NEW HAVEN, February 25, 2023 – It looked easy on Saturday. The Xavier High wrestling team moved through the State Open tournament with precision, grabbing the lead from the beginning and never letting it go.
The Falcons had seven wrestlers win medals for finishing in the top six of their respective weight classes. Four wrestlers went to the finals and two came home with State Open championships as Xavier won their second straight State Open title Saturday with a 54-point win over New Fairfield, 175½-121½.
But this was a victory forged in the practice room and against competition in Wisconsin, Delaware, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Xavier had wrestlers compete at the Beast of the East in December and at the War on the Shore in Maryland in January. The Falcons won the Methuen Invitational in late January and spent a weekend in early January in Wisconsin at the National High School Duals.
“We came back after last year and we had a good year (winning a Class L and State Open title),” Xavier head coach Mike Cunningham said. “They came back and focused, set some new goals. We made the schedule harder. They didn’t complain one time and did the work. I am proud of them.”
Sophomore Charles Weidman (182) and junior Raekwon Shabazz (106) each won their first State Open titles with teammates Kyle Levesque (132) and Anthony Basile (138) each finishing second.
Weidman (40-4) handed Joshua Nieroda of Suffield/Windsor Locks (32-1) his first loss of the season with a 14-5 victory in the finals. Weidman gave up just one point in his first three victories in the tournament. Shabazz (39-2) beat RHAM junior Ben Fournier by technical fall, 18-3.
Levesque dropped a 4-0 decision to Killingly’s undefeated senior Kaden Ware (41-0) in the 132-pound finals while Basile lost to East Hartford sophomore Jaeckez Mendez (31-0) in the final at 138 pounds, 5-2. Basile advanced to the final with a 2-1 win in triple OT in the semifinals over Montville’s James Linder
Xavier’s Braylon Gonzalez (113) finished third. He went six minutes with two-time Open champion Isaiah Adams of Avon in the semifinals. Max Morse (145) won four matches and finished fifth, pinning Brien McMahon’s Xavier Hernandez to secure a berth to next weekend’s New England championships in Providence.
The top five wrestlers in each weight class moved onto the New England tournament.
“We’ve wrestled six-minute matches the whole year. It wasn’t new to us,” Shabazz said.
New Fairfield finished second with two champions and three finalists. It was their best finish since winning the tournament in 2016.
“It’s pretty remarkable what (Xavier) did,” New Fairfield High coach Paul Musso said. “It is just lot of hard work on their part. Hats off to Mike (Cunningham) and (assistant coach) Kareem (Small). They’ve set the bar really high. Come and get it. Their kids wrestled good, they’re all young.
“He (Cunningham) goes to different tournaments and challenges his kids all of the time. Hats off to them because they are making Connecticut (wrestling) better,” Musso said.
New Fairfield sophomore Joe Mahoney (34-3) won his second straight State Open championship with a 19-4 win by technical fall over NFA’s Jaiden James at 120 pounds while Rebel teammate Thomas Bock (36-1) won his first Open title with a 4-0 win over Fairfield Prep’s William Smith (37-2) at 145.
Bock got a takedown with six seconds left in the first period and added a reversal with 1:39 left in the third period to extend his lead to four. Mahoney had a pair of pins and a technical fall.
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Avon senior Isaiah Adams (113) also won his second straight State Open championship, the first wrestler in the long storied history of the Falcon program to achieve that feat.
Adams (42-0) finished with three pins in the tournament. In a rematch of the Central Connecticut Conference finals from three weeks ago, Adams faced South Windsor’s Kyden Merlin. Adams had a commanding 7-1 lead when he pinned Merlin with six seconds left in the match.
“He is just a phenomenal wrestler,” Avon coach John McLaughlin said of Adams. “He had some close matches today but that is what you expect at the Open. This is the best of the best in Connecticut.
“(Isaiah) was very aggressive on top and (Merlin) was very good at defending it,” McLaughlin said. “But (Isaiah) kept waiting for his opportunity, waiting and it appeared at the end. He is patient, waits for it and when he sees his opportunity, he pounces.”
Adams helped Avon secure a tie for tenth place with Simsbury.
