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Rally in final seconds lifts Henckel to 16U freestyle national title

Southbury’s William Henckel, left, won a USA Wrestling U16 freestyle national title Monday in Fargo, North Dakota while Newtown’s Nathan Taylor, right, earned All-American honors by finishing seventh. (Photos courtesy Sarah Jadach)

Southbury’s William Henckel got a takedown with 35 seconds remaining to take the lead on criteria and got a takedown as the clock expired to beat Pennsylvania’s Pierson Manville, 4-2, and win the national championship in men’s freestyle Monday in Fargo, North Dakota, at the USA Wrestling 16U national championship meet at the FargoDome.

Henckel becomes just the fourth Connecticut boy to win a USA Wrestling 16U national championship and the first since South Windsor’s Anthony Valles won consecutive titles in 2004 and 2005.

Newtown’s Nathan Taylor won seven consecutive consolation round matches and finished seventh at 170 pounds to earn All-American honors while Bridgeport’s Nehemias Pettway (220) and Marlborough’s Jackson Heslin (120) each won three matches in the tournament.

Henckel, 15, trailed 2-0 after one period with Manville controlling the opening period and twice pushing him out of bounds to earn single points. Henckel was warned for being passive with about a minute to go in the match and got in for a shot, grabbed a single leg to tie the bout at 2-2 with 35 seconds remaining.

Since it was a takedown, Henckel had the criteria advantage should the match end in a tie. Manville, who won a USA Wrestling 2021 Folkstyle national title, forced the action in the final seconds but it was Henckel who was able to spin and take control with another takedown as time expired and and win the match, 4-2.

“I was a little slow in the beginning but I picked up a pattern of how (Manville) was moving and looked for opportunities to execute and once I started to fly, things went my way,” said Henckel, who will study at Blair (N.J.) Academy this fall. “I had to go get it. I just went for it and got it.”

Henckel actually won his second match of the tournament on criteria thanks to a takedown. He tied Pennsylvania’s Dylan Evans, 2-2 but had a second period takedown to move on.

Henckel went 7-0 in the tournament with five wins by a technical fall and one pin. In the quarterfinals, he an 18-3 win in 3:06 over Wisconsin’s Zane Licht and had a 10-0 win in 2:17 over Wisconsin’s Charlie Millard in the semifinals.

“I was just ready to wrestle and I am grateful to be on a stage against such an opponent to showcase my skills to the best of my ability,” Henckel said.

Henckel will be wrestling at Blair Academy this winter, fulfilling a dream he has had for years.

“I’ve been saying I want to go to Blair for a very long time,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine since the fourth or fifth grade. I just wanted to be part of that legacy. ”

Blair Academy has won more than 40 prep school national championships and has been ranked No. 1 in the country 16 times. Seventeen Blair Academy wrestlers have gone on to win NCAA Division I wrestling titles.

Henckel shared some love for his Connecticut teammates and coaches, including Blair Tugman of Team Tugman in Branford.

“Coach Tugman has been with me forever,” Henckel said. “I started (wrestling) in the Newtown (Youth Wrestling Program) and I went to him once I thought I had the basics down and he really elevated my game and my arsenal and I took off from there.”

Taylor had an outstanding tournament with seven consecutive wins in the consolation bracket to earn All-American honors. Taylor lost his first match of the tournament to eventual national champion Gabriel Arnold of Georgia, 10-0 in 3:36.

But Taylor just kept wrestling. He had four consecutive 10-0 wins in his run. A 7-0 win over Arizona’s Dallon Loyden earned Taylor All-American honors. Oregon’s Justin Rademacher beat Taylor, 9-5 to push Taylor in the match for seventh place.

Taylor beat Pennsylvania’s Travis Stipetich, 6-1 to finish seventh. Taylor went 8-2 in the tournament with his two losses coming to All-American wrestlers.

Pettway was pinned in his first match of the tournament at 220 pounds but won three straight matches in the consolation round with two technical falls and a 5-0 win over Pennsylvania’s Michael Hershey. Pettway was eliminated in a loss to California’s Nolan France.

Heslin, who has spent the last year training in Polway, California, had a pair of one-point victories at 120 pounds to remain alive in the consolation round. He outlasted Ohio’s Phoenix Contos, 9-8 and Arizona’s Carlos Stanton, 4-3, before he was eliminated from the tournament.

Previous Connecticut 16U national champions

John Meyers, Hall-West Hartford (121) freestyle 1985
Nick Ciarcia, Berlin/Xavier (154) Greco-Roman 1988
Anthony Valles, South Windsor (91) freestyle 2004
Anthony Vales, South Windsor (98) freestyle 2005

Through 2018, the 16U Division was known as the Cadet Division

2021 Connecticut All-Americans at USA Wrestling Junior and 16U Nationals

William Henckel (145), Southbury 16U freestyle 1st
Nathan Taylor (170), Newtown 16U freestyle 7th
Julianna Morris (122), Middlebury 16U women’s freestyle 2nd
Calli Gilchrist (112), Norwalk 16U women’s freestyle 3rd
Camryn Brown (122), Amity 16U women’s freestyle 7th


Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 35 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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