Nick Rende’s accomplishments on the wrestling mat speak for themself — a school-record 142 wins, and a school-record four State Open appearances, just to name two.
But what former Wilton High wrestling coach John Foldeak remembers most was a quiet, determined leader and dedicated teammate, who set the standard for Wilton wrestling.
“He was a great leader. He did everything right this year,” said Foldeak. “He never complained. He just went out on the mat and did his best every single time. I’d point to Nick and say (to the younger wrestlers), that’s what you should be doing.”
It was because of these qualities that Rende was the recipient of the Sam Hingston Memorial Award at the recent Wilton High Seniors Sports Award Night.
The Sam Hingston Memorial Award, established in 2000, is annually presented by the Wilton Wrestling Boosters to an individual who possesses and demonstrates the same ability to inspire his teammates, coaches, friends and family as the late Sam Hingston, a Wilton High wrestling standout and team captain who passed away in 1999.
“There are a lot of kids that I have to worry about. I never had to worry about Nick’s grades or attendance. He was always on time,” said Foldeak. “The kid was a workhorse. He was always doing extra.”
Rende’s career was remarkably consistent as he won 33 matches as a freshman and then had at least 35 wins the next three seasons.
Along the way, in addition to his 142 career wins, he had three top-four finishes at the FCIAC championships. In the Class L championship, he finished second once, third twice, and fourth once.
In 2016, he was the first Wilton wrestler to reach the state finals since 2004 when he finished second at the Class L championships. He won at least two matches at the State Open every year.
This past season, Rende advanced to the FCIAC championship match for the first time, losing a heartbreaking overtime decision. He just missed reaching the Class L finals for the second time when he lost by a point in the semifinals.
His 31 postseason wins are a Wilton school record, as are his 14 Class L tournament wins and 10 State Open wins. He also compiled seven FCIAC tournament wins, despite missing the tourney as a sophomore.
That Rende never won an FCIAC or state championship didn’t mean he wasn’t always improving, Foldeak said. Mostly, it was the result of competing against stacked weight classes, from 106 pounds as a freshman to 126 pounds this past season.
“He had, if not the toughest weight class in the state, then one of the toughest,” said Foldeak. “It just seemed every time he turned the corner there was another tough kid coming at him.”
Despite the tough competition in his weight classes, Rende still managed to win seven in-season tournaments over his career, and was a tourney finalist 10 times.
He was a three-time champ at the Fairfield Warde Tournament, and a two-time champ (and three-time finalist) at both the the New Milford Tournament and Ridgefield Challenge. He also won the Guilford Tournament twice.
“He beat a lot of talented kids and wrestled a lot of talented kids. He improved tremendously. He was always doing that,” said Foldeak. “There were very few matches where he was overpowered in his career.”
Remarkably, Rende was pinned only two times in his career.
“The consistency, year in and year out, needed to win 142 matches is incredible. I don’t know if or when that record will ever be broken,” said Foldeak. “His name should be on the fieldhouse wall for a long time, if not forever.”
Foldeak has no doubt that Rende’s work ethic and quiet determination will carry him to great things at Drexel University, where he heads to this fall, and beyond.
“I never saw him give up. Never in four years. It’s not in him.”