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Norwalk had two brothers in the State Open finals. Brendan Gilchrist earned a spot in the finals at 195 pounds with Ryan Gilchrist in the finals at 170.
A long-time coach in the Norwalk youth wrestling program, Art Schad, an assistant coach for the Bears, has known the brothers for years. Both began in the youth program in fifth grade. Last week, they became the 20th pair of brothers in state history to win state championships on the same day when they each won a Class LL title.
At the Open on Saturday, Brendan Gilchrist remained undefeated (35-0) with a hard-fought 6-4 win over East Hartford’s Sammy Montovani, who suffered his first loss of the season. Leading 4-3 with 40 seconds remaining, Brendan got a takedown with seven seconds remaining to secure the victory.
“He has been battling injuries all year,” Schad said. “He overcame everything and we’re happy he got the win.”
Ryan Gilchrist (37-6) is no stranger to close matches and he had another one in a 3-2 loss to Newtown’s Fisher Stites (53-1) in the final at 170. Stites built a 3-0 lead and gave up a takedown to Gilchrist in the final seconds of the match.
Gilchrist advanced to the final with a 3-1 win in overtime over Simsbury’s Chad Mairano, a defending Open champion. Gilchrist tied the match at 1-1 with an escape with 28 seconds left in regulation and won it with a takedown with four seconds left in OT.
“I think Ryan holds the Connecticut record for most overtime victories in the last two years – about 12,” Schad said. “He just likes a tight match. It’s a chess match to him. He’s smart, mentally tough and he gets the job done. He keeps his poise. It’s coaches like me who have mild heart attacks.”
“I think his conditioning is so good that he is comfortable in overtime,” Schad said.
Both Gilchrist brothers have more than 100 career wins, an impressive achievement considering both lost their sophomore seasons in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cancelled the entire season in Connecticut. Brendan is 119-9 while Ryan is 110-16.
Norwalk finished sixth with 85½ points. Teammate Phoenix Gardella (126) finished third to help spark the Bears to their best finish in the tournament this century.
Gardella dropped his second match of the tournament but won four straight matches in the consolation round with a pair of pins to take third.
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Newtown finished third, a half-point behind Southwest Conference rival New Fairfield. Stites (53-1), who won his first State Open championship, had three pins in the tournament and improved his career record to 111-15 in just two varsity seasons.
Luca Manfredi (49-6) finished second with a 6-1 loss to Killingly’s Jack Richardson in the finals at 152 pounds. Manfredi also surpassed 100 career wins with a record of 127-21 in the last two seasons.
The Nighthawks had another three medal winners. Kenna Gioffre (113) and Marc Maurath (145) each finished fourth while Jon DaSilva (285) finished sixth.
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For the first time, Killingly had two State Open champions in the same tournament. Both are still undefeated, too. Richardson (41-0) won at 152 pounds while Kaden Ware (41-0) prevailed at 132 pounds.
Ware had a takedown and reversal in the first period to beat Southington’s Colton Thorpe in the semifinals, 4-2 before beating Xavier’s Kyle Levesque, 4-0 in the championship match. Ware had a takedown in the first and second period.
Killingly finished eighth overall in the tournament.
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East Hartford sophomore Jaeckez Mendez (31-0) beat Xavier’s Anthony Basile, 5-2 in the finals at 138 pounds to become the first Hornet wrestler in more than two decades to win an State Open championship. Mike Doros (189) was the last East Hartford wrestler to win an Open title in 2000.
Mendez was driven by losses in his freshman year at the Class LL tournament and his fourth place finish at the Open in 2022.
“I felt good,” Mendez said. “In warmups, I put on the attitude that I was going to win. I thought there is no other choice. I worked all year and last year. I was angry how last year ended.”
He also praised the coaching he received in the offseason from Jeff Fernandez at the Fisheye club in Windsor.
East Hartford teammates Sammy Montovani (195) and Dravyn Roberts (160) each finished second. Montovani, a junior, lost to Norwalk’s Brendan Gilchrist, 6-4 while Roberts, the sophomore starting quarterback for the Hornet football team, dropped a 9-1 decision to New Milford’s Khalil Bourjelli.
