The Branford wrestling team fared so well through the past five years that Chris Bonaguiso’s squad was promoted to Division A in the Southern Connecticut Conference for this season. The Hornets are about to embark on their slate of matches against the SCC’s top tier, but first had some business to take care of against Division B program Law. Branford proved why it’s an A-level program by defeating the Lawmen 45-27 at the MacVeigh Complex on Jan. 8.
The contest was neck and neck until the Hornets pulled away late by using their strength in the lower weight classes. Senior captain Joe Martone started the surge by prevailing via pin at the 1:55 mark in the 145-pound weight class, after which junior Nick Temple won by pin at 1:13 in the 152 class, followed by sophomore Dakota Carden’s pin victory at 1:10 in the 160-pound class.
The win improved Branford’s record to 6-4 overall and 3-0 in the SCC. Last season, the Hornets posted a 17-4 mark and placed fifth at the Class MM State Championship. This year, Bonagiuso and company and striving for a 20-win regular season and top three finishes at the SCC and state meets.
“This was a good SCC win against a team that’s had incredible success in the past and so to beat a traditionally strong program like Law is big for us,” said Coach Bonagiuso, whose team won the Derby Tournament for first time earlier this season. “We’ve had two straight winning seasons and are looking for a third. A lot of credit goes to our middle school program because we have guys coming in with wrestling experience and that allows us to focus on more advanced techniques instead of just the basics, which really helps the team.”
In addition to Martone, Temple, and Carden, also notching victories versus Law were first-year competitor Jesse Chittenden (195-pound weight class) by forfeit, freshman Hyunjin Lin (285) by a pin at 1:23, freshman Noah Pantani (106) by pin at 2:56, junior Bijaya Jaisi (113) via forfeit, and senior captain Nick Kelsey (126) with a 6-2 decision.
Bonagiuso said his team had been struggling a bit in the upper weight classes and so he felt Lin’s triumph at 285 was crucial because it gave the Hornets momentum entering the bouts in the lower weights, which Branford dominated.
One athlete who dominated against Law just like he has all season was Martone. Not only does the senior captain sport a 12-0 record on the campaign, Martone has yet to allow any opponent to even score a single point against him. Martone captains the Hornets with Kelsey and fellow senior Tony Le and Coach Bonagiuso said of this trio, “You can’t ask for anymore.”
Martone, in turn, talked about the Hornets have performed thus far this winter.
“We’re off to a great start this season and are working well as a young team coming off a phenomenal year. I’m pleased with how everyone comes to practice every day ready to work 100 percent, even if they’re tired. I see greatness coming from this team,” said Martone, who medaled at states last year with Kelsey and Carden. “What gave us a boost against Law was how Hyunjin wrestled his heart out at heavyweight. He was down in the first period, but came back huge with a pin that motivated the team.”
Martone’s stellar record is complemented by a 13-0 mark from Carden, an 11-1 record by Kelsey, an 11-2 record from Pantani, plus a mark of 11-3 by Temple.
Also wrestling versus Law were sophomore Tikee Whitfield, who lost by pin at 170; sophomore Nick Roca, who took a 4-0 defeat at 120; Le, who lost a 6-4 overtime decision in the 132 class; and junior Cameron O’Neill, who lost 7-3 at 138.
Although these athletes lost against Law, captain Kelsey knows they will be counted on the rest of the way this season as the Hornets try to improve on their recent run of success by reaching even greater heights.
“We definitely want to get top three at SCCs and possibly second and are hoping to also get in the top three at states,” Kelsey said. “To achieve those goals, we just have to keep working hard in practice, keep up our intensity, and stay off our backs so we don’t get pinned.”