By MICHAEL LETENDRE
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Bristol Eastern wrestling standout Ella Nichols took the National High School Coaches Association wrestling tournament by storm over the weekend of March 31.
And at the tournament from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Nichols – a sharp freshman from the Lancers’ state championship Class L program – ended up taking seventh place overall from the major event at 136 pounds.
“She did a phenomenal job,” said Eastern coach Bryant Lishness. “Most of these girls are coming from states where they wrestle [and] have it as a sanctioned sport and a lot of states are adding it. We haven’t yet so she faced some real tough competition.”
This year was the first time the NHSCA held a tournament for the girls, running it for athletes from grades 9-12, and Nichols not only earned seventh place but took home All-American honors in the process.
She was one of three females from Connecticut to bring back All-American status to the Nutmeg state.
“She was facing girls who were [nationally] ranked, girls who are wrestling internationally and stuff like that,” said Lishness. “She did a really good job.”
Nichols grappled on the JV level this year, winning over 30 matches while losing somewhere around four total bouts.
And to her credit, she only wrestled against three or for girls this year – beating all of them – and handling everything else put in her path.
Lishness admitted she probably would have been wrestling on the varsity level for most other teams in the state.
“She’s our fourth All-American we’ve had,” said Lishness, joining the likes of Andrew Chase who twice earned the award.
Lishness feels that Nichols could have wrestled on the varsity level for most other programs around the state this year but at Eastern, it’s only a matter of time before she cracks the line-up.
And the 3-2 showing from Virginia Beach was a big deal for the excellent grappler.
“We wanted her to go to one of these [tournaments] because we knew how good she was,” said Lishness. “She started with the [Bristol] Gladiators when she was 5. She stayed with it all the way through eighth grade and probably 95-percent of her matches have been against boys so getting there and experiencing this with girls was new for her at that level.”
“She handled it really well.”
Nichols started the tournament with a pin-fall victory over Florida’s Madisyn Blackburn in just 48 seconds and she was off and running in Virginia.
She then fell to Mika Walker of New York by a close 3-1 decision in overtime during the quarterfinal round.
And then in three consolation round bouts, Nichols went 2-1 to earn seventh place in the 136-pound competition.
Nichols nabbed a 7-1 decision over New York’s Jade Eldridge 7-1 and to end her time in Virginia, she was an 11-2 winner via decision against Alabama’s Jorie Richardson.
“Even the two losses she had, both of them were in the waning seconds,” said Lishness. “She got better as the tournament went on. She was frustrated and made some adjustments and just got better as the tournament progressed.”
Earlier this year, Nichols won the Connecticut Girls Wrestling State Championship and then added All-American to her growing resume.
Earning All-American status at this tournament wasn’t possible in the past but with the inclusion of the girls at the event, the venue became another avenue for female wrestlers to strut their stuff.
That status would have been confined to events such as the USA Wrestling National Championships in Fargo, N.D. – a tournament Lishness feels Nichols could do very well in if she decided to attend.
“I think this puts her at a level where she knows she can compete out there,” said Lishness of the Fargo event. “I think she would do very well out there, especially in that age group which is freshman and sophomore girls. I would not be surprised at all if she was All-American out there as well.”
But it wasn’t just Nichols representing Bristol at the event.
She was joined by fellow Bristol Eastern teammates Trent Thompson, Mason Lishness, Treyvon Daniel, Alex and Justin Marshall, Bristol Central’s Will Hamilton and Ella’s brother Tom Nichols.
Thompson (106 pounds) made it to the quarterfinal round in his bracket before just coming up short.
“Trent was really close,” said Lishness. “He made the quarterfinals. He was winning 5-3 in the third [period but] he made a mistake and got pinned.”
The grappler who beat Thompson ending up making the finals and the Bristol grappler was very close to qualifying for that first place bout.
And freshman Alex Marshall (145) also hung around in the tournament fray as the first-year grappler gave it one heck of an effort.
“Alex did very well,” said Lishness. “He lost his first match but he battled back and won three-in-a-row. And he lost his last match by one. He came away from [the tournament] really motivated because he knew how close he was.”
The Bristol contingent represented the Mum City well, refusing to go quietly, and made an excellent accounting of themselves as a team and individuals.
“Of the 16 losses we had with that group, nine of them were by decision,” said Lishness. “And they weren’t major decisions, they weren’t technical falls…they were all in their matches. So they’re pretty motivated. They know they can do it.”
Thompson, Lishness, Alex Marshall, Justin Marshall, both Nichols kids and Hamilton all wrestled for the Gladiators growing up with the Bristol program and that crew took those experiences and certainly shined on a national level.
“The whole group that was out there, other than Trey [who started wrestling at Northeast Middle School], all came up through the Gladiators. They’re all friends, they’ve been wrestling together for years. It was a fun trip. They all hang out together and they’ve been doing the spring circuit themselves, the offseason work for a while.”
The hope is that even more wrestlers from the programs from Bristol decide to compete at the NHSCA’s next season.
And the group that has been participating at those events have been increasing by the year.
“As far as NHSCAs go, the last few years, we’ve done it more,” said Lishness. “And the numbers are getting a little bit bigger. We’d like to keep going back because win or lose, just going there, the kids are getting better.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.