Wrestling: Banner season has Warriors on right path

Before the start of the season, Wilton High wrestling coach John Foldeak said the Warriors didn’t have the numbers to be a strong dual-meet team — but had the talent to do very well in tournaments.

Foldeak proved correct on the first part, as the often undermanned team finished with a record of 7-15.

But he was a bit off on the second part — the Warriors did far better in the post-season tournaments than anyone could have expected.

It resulted in a landmark season for the wrestling program, made even sweeter by the fact no one saw it coming.

“Going into the season, we didn’t know what to expect. We knew the numbers were low. It was a very solid season,” said Foldeak, who had only 15 wrestlers on the roster, but was blessed with several experienced, athletic kids. “You’ve got to have talent. You’ve got to have athletes. We fortunate that we’ve got some.”

The Warriors ended the season with a team-record four wrestlers competing at the State Open, and their 41st-place finish may be the best ever in program history. It was the first time Wilton had more than one State Open qualifier since 2002.

The team also finished 11th at the Class L state championships, the highest finish at the class meet in 22 years, and the second-best showing ever at the meet with 86 points. (The 1994 team scored 107 points and placed seventh.)

And at the FCIAC championships, the Warriors turned in their best finish in 15 years — ninth place, five place finishers, two finalists — despite not having their best wrestler, sophomore Nick Rende, an eventual state finalist. It was only the second time in the last 15 years the team had two finalists.

Wilton’s exploits would probably have been even greater had it not been for a mid-season injury to senior captain Jared Gladstein. Despite missing a good month of wrestling, Gladstein (who was 21-6 on the season) still made it to the FCIAC championship match at 182 pounds. He was forced to default due to injury at the Class L meet, however, ending his season.

“If he was healthy I absolutely think he would have placed at the Class L meet,” said Foldeak. “When he was on, he was wrestling really, really well.”

Rende, coming off a 33-win freshman season, was expected to excel this season and if anything surpassed expectations — losing only two matches during the regular season and taking first at several tournaments, against top competition.

He failed to make weight at FCIACs, but bounced back at the Class L tournament, where he bumped up a weight class to 120 pounds and reached the finals with three straight pins. He was the first Wilton wrestler to reach the state finals since Jesse Koproski in 2004.

Rende, who reached the quarterfinals at the Open, finished the season with a 35-5 record. Foldeak said he most likely would have reached 38 wins had he competed at FCIACs.

One wrestler who did reach 38 wins was sophomore Zach Zeyher, who finished at 38-12 at 160 pounds, despite being a 10th grader in a senior-dominated weight class. It was the most wins by a Wilton wrestler since Andy Drummond notched 40 wins in 2005-06.

Zeyher’s freshman season had been plagued by injury, but this past season he finally got to show what he could do.

“We knew Zach was a talented kid,” said Foldeak. “He had a phenomenal season.”

Zeyher finished third at FCIACs and fifth in Class L. He won two matches at the Open, including a pin of senior Joey Ryan of Trumbull — the FCIAC champ at 170 pounds and Class LL champ at 160 — that was one of the team’s season highlights.

Another young wrestler who made noise this season was freshman Travis Longo, who was an FCIAC finalist at 99 pounds and went on to place sixth at the Class L meet at 106 pounds and qualify for the Open, despite wrestling up a weight bracket.

“He gave up 10-plus pounds all season,” Foldeak said of Longo, who had a record of 17-13.

The team’s other Open qualifier was senior captain Quinn Reedy, who capped off his stellar career by placing third at the FCIAC championships and sixth at the Class L tourney. He finished the season with a 22-10 record.

“He finished strong and had a nice end to the season,” said Foldeak.

In addition to Gladstein and Reedy, the Warriors graduate captain Matt Beck (13-7 at 152 pounds), James Arbisi (sevens wins at 170 pounds), Tanner Cho (three wins at 145 pounds) and Jack Walsh (138 pounds).

In addition to Rende, Zeyher and Longo, next year’s team will return sophomore Finn McGovern, who was 18-17 at 106 pounds and named the team’s Most Improved Wrestler.

“He improved tremendously,” said Foldeak, noting that McGovern was a wrestler who would do whatever the team needed him to do. He said sixth at FCIACs at 106 pounds, and notched two wins at the Class L meet despite wrestling up at 113 pounds.

Junior Alec Favarolo finished the season at 8-8, wrestling at 138 and 145 pounds, and won two matches at the Class L meet.

Tyler Warren, a sophomore new to the team, wrestled at 285 pounds and finished with seven wins, including a pin at the Class L tourney.

The Warriors also return junior Greyson Kennedy and freshmen Jacob Robb and Sabrina Hartz.

The Warriors will add wrestlers moving up from the youth ranks, and hopefully welcome back some who opted not to wrestle this season.

“We’ll have holes to fill,” Foldeak said. “If we’re going to be competitive in dual meets, we can’t forfeit three or four matches. We’ve got to fill these holes.”

Foldeak hopes this year’s experience, by all the wrestlers, will pay off next season, and that the team’s success helps in efforts to recruit new people to sport.

“We did get some good PR this year and did turn some heads,” he said.

Notes: The Warriors were the recipients of this year’s FCIAC Vincent Iovino Team Sportsmanship Award.