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While his beginnings in wrestling involved horsing around with his older brother, Hand senior Matt Elias got down to business for his final campaign.
Following a first-year varsity season in 2011 that saw the 106-pounder reach the Class L championship bout, Matt used the title loss as fuel for his competitive fire. Following a 35-5 record, Matt got himself back into the finals and redeemed himself in winning a state title, something he strove for since freshman year.
"This season was really a road to redemption for me," says Matt, who won the Class L title on a 6-3 decision as the No. 1 seed. "Last year, I came so close to that established goal, so it gave me the determination to win it all this year. When I won it, I felt on top of the world; I can't even explain it. It was the best I had felt in a long time."
After the loss of junior year, the 2012 Academic All-State wrestler competed on a summer squad to reach the next step once postseason time arrived. Like a true champion, Matt saw the setback as both a negative and positive, knowing he needed to make adjustments.
"I knew last summer that I had to put a lot more work into my wrestling," says the 41-7 overall competitor, who went 5-0 in the Pop and Flow National Tournament last summer for Team Tugman. "I knew going in that it would take a lot more time and dedication. I spent more time in the practice room, sometimes wrestling two practice matches to make weight."
Following his brother and former Tiger Justin, Matt carries a love for his craft while staying loyal to it, as Tigers' wrestling Head Coach Erik Delehanty expresses.
"I think what makes him such a great wrestler is his work ethic, determination, and dedication," says Delehanty on Matt, who was a six-time Rhode Island state champion before moving to Connecticut. "Matt has put in more offseason work than most I have coached at Hand. Often times he would be the first wrestler to practice and the last to leave. He truly loves the sport, and you can see the passion he has by the way he attacks practices, matches, and the day-to-day grind of the season."
Matt feels his persistence comes from not solely the glory of winning, but the inadvertent perks along the way, such as growing as an athlete and person through commitments like keeping weight.
"Wrestling has really changed me as a person, and I don't know what I'd do without it," says the First Team All-SCC member, who will attend Roger Williams University where he plans to wrestle while studying marine biology. "It is a love-hate relationship with wrestling, as I hate always having to make weight, but it's worth it when you get your hand raised as a champion. But I do love putting all the hard work into it while seeing its payoffs."
From a mental standpoint, Matt saw great improvements this season in his style, as the former hesitations became attack points for him this time around.
"I was stronger this year with a lot more confidence," says Matt, who finished third at the State Open in 2013 and went 2-2 at the New England Championship. "I banged on the head more this year and just wanted to dominate my opponent. I previously hesitated on shooting, but I was better at finishing my shots this year."
As he is now the first in his family to claim a state crown, Matt feels he accomplished another mark four years in the making, carving his niche in the storied tradition of Hand wrestling.
"My goal was to get on the 'Wall of Fame' for this program," says Matt, who clinched 100 wins between two varsity seasons at the New England event and thanks his family, Delehanty, and Hand assistant coach Jay Mahoney. "My brother came up short in winning one, so it's great to do it for me and my family. It meant a lot to earn 100 wins in two years, especially doing it at New Englands."