East Hartford finished seventh with 77 points.
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New Milford’s Khalil Bourjelli was named the tournament’s outstanding wrestler after his 9-1 victory over East Hartford’s Dravyn Roberts in the finals at 160 pounds.
Bourjelli remained undefeated with a 24-0 record.
As a freshman, he won a Class L championship. He lost his sophomore season in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and hurt his shoulder as a junior, missing most of the season.
“He is having a great year,” New Milford head coach Chris Piel said. “He is coming back from an injury. He started with our program when he was four years old. It is nice to see him come full circle and get the opportunity to achieve his goal.”
Bourjelli helped the Green Wave finish fourth with 96½ points. Alec Oberc (106) finished fifth for New Milford, which had 13 kids in the tournament. The top six wrestlers from each Class LL, L, M and S advanced to the State Open. New Milford was second at the Class L tournament behind No. 1 Xavier.
“You think about a hometown grown team to put 13 through (to the State Open) is pretty amazing when you look at the New Milford wrestling program and the people that set it up,” Piel said. “There are a lot of people that put in a lot of time for these kids to be successful, including the parents. To bring 13 (here) is fantastic. I am ecstatic how the kids wrestled this year.”
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Fairfield Warde’s Dominic Spadaro (126) went to overtime in the finals of the FCIAC Tournament and the Class LL tournament. Spadaro lost at the FCIAC Tournament but beat Norwalk’s Phoenix Gardella in OT to win the Class LL title a week ago.
In the State Open final, Spadaro trailed New Fairfield’s Vincent Tripaldi by one, 5-4 in the waning seconds of the match. With three seconds remaining, Spadaro caught Tripaldi in a headlock and threw him to the mat for a takedown and two-point near fall to win the championship, 8-5.
“I knew I had time for one more move, maybe two so I was going to let it fly and go big,” Spadaro said. “I was going to go upper body and get it done.
“It felt amazing. The second I locked it up, I knew it would have the two (point takedown and the win).”
Spadaro won his semifinal match over Xavier’s Carl Loria, 4-2, with a takedown with 23 seconds remaining. Spadaro beat Killingly’s Brady Zadora in the quarterfinals, 3-2.
“Dominic believes in his offense,” Fairfield Warde coach Jason Shaughnessy said. “He stayed relaxed, concentrated on what he needed and hit the big throw with very little time left on the clock. He has the capability of going big at any time. He knew what he needed to do, put himself in that position and when it was there, he just hit it.”
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Stratford’s James Duhancik (34-4) won his first State Open title at 195 pounds by pinning Fitch’s Naszier Matthews in 5:16. Duhancik had three pins in the tournament and a double overtime win over Fairfield Warde’s Nehemias Pettway in the semifinals.
Duhancik took a 4-3 lead in the first 30 second session of the second OT period thanks to an escape. In the second 30 second session, Pettway took a one-point lead with a two-point reversal with 23 seconds left. But Duhancik got a quick reversal with 19 seconds left and a three-point near fall to win the match, 9-5.
Pettway rebounded from that tough loss with a pair of victories to finish third with a 5-2 win over Danbury’s Jhonnyel Ramierez.
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Danbury’s Nuh Ajdinoski (20-3) won his first State Open title at 285 pounds with a 3-1 win over previously undefeated Malachi Mercer-Robinson (37-1) of Fairfield Prep.
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On Friday, Ledyard freshman Tatianna Irizarry (106) became the first girl to win a match at the State Open with a pin over Bristol Central’s Engher Disla Almonte in 2:00, in the consolation round.
In the first round, Irizarry dropped a 7-3 decision to Seth Christie of Griswold/Wheeler, who she lost to two weeks earlier in overtime of the ECC Tournament.
Irizarry was eliminated in a 5-3 loss to Maloney’s Logan Gagne.
Irizarry, who finished third in Class M, had the choice to compete in the boys State Open or the CIAC Girls Invitational. She couldn’t do both since the tournaments were being run at the same time.
