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Killingly wins third straight ECC wrestling tournament

Groton – Rich Bowen still isn't convinced Killingly's 2020 wrestling team is better than the 2019 version.

But Killingly sure gave its veteran coach some food for thought after lapping the field to win its third straight Eastern Connecticut Conference wrestling tournament championship on Saturday at Fitch High School.

A year after scoring 205.5 points, Killingly — which took all the drama out of the team race by winning 11 of 14 quarterfinal matches on Friday night — completed two days of wrestling excellence by taking home 11 individual medals and finishing with 216 points, 52 better than runner-up Ledyard (164).

Killingly had three champions, two silver medalists and four third-place finishers, clinching first place before the championship round even began.

Bowen, who became the state's career leader in coaching victories earlier this winter, said it was the first time Killingly had 11 wrestlers reach the semifinals, "and the three guys who lost came back and won their next matches. We've never had all 14 make it (to the second day.)"

Killingly may have taken all the fun out of the team race, but the rest of the tournament had plenty of twists and turns. Ledyard, which joined Killingly with three individual champions apiece, eventually pulled away to finish second, while only 19 points separated the next four spots.

Norwich Free Academy (148.5) held off New London (145) for third place, and Montville (132) was 2.5 points better than Fitch (129.5) for fifth.

Freshman Kaden Wade (106 pounds), senior David Charron (126) and junior Ben Richardson (145) won titles for Killingly while sophomore Connor Duran (113), senior Brayden Grim (160) and junior Davin McIver (285) earned gold for the Colonels. Duran earned a major decision over Killingly's Asim Samuel, 13-3, McIver pinned New London's Keeano Gonzales in 4:25, and Grim pinned Fitch freshman Naszier Matthews in 3:09 to win his first title after losing to Montville's Zack Navarrete in the 2019 final.

"I remember how it felt to lose last year and it humbled me," Grim said. "It really drove me to come out with the win because I didn't want to have it happen again."

New London, which placed four wrestlers (all juniors) in the finals, had a pair of champions in Jadian Mackenzie (195) and Teshuah Williams (220), who both won by pin. Mackenzie captured the 220 title in 2019. Mackenzie, Williams and Gonzales are all workout partners.

"They're a big part of why I'm so good now," said Williams, who pinned top-seeded Roark Ryan of East Lyme/Norwich Tech in 2:41. "I wrestle them every day. They get better and I get better. They're the reason why I'm here today."

Mackenzie included head coach Mike Gorton in that group.

"We're all drill partners," Mackenzie said, "and we wrestle our own coach, too. Coach Gorton teaches us so much. I'm glad to have them."

Mackenzie said he dropped a weight class this season for one simple reason: to get fit.

"I just didn't want to be so chubby, so I put a little muscle on me and got rid of the fat," he said. "I think being lighter helps my movement and speed. It helps shooting, blocking ... it helps everything. I have better stamina and physically I just feel better."

Saturday's other winners were Waterford's Mason Concascia (120), who held off Killingly's Jack Richardson 5-4, Bacon Academy's Braeden O'Brien (132), who decisioned NFA's Dominic Renfree 6-0, Lyman Memorial/Windham Tech's Shane Franson (138), a 5-2 winner over Fitch's Aiden Robertson, Stonington's Samuel Light (152), a 6-4 overtime winner over New London's Max Commander, LM/WT's Ryan Powers (170), who pinned NFA's Theran Vanase in 45 seconds, and Waterford's Jackson Harshberger (182), who decisioned NFA's Mason McMahon 3-2. Power was voted the tournament's outstanding wrestler.

Light, a senior and one of two Stonington wrestlers who practice with Fitch, captured his second ECC title. He won at 138 as a sophomore.

c.banning@theday.com

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