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Back on the mat again and Avon tops Bristol Eastern for first time since 2009

Bristol Eastern’s Andrew Brown tries to put Avon’s Owen White on his back in Wednesday night’s match at 106 pounds. White won by pin as Avon beat Bristol Eastern in the season opener for both teams.

AVON, Dec. 15, 2021 – Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been 21 months since there was high school wrestling in Connecticut. The season ended days before the pandemic began sweeping across the country in March 2020 and the lockdowns began.

A year ago, high school basketball teams in Connecticut played a limited schedule with masks on while wrestlers were limited to non-contact workouts and no competition.

On Wednesday night, dozens of parents and students donning masks filled the old bleachers in Avon High’s original gymnasium. There was an energy in the room with the return of wrestling with fans cheering on their favorite wrestlers.

“It was great to be out here with my brothers and sisters,” Eastern captain Ella Nichols said.

Avon got nine pins and a technical fall to beat Bristol Eastern, 59-24, for their first victory over the Lancers since 2009.

“It is just good to have the kids out here and wrestling again,” long-time Avon High coach John McLaughlin said. “These kids needed it. They were excited. There was a lot of energy on our bench and they were excited to be here and they came through tonight. It was awesome.”

On the other side of the gym floor, Eric Sassu made his varsity debut as head coach of the Lancers. He replaced Bryant Lishness, who stepped aside in the spring to spend more time with his family and watch his son compete in college.

“This was fantastic,” Sassu said. “The kids were really looking forward to it. For many of them, it was their first time wrestling (in a dual meet) and for some it was their first (competition) in over a year. They were excited. We’ve been talking about first match all season.

“It didn’t go the way we wanted but the kids were out here supporting each other and I know this will keep them fired up for the next (match),” Sassu said.

Avon’s Cameron Casey (170) controls Bristol Eastern’s Kaidon Dionne in Wednesday night’s match in Avon. Casey won by pin as the Falcons topped the Lancers.

Avon won four of the first five matches to take a 24-6 lead. But Nichols, who is ranked No. 5 in the country by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, USA Wrestling and FloWrestling, pinned Avon’s Sawyer Hernandez in 2:43 and Lancer teammate Alex Marshall won by pin to cut the Falcon lead to 24-18.

Avon’s Cameron Casey got a pin at 170 to push the lead back to 12 but Eastern’s Dylan Piazza (182) got a pin over Chris Bourquin to again cut the lead to six, 30-24. But Avon captured the final five bouts of the evening to secure the win.

McLaughlin was happy with the win but is still learning about his team. “I think most coaches are like me,” he said. “I don’t know what I have. (When we last wrestled), my seniors were sophomores, my juniors were freshmen and I really have two groups of freshman because the sophomores didn’t compete (last year). So, we’re really young and I think most (teams) are.

“This was a great step but we’re still finding out who we are.”

Nichols is expected to be in the starting lineup this season for Eastern at 152 pounds and Sassu isn’t worried about Nichols battling with boys who could be physically stronger than her.

“Some of them (may be) stronger but Ella is real tough. Ella is real strong and Ella is real technical,” he said. “We’re not worried about the strength factor. I know she will outwit and outmanuever a lot of people and the ones she doesn’t, she will make something else happen.”

Nichols has wrestled with boys training at her off-season club KT Kidz so it’s no surprise for her.

Avon and Eastern will both be competing at the C.J. McCormack Invitational tournament this weekend.

Avon 59, Bristol Eastern 24
At Avon
120: Michael Ralph (BE) pin Matt Mancini, 3:58; 126: Aki Bahabad (A) pin Gabe Whit, 1:31; 132: Eli Fagin (A) pin Lamar Brook, 1:03; 138: Jonah Weber (A) pin Nathan Torrez, 1:39; 145: Jack Jones (A) pin Joshua Austin, 3:45; 152: Ella Nichols (BE) pin Sawyer Hernandez, 2:43; 160: Alex Marshall (BE) pin Roel Johnson, 2:58; 170: Cameron Casey (A) pin Kaidon Dionne, 2:25; 182: Dylan Piazza (BE) pin Chris Bourquin, 3:57; 195: Nils Jerger (A) pin Owen Broyles, 4:59; 220: Zach Gross (A) pin Jaiden Fore, 3:20; 285: Maxwell Janes (A) pin Evan Gleifert, 2:50; 106: Owen White (A) pin Andrew Brown, 5:57; 113: Isiah Adams (A) tech fall Anthony Gilva, 16-1
Records: Avon 1-0, Bristol Eastern 0-1

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 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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