CIAC State Open
At New Haven
Team results – 1. Xavier 175½, 2. New Fairfield 121½, 3. Newtown 120, 4. New Milford 96½, 5. Danbury 90, 6. Norwalk 85½, 7. East Hartford 77, 8. Killingly 76½, 9. Fairfield Warde 64, 10. Avon and Simsbury 61½, 12. RHAM 60, 13. Stratford 55, 14. Fairfield Prep 53, 15. Haddam-Killingworth 52, 16. Southington 51, 17. Branford and Trumbull 47, 19. East Lyme/Norwich Tech 46½, 20. NFA 46, 21. Ridgefield 45, 22. Plainville 40½, 23. Fairfield Ludlowe , Windham and South Windsor 39. 26. Suffield/Windsor Locks 33, 27. Montville and Platt 27; 29. Glastonbury and New London 27, 31. Berlin, Enfield and New Canaan 26, 34. Hall 25, 35. Fitch 24, 36. East Haven 22, 37. Lyman Memorial/Windham Tech 21½, 38. Lewis Mills 20, 39. Amity 19½, 40. Brookfield/Shepaug, Canton, Foran, Manchester 18, 44. Bethel and Cheshire 17; 46. Hand and Portland 15, 48. Ellis Tech 14, 49. Brien McMahon and Guilford 13, 51. Weston 12, 52. Bristol Central and Gilbert 11; 54. Farmington 10, 55. Bacon Academy, New Britain and St. Joseph 9, 58. Terryville/Thomaston 8½, 59. Griswold/Wheeler and Middletown 8, 61. E.O. Smith, Greenwich, Morgan, New Haven and Stafford 7, 67. Bunnell , Derby/Oxford/Holy Cross, Windsor 6, 71. Newington, Rocky Hill, Somers and Waterford 5, 75. Bristol Eastern, Conard, Joel Barlow, Maloney and Sheehan 4, 80. Cromwell 3½, 81. Ledyard, Masuk and Staples 3, 84. Notre Dame-WH and Pomperaug 2, 86. Abbott Tech, Coventry, Harding, Jonathan Law, Nonnewaug, Putnam and Rockville 0
106 Raekwon Shabazz (Xavier) tech fall Ben Fournier (RHAM), 18-3 4:47
113 Isaiah Adams (Avon) pin Kyden Merlin (South Windsor), 5:54
120 Joe Mahoney (New Fairfield) tech fall Jaiden James (Norwich Free Academy), 19-4 6:00
126 Dominick Spadaro (Fairfield Warde) dec. Vincent Tripaldi (New Fairfield), 8-5
132 Kaden Ware (Killingly) dec. Kyle Levesque (Xavier), 4-0
138 Jaeckez Mendez (East Hartford) dec. Anthony Basile (Xavier), 5-2
145 Thomas Bock (New Fairfield) dec. William Smith (Fairfield Prep), 4-0
152 Jack Richardson (Killingly) dec. Luca Manfredi (Newtown), 6-1
160 Khalil Bourjelli (New Milford) dec. Drayvn Roberts (East Hartford), 9-1
170 Fisher Stites (Newtown) dec. Ryan Gilchrist (Norwalk), 3-2
182 Charles Weidman (Xavier) dec. Joshua Nieroda (Suffield/Windsor Locks), 14-5
195 Brendan Gilchrist (Norwalk) dec. Sammy Montovani (East Hartford), 6-4
220 James Duhancik (Stratford) pin Naszier Matthews (Fitch), 5:16
285 Nuh Ajdinoski (Danbury) dec. Malachi Mercer-robinson (Fairfield Prep), 3-1
Third place (consolation final)
106 Jack Gedney (Lewis Mills) dec. Cristian Pote (Danbury), 2-0
113 Braylon Gonzalez (Xavier) dec. Kenna Gioffre (Newtown), 9-1
120 Dominic Barrella (Ridgefield) pin Reese Titus (Canton), 2:31
126 Phoenix Gardella (Norwalk) pin Jared Mangiafico (Southington), 2:24
132 Colton Thorpe (Southington) dec. Danny Carrozza (Brookfield/Shepaug), 6-4
138 James Linder jr (Montville) dec. Victor Petkov (Ridgefield), 8-2
145 Jonah Weber (Avon) