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Newtown High School’s wrestling team had seven place winners in the February 10 South-West Conference championships, at New Milford High School.
The Nighthawks placed fourth as a team, just behind Pomperaug of Southbury.
Host New Milford ran away with the title with a score of 249.5. Joel Barlow of Redding was second with a score 141. Pomperaug placed third with 106, and the Hawks logged 104 points.
Newtown had two finalists. In the 126 pound weight division championship bout, Aaron Occhipinti lost a 9-1 major decision to New Milford’s Mel Ortiz, after pinning two opponents on his way to the finals. Occhipinti pinned Notre Dame-Fairfield’s Nick Lemley in 1:34, then pinned Louis Stabile of Brookfield in 3:14.
“You just have to take it match by match. You can’t get overly worried about who’s in your bracket and who’s next,” Occhipinti said of the mental approach to advancing in a tournament against familiar opponents.
At 285, Joe Zeller took championship-round counterpart and defending SWC champ Sergio Ferreira, of Stratford, into overtime before being edged in a 4-3 decision. Zeller previously pinned Bunnell of Stratford’s CJ Falotico in 0:31.
“It’s always fun,” Zeller said of competing in the SWC championships. “I’m always coming here with the mentality of winning and kicking butt.”
Nik Accousti earned third with a 10-0 major decision triumph over Weston’s Breon Phifer in the 132 pound consolation finals. Accousti, after beating New Fairfield’s Braden Reilly in an 11-1 major decision, was pinned by eventual runner-up Dan Germain of Pomperaug of Southbury in 4:30. In the wrestlebacks, Accousti pinned Bethel’s Nikita Redmond in 5:45 to advance to the consolation finals.
Also placing third for the Hawks was 182-pounder Doug Carriero, who pinned Joel Barlow of Redding’s Shayne Ortiz in 3:43 of their last match of the day. Carriero pinned Stratford’s Anouar Agbere in 1:05 and was pinned by eventual runner-up Mike Reilly of Pomperaug in 1:35. Carriero pinned Bunnell’s Tyree Hall in 1:18 of the consolation semifinals.
The Hawks had a trio of fourth-place finishers.
In the consolation finals, Steven Leuci lost a 5-2 decision to fellow 138 pound wrestler Julian DeMatteo of Bunnell of Stratford in a rematch of their opening bout of the day. Leuci won a 6-2 decision over Bunnell’s Dematteo, then was pinned in the semifinals by eventual champion Tyler Schultz of New Milford in 0:58. Leuci wrestled back in the consolations with a 4-0 decision over Weston’s Tony Fontana.
At 170, Steven Vournazos and New Milford’s Alex Richardson battled into the third period before Richardson prevailed for a pin fall win in 4:26 of the consolation finals. Vournazos pinned Bunnell’s Jacob Lucas in 1:38 then lost by pin fall to eventual runner-up Rodolfo Mathews of Masuk in 2:47.
Vournazos pinned Pomperaug’s Nate Bennett in 4:21 to advance in the consolation round.
Omar Yunes was pinned by 220 counterpart Ben El-Wardany in 1:16 of the consolation finals. Yunes was pinned by eventual winner Nick Cote of Bethel in 0:39 and had to win a pair of bouts in the wrestlebacks to get to the consolation finals. He pinned Masuk’s Colton Deleo in 0:35, then pinned Pomperaug’s Andrew Anglace in 2:48.
Ben Watson (120) and Owen Walsh (152) both won a match, and Justin Bogdanoff (145) and Sebastian Vona (160) also competed.
That the Nighthawks had seven place finishers is impressive in its own right, but even more notable given the team had just 11 competitors, forfeiting at three weight divisions. Only New Milford (13) and Barlow (eight) had more grapplers finish among the top four.
“One of the hardest things to do in this sport is wrestle back for third. You’ve got to have the mentality that you’re not going to lose twice. You have to dig down and it’s all about grit,” said Newtown Coach Ron Chivinski, adding that the sport becomes more mental than physical in some ways. “You’ve got to shake of that first loss. You have to grind.”
The top competitors on the Nighthawk lineup will have to grind out a couple more weeks of practices and grueling tournaments, beginning with the Class LL state championships, Friday and Saturday, February 16 and 17, at Trumbull High.
Note: This is an expanded version of the article posted on February 10, as may be seen along with more photos in the February 16 print edition of The Bee.