It was a seventh place finish for Southington wrestling at the state open, but the individual accomplishments last weekend at Hillhouse High School will likely never be forgotten. The Knights alone saw two of their own advance to the New England championships, including a state champion, as well as another who became a part of Connecticut sports history.
Seven total Blue Knights qualified for the open after their third place finish in Class LL, but by the semifinals on Sunday, only three remained in contention.
Billy Carr, coming off his second straight Class LL championship, fought through several one-point decisions on the final day to secure his first state open title. Carr was challenged in his round-of-16 when he went up against Brendan Gilchrist of Norwalk, but won in a 5-3 decision.
After cruising to the semis, he faced off against John Summers of Fairifeld Warde, who had already pulled off several upsets on his way to the semis. Carr was winning 3-0 heading into the final round but Summers picked up two escapes to draw it close. Carr was able to hold on for the 3-2 decision.
Then it was onto the finals when the No. 1 from Class LL, Carr, faced off against the No. 1 in Class L, Simon Flaherty of Amity. Carr again gained the upper hand in a one-point decision to win the state open crown.
“It was really Billy’s mindset that allowed him to be successful,” head coach Derek Dion said. “Some kids tend to be satisfied with winning Class LL and they come up short in the open. Billy did not allow that to happen this year. He had quite a few close matches, and that can be a mental grind. That is why we go through these tough tournaments during the season, to prepare them. Billy and (Jacob) Vecchio have been working each other and it paid off.”
Vecchio also had his shot at a state open championship, even without an opening round bye. The senior seemed to only look better as he advanced on, as he picked up a 3-1 then 6-1 decision before pinning his opponent, Joshua Foote of Amity in the quarterfinals. Then Vecchio met his match.
In the semifinals, Christopher Gens of Avon was able to pick up three points on a near pin and defeated Vecchio in a 4-1 decision. Like in the Class LL championships, Vecchio did not let the semifinal loss phase him, as he worked his way through the consolation bracket and pinned his opponent, Roark Ryan of East Lyme/Norwich Tech, in the third place match to qualify for New Englands.
One of the Blue Knights also earned a spot in wrestling history, as junior Ashley Reed won the 160 weight division in the first ever CIAC girls invitational championships. Reed pinned three of her four opponents, including Baylee Gagneir of Montville in the finals, to secure the title.
“Ashley is a really hard worker and just as tough as anyone on this team,” Dion said earlier this season. “We always knew that if she worked on her cardio, she can be a problem for a lot of people. Ashley has been coming off an elbow injury, but she has a heart that is as big as a bus. She is not scared of anything.”
Vecchio and Carr prepared this week for the New England championships, which are this weekend, March 7 and 8, at Methuen High School in Methuen, Mass. The first three rounds will take place Saturday.
“New Englands is a tough tournament,” Dion said. “So many kids focus on the state tournament then check out for New Englands. I don’t see that happening with our guys. The holiday tournament earlier this year was against schools from multiple states so hopefully they are prepared. Billy and Jacob have been training hard this week.”
The season will close for the rest of the team, as the others in the open came up just short of a spot in New Englands. Caleb Brick and Josh Vitti graduate this season, but others return, including three who qualified for the open. Dawsen Welch finished runner-up in Class LL, while Ben Gorr and Colton Thorpe placed as well.
“We are really excited about what next year brings,” Dion said. “We have a Class LL finalist coming back. We have a freshman in Colton that just placed in Class LL. Gorr has been solid for us since joining the program. Darius Mangiafico and Luke Deangelis were not able to compete in the Class LLs this season because of injury but they could have competed for the state open as well.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at Sports@SouthingtonObserver.com.