NFA wrestlers edge New London 37-34 in key ECC D-I matchup
New London — Denali Doran never wrestled until his freshman year at Norwich Free Academy in 2019.
This is just his second year of wrestling because the 2020-21 CIAC season was canceled due to the pandemic.
Doran, then, is doing what everyone has been forced to do during the pandemic — just keep on grinding.
"I see people on my team I know that are better than me," Doran said after helping the Wildcats edge New London on Wednesday night, 37-34, in a matchup of Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I leaders. "I know I'm not the best wrestler, but I know what I can do. I just try my hardest. I missed (last) season. I have to make my way back. I have to gain everything I've lost in half the time.
"There's nothing you can do to make up for that lost time but just try."
The win kept the Wildcats (11-5, 3-0) on track to win their third straight Division I title. They shared the title with the Whalers in 2018-19.
"It was tough to know because I didn't know half my wrestling team," NFA coach Steven Nelson said when asked if he had any expectations this season. "All the freshmen and sophomores were brand new to me when they walked into the room. I was pleasantly surprised when they walked into the room.
"We kind of just take it day-by-day, week-by-week and try to get the kids to wrestle better. Keep wrestling hard out there and see what happens."
Denali wrestled in the night's most exciting match. He went to sudden death against New London's Treven Robledo-Thompson at 160 pounds before finally getting a takedown for a 9-7 win.
"There are definitely kids that have been pleasant surprises," Nelson said, "kids who are completely different wrestlers from the day they stepped into the room to what they showed out here tonight. Denali Doran, he had a gritty win and ground it out there at the end in (sudden death). … He's stepped up and come a long way. Zaire Wallace, our 170 pounder, he's a sophomore. He came in with raw athleticism and we kind of dialed him in and got him wrestling."
Wallace and New London's Kanye Nance wrestled a frenetic first minute before Wallace pinned the later in 1 minute, 52 seconds.
"He's super-athletic," Nelson said about Wallace. "I'm very excited about him the next couple of years."
Jackson Sorel (126), Dugan Marsh (132) and Connor DeVega (138) all won by pin for NFA while Thomas Brunelli (145) won by major decision. Jaiden James also won by forfeit at 120.
It was the first loss of the season for New London (4-1, 1-1). Jorge Gonzalez-Garcia (113) and Kaden Smith (220) both had pins in under 30 seconds while Tristan Robledo-Thompson (152) and Mustafa Dannett (182) won my major decision.
Jose Negron-Ortiz (106) won a 10-9 decision for the Whalers and Christian Ortiz (195) and heavyweight DeMarcus Green both won by forfeit.
"When I think about it match-by-match, I don't think any kid gave up," New London coach Mike Gorton said. "It's painful because everything that could've gone wrong in 50-50 situations did. Give NFA credit, they won those 50-50 situations in four different matches. It burns. (It's been) an extra-long day, and that one burns, but I'm having fun and I think we're going to grow from it.
"We had a really good talk (after the match) about how we have to start doing those little things like grabbing the ankle instead of reaching over the hips and trusting the basics. I think, like a lot of young kids, that we just have to learn the hard way."
New London NFA wrestling gallery
For more photos from the New London NFA wrestling match click here.