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Waterford - This, perhaps, was the season Windham High School might be vulnerable.
The Whippets, a runaway winner in last year's Class S wrestling tournament and a runner-up to Danbury in the State Open, graduated five Class S champions and began the 2013-14 season with only two senior starters and six sophomores sprinkled throughout their lineup.
"But Windham never surprises anybody," Waterford coach Chris Gamble said.
The Whippets, who expect to be part of a three-team battle with Waterford and Montville in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Small Division, made an early-season statement Wednesday night with a 47-21 victory over the Lancers, who were forced to forfeit two weight classes due to injuries but ran into an opponent that was at the top of its game.
"I know (Windham) came off a tough weekend at their own duals," said Gamble, whose team finished second to Berlin at the duals, with Berlin beating Windham during the round-robin portion of the meet. "But I have a lot of respect for them. Every kid that they put out there is well-coached.
"We have to take a look at what we did tonight and have some work to do, but to be honest with you they just wrestled real tough."
Gamble wasn't about to get an argument from Windham coach Pat Risley.
"Tonight was the best we've wrestled this year by far," Risley said. "We wrestled with a lot of heart, toughed things out and stayed in matches, including some we lost. We're young. In my eyes we shouldn't have lost to (No. 10) Berlin on Saturday and we shouldn't have lost to (No. 9) Bristol Eastern. Both were close matches, but I couldn't get down on them because we're young. If guys keep hanging in there we're just going to keep getting better."
Three sophomores won matches for Windham (9-2, 2-0) by pin, Julio Flores (106 pounds), Alex Perez (170) and Seiji Arzuaga (220). But the biggest win of the night, at least in Risley's mind, came from another sophomore, Cullan Contos (132). Contos was awarded two points on a reversal with 19 seconds left to beat Waterford sophomore Sam Lindblom in a wildly entertaining match, 8-6.
"Cullan beat a real good kid," Risley said. "Lindblom beat a kid from Berlin on Saturday that (Contos) lost to, so that was a real swing match for us. I was really nervous about tonight because in my eyes Waterford had put their best lineup out yet. They had (Dillon) McCarthy back and (Jimm) Roscover is down to 145 for the first time. I was definitely concerned coming in."
Roscover earned a pin at 145 and Spencer Sgandurra followed with a quick pin at 152 to give the Lancers (9-3, 1-1) their only lead of the night, 18-17. But Dakota Fleming pinned McCarthy at 160 and Perez followed with his pin to make it 29-18, ending Waterford's chances because of the two late forfeits.
Waterford's other wins came from senior Brentt Smith, who edged Sebby Ruffino 4-1 at 113 in a matchup of 2013 state champs (Smith was the Class M 113 winner and Ruffino won the Class S 106 title), Justin Lindblom (a 5-2 win at 138) and Jake Keating (a 2-1 win at 182).
"We've got two guys injured and hopefully they'll be back soon," Gamble said. "We don't have a lot of guys, maybe 17 total, so even though we've been wrestling really well, we're an injury or an illness away from things becoming real difficult for us."
The Lancers visit Montville (9-1, 3-0) next Wednesday, while the Indians will host Windham on Jan. 29.