By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Wrestling Online
Feb, 13, 2002 -- Bridgeport Central coach Ted Oczkowski likes to give his wrestlers the best opportunity he can to excel on the mat. To him, that means mat time something the Hilltoppers have seen in abundance this winter.
No. 4 Central has wrestled in 33 dual meet matches this winter, including several Saturday afternoons when the Hilltoppers faced five separate opponents.
"I like to compete in sextuple (5-team) matches," the third-year mentor said. "They get five matches in a day and learn how to prepare for five matches in a single day. They get five matches win or lose. Sometimes in a tournament, it can be two losses and you're out."
Bridgeport Central competed in two tournaments this season. They took second in the Farmington Valley Invitational in December, 8½ points behind Fitch and also finished second behind Danbury in the FCIAC championship meet.
It has been a stellar season for Central (32-1), which set a new single-season mark for most wins in a season. The Hilltoppers have won 32 in a row after dropping its season-opening meet to No. 1 Danbury, 54-21.
No. 2 Southington (32-1) earned a piece of the record as well with its 32 wins. The Knights have won 20 in a row after losing to Danbury in January. The two teams broke the record set by Derby (27) in 2000.
Brandon Abner (160), Wigerto Diaz (215) and Dave Paniccia (275) each won FCIAC titles while Mike Rodriquez (189) lost in overtime. Mike Cobb also took second at 140 in the FCIAC championships.
Bridgeport Central, only in its third varsity season, finished fifth in Class LL last year and would like to improve.
But in a meet with No. 1 Danbury, Southington, Glastonbury, NFA, Stamford and Greenwich, it will be a challenge. "It will be a heck of a meat grinder," he said. "We could finish sixth or seventh and wrestle better than we did last year."
NEW KID IS NO ROOKIE: Pomperaug's Josh Feldman is no stranger to the big meet. Pomperaug's 112-pound junior nearly pulled off a stunning upset but he fell to defending State Open champion Greg Pace of Bethel, 1-0, in Saturday's Southwest Conference Tournament.
Pace has handed Feldman (34-2) of his defeats this season. Pace beat Feldman by four points during the dual meet season. In the SWC final, Pace made his third period escape stand up to become the only SWC grappler to ever win four straight league titles.
Feldman went 33-9 a year ago and qualified for the Ohio Division I wrestling tournament at 103 pounds, competing for Dublin Coffman High in Dublin, Ohio. Division I is the highest level of wrestling in Ohio.
Feldman's transition to Connecticut has been a smooth one.
"He's very experienced, aggressive and a great technician," Pomperaug coach Mike O'Keefe said. "He is a hard-working kid, a coaches dream."
Despite his experience, Feldman didn't bring his ego along to the Panthers.
"He treats every kid in the room equally. He didn't come in and say 'This is the way we did things in Ohio,'" O'Keefe said. "He's a truly nice kid who loves to share his experience with the younger kids."
Feldman is a top seed in Friday's Class L tournament.
Senior teammate Tim Farrell (160) also took second in the SWC Tournament, falling to Bunnell's Mark Roberts, 5-2. The two had split two previous meetings.
"Tim is a leg wrestler and (Roberts) knew that. He kept Tim from wrestling his match," O'Keefe said.
Andrew Perry (152) and Nate Earnst (275) each finished third while Alan Bouchard (215) and Andrew French (145) each finished fourth in the SWC Tournament.
The Panthers (15-15, 4-5 SWC) took fourth in the tournament, 1.5 points ahead of Jonathan Law and 5.5 points ahead of Newtown.
"We had nine starters this year that were first or second year wrestlers," O'Keefe said.
BATTERED GILBERT: A battered Gilbert squad won three of its last six matches to improve to 7-18.
Three starters were missing for the Berkshire League Tournament. Steve Romano (160) was out with a ruptured spleen, Nate Bowlers (119) was out with a bruised spleen from a car accident while Jesse Hunter (103) fractured an elbow in practice.
Even the coaching staff took a hit when assistant coach Dan Langer fractured a finger in practice.
"We had a few talks with the wrestlers," first-year coach Doug Smith said. "We told them its you or them (opponents). Be motivated, be aggressive. Prepare yourselves mentally and physically and go out there and make things happen."
Gilbert was 3-15 after a loss to Suffield.
"We hit rock bottom. We had no where to go but up," Smith said.
Only 16 wrestlers came out for the team so with the injuries, Gilbert has been practicing two days a week with Canton.
FINE START FOR HIGHLANDERS: Northwestern Regional coach Jerry Trieschmann is pleased how far his young Highlanders have come since opening day.
"We are truly a first-year team. When I see how much they have accomplished, it is just amazing," he said. "We still make mistakes but guys are beginning to get some wins and build up some confidence. When we were first out there, most of them were just fish thrashing around."
Only freshman Joel Webster (112) and senior Brendan Cutler (275) had previous wrestling experience when the season began. Webster, from Norfolk, has wrestled in youth leagues for years while Cutler wrestled with Gilbert a year ago.
The first win in team history came with a 46-36 win over Housatonic on Jan. 26. The Highlanders (1-11-1, 1-5 BL) finished fifth in its first BL Tournament as a team. Webster (112) won a BL championship.
There are 12 freshmen on the 18-man squad. "It's been pretty neat to watch this from its infancy," Trieschmann said.
WINNING RECORD FOR BEARS: Thomaston (7-4, 3-2 BL) achieved a winning season in its first varsity campaign under coach John Perrucci.
The Bears had only 12 dual meets and three tournaments because he got a late start on scheduling after being hired in September. He expects to have 30 matches for his troops next winter.
Thomaston finished only 3.5 points behind Gilbert for third place in the BL Tournament.
"The kids have come a long way," Perrucci said. "They're eager and they haven't lost their enthusiasm which is common for beginners. They've gained momentum. Many kids are interested in wrestling during the off-season and 20 want to go to camp. It's a good sign."
Sophomore Alex Rice improved to 19-4 with his second straight BL championship. He pinned Nonnewaug's Andy Waller in 3:13 in the finals.
"He has legitimately come a long way this year," Perrucci said of Rice. "He has taken what he learned last year wrestling with coach (Pete) Veleas in Terryville and applied that knowledge. He is persistent and doesn't quit. That makes for a good wrestler."
Pat Gallagher (189) had three pins to finish third in the BL Tournament. Jared Stammer (171), Sauvas Kapros (215), Keith Souillard (275) each finished third. Shawn Kennedy (130) and Jason LaFontaine (140) took fourth.
AROUND THE MAT: Nonnewaug, under second-year head coach Dave Green, set a new single-season school record mark for most wins with 22. The Chiefs were 22-7. .... The Class LL tournament is at Bristol Central with the Class L meet at Bristol Eastern. Class M is at Windham High while the Class S meet is in Berlin. Wrestling begins Friday at 4:30 p.m. and continues through Saturday.