rookie year.
Had late-season injuries not derailed the strong junior seasons of Darius Mangiafico and Luke DeAngelis, the Blue Knights conceivably would have had even more make All-American.
They most certainly would have had six if girls wrestling was a CIAC-sanctioned sport. Junior Ashley Reed won her weight class at the inaugural Girls Wrestling Invitational, an exhibition tournament that ran concurrently with this year’s State Open.
At any rate, Dion says the underclassmen are already talking about going after Academic All-American status next year.
“There’s no reason we can’t get five or more next year, that being something the kids strive for,” said Dion. “We’re very fortunate with the families and the kids that we have. It’s just the culture instilled. We really have a great wrestling family going.”