Time for Big Red grapplers to focus on states

Greenwich High School head coach George Albano goes over some strategy with heavyweight wrestler Chris Fischer during a break in the action. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School head coach George Albano goes over some strategy with heavyweight wrestler Chris Fischer during a break in the action. — John Ferris Robben photo

It’s the one meet that everybody on the Greenwich High School wrestling team was looking forward to. Although the team didn’t have that pristine regular season record, finishing 13-7, Big Red was eager to step onto the mat at the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship meet and show the conference that it is a force to be reckoned with.

However, the only force that dominated the weekend was Nemo, as the winter blizzard that dumped 35 inches of snow on some parts of Fairfield County ended up canceling the conference championship.

“From my standpoint, I am disappointed for the kids, because they look forward to the event and compete all year to build up to this postseason,” Greenwich High head coach George Albano said. “Some conferences don’t have a conference tournament and they just focus on the state, but we are lucky enough to compete in this tough conference and have a postseason. It’s the highlight for us every year. We try to have a great weekend for FCIACs and use that to springboard into the state tournament. One of our challenges will be to overcome that and planning for that one big week of states.”

With no FCIAC tournament, Albano knows that more than a few of his athletes are quite disappointed that they won’t have the chance to compete against the best in the conference. However, the head coach is also aware that he needs his team to be mentally ready to compete at the class LL meet.

“Physically we are where we need to be,” Albano said. “I don’t think there’s any more that I can teach them or any conditioning that will change who they are as a wrestler over this week. The one thing that we can control is where we are mentally. We need to stay as positive as we can and understand that the FCIAC is now in the past and that we need to focus 100% on the state tournament. I believe that the kids that do well are the ones that push through the adversity.”

With the FCIAC championships officially in the rearview mirror, it’s time for Big Red to focus on the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class LL tournament, which gets under way tomorrow afternoon and continues Saturday at Trumbull High School.

“Even though it’s a strange schedule due to vacation and they’ve been stuck in their house due to the snow and lost their FCIAC tournament, it’s the kids that are the most disciplined, that stay on weight, that maximize the days that we are fortunate enough to get into the gym to practice that will succeed at states,” Albano said. “The weekend was crazy, but right now it’s the week of the state tournament and we are practicing like a normal week. We are going to get back on track and practicing hard whenever we have the chance.”

In order to be successful at the state tournament, Albano needs his team to stay healthy. During the week leading up to states, Albano doesn’t want his team to reaggravate any injuries and wants his team to feel good heading into the tourney.

“Everybody by now has their identity and knows who they are as a wrestler, know what moves they are comfortable with and know what style of wrestler they are,” Albano said. “We are working hard on fine-tuning all that and doing whatever it takes to get a medal this weekend. If we are wrestling well, we have a chance to place at LLs.”

One of the Greenwich captains expected to do well in the class LL tourney is senior Mark Chien in the 106-pound weight class. Chien currently has a 25-7 record, with most of his losses coming out of state or to opponents in the beginning of the season. Take his last regular season meet against Newtown High School, for example, where he pinned Luca Crudo at the 1:55 mark of the match and exacted revenge from when Crudo got the better of Chien at the start of the season.

Chien is also quite hungry for his return for the class LL meet. While he fared well during his sophomore year at the LL meet, being a match away from medaling, he was unable to compete his junior year due to injury.

“Mark (Chien) is hitting his stride right now,” Albano said. “He is figuring out what he needs to do to be successful. He’s excellent on his feet and great when neutral. He needs to take advantage of that and build a little lead against opponents. He’s one of the guys that has had the luxury of wrestling in the state tournament as a sophomore. He’s been there before and knows what it takes to be successful.”

According to Albano, senior captain Mike Gestal is one of the most improved athletes this season. Competing in the 160-pound weight class, Gestal netted a regular season record of 27-10 and had the most wins on the Cardinals.

“He had a tough start and I think he was still finding himself,” Albano said. “He has really hit his stride. He’s the best leader on the team and leads by example. He’s a hard worker, and I think that will pay off in the tournament. I think he has a good chance of placing.”

Not far behind Gestal is senior captain Grant Cucchissi in the 182-pound division. Grabbing a 26-11 record for Big Red, Cucchissi is the team’s most consistent grappler this season, Albano said. Like Chien, the last time Cucchissi was at the class LL meet, he was a match away from medaling and is looking to change that this year.

“He’s one of the toughest guys on the team,” Albano said. “He wrestles tough, he isn’t intimidated by anybody and I think that will serve him well during the state meet. He had a successful season from beginning to the end. Grant has wrestled some tough matches and lost to tough out-of-state opponents.”

In addition to the three captains, Greenwich will be relying on several other athletes to get some key points at the class LL meet this weekend.

Junior Jack Benenson will be wrestling at the 120-pound weight class. Although Benenson has a 15-12 regular season record, Albano is still expecting big things from his grappler. In fact, when Albano watches Benenson wrestle, it reminds him of a highly successful GHS grad.

“He’s peaking at the right time and he’s very similar, at this point in his junior season, to some successful wrestlers we’ve had in the past,” Albano said. “If you look at Matt Diddel, he had a great senior season last year and was right around where Jack is right now as a junior. I am looking forward to a great senior season, but right now as he’s finishing up his junior season, he’s already set an example to the younger people on how to lead.”

Another junior, Alex Margeotes, reached the 20-win mark this season, netting a record of 20-14 in the 113-pound weight class. On the other side of the weight classes is sophomore Chris Fischer. Wrestling in the heavyweight division, Fischer started out slow, but has really caught fire recently, winning 12 of his last 16 matches and grabbing a record of 13-8 on the season.

“At some point of the year, Chris just started to figure it out,” Albano said. “He would have been a nine-seed in FCIACs. I am hoping he will wrestle a couple of matches at states. It’s going to be great that both Alex and Chris get the experience of wrestling in a big-time event like states because they get the experience and will come back next year hungrier and know what to expect.”

One person who is unable to wrestle for Big Red this postseason is senior captain Eric Tack, who sustained a concussion during the team’s final meet of the season at Staples High School. He finished his season with a 25-7 record and dominated the competition throughout the year.

“He was having such a good season,” Albano said. “We knew he would be out for FCIACs, but he’s also out of states now. The good thing is that one tournament doesn’t define a season. Although he’s out, it doesn’t take away what he did this season. He was named captain midway through the season and really took ownership of that role. He was a solid wrestler this year for us.”

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