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Kurasz ready to take next step

Montville - Dan Kurasz found his spot on the awards podium following a third-place finish at last year's State Open and glanced up at the champion, Bacon Academy's Devin Covone.

Kurasz's immediate thought: That's the place I want to occupy next season.

Well, that time has nearly arrived, and Kurasz - Montville High School's confident, mature senior captain - can't wait for the opportunity.

"This is my last chance," he said after practice earlier this week. "I'll never get to come back and do this again. I'm hoping to get the best results possible so I can leave with no regrets as a high school wrestler."

But first things first.

Kurasz, fresh off a victory in the 170-pound weight class at Sunday's Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament - his first ECC title - will try to win the Class M state championship this weekend at Windham High School.

Kurasz, the top seed, brings a 35-0 record into the tournament. And while he gained a great deal of confidence by winning the ECC championship, it was his postseason experience from 2011 that proved to be a valuable learning tool and a source of motivation for 2012.

Wrestling at 160 pounds as a junior, Kurasz lost close decisions to Ledyard's Alex Manwaring - a good friend off the mat but fierce rival on it - in the ECC and Class M meets. He went on to finish third in both.

Kurasz didn't want to make an excuse, but the reality was he was sick (bronchitis) both weekends and felt his conditioning cost him in both tournaments.

"He was sick it happens," Montville coach Gary Wilcox said. "I know there was a lot of anxiety there for both Danny and his family, but I just told him, 'You're going to come to the Open, you're going to feel better and then let's see what happens.' "

What happened? Kurasz lost his opening match to Plattt Tech's Romero Dasilva, 7-3, but came back and won five consecutive tight matches to finish third. Along the way he avenged his losses to Manwaring by pulling out a 2-1 win in the consolation semis, then earned a hard-fought 6-3 decision over Mike Sullivan of Fairfield Warde - the Class L champion - in the consolation final.

"That gave me a lot of confidence," Kurasz said. "I always knew I was a good wrestler, but to win (five) in a row against the top kids in the state that's when I realized with a little more work I could be at the very top."

Added Wilcox: "Sometimes you've got to lose a couple of tough matches in order to learn how to win the tough matches. ... and that's OK. One thing we've always talked to Danny about was the need to go through the fire and forge your way to the other side.

"He's gone through that fire now and I'm very proud of him."

Kurasz brings a 155-25 record into the weekend and is now Montville's career leader in wins. He broke Dustin Wilcox's record (153-24) with his semifinal win over Norwich Free Academy's Luke Hage in the ECC tournament, then earned No. 155 by defeating East Lyme's Alex Cusano 9-2 in the title match.

Kurasz will also find some comfort in wrestling at Windham, because Willimantic has become a second home since he joined the Silverback Wrestling Club.

"I'd say the biggest reason for my success this season has been by off-season (training) with the Silverbacks," he said. "After junior year, I had some pretty important goals in mind, so I really dedicated myself in the off season. I trained with (coach) Pete (DeCarli) every day for two hours."

DeCarli wrestled on Windham's 1992 New England championship team and the club (DeCarli is a co-founder) has become a popular off-season training camp for a number of local high school stars, including reigning New England champion Brandon Walsh of Griswold.

"Dean Gilbert of Ledyard (a 2011 Class M champion) was my workout partner for two years," Kurasz said. "He's going to a military prep school in Alabama now, so this year I started drilling with Mike Spellman of Ledyard. But I've also worked out with Brandon (Walsh), Aaron Wing (of Griswold) and Kyle Wing (of Lyman Memorial). we all pull for each other."

Especially this weekend with state championships on the line.

"Being the ECC champ that was always one of my goals," Kurasz said. "I've finally reached that, but that's only one step. Hopefully it will continue in the states and New Englands."

c.banning@theday.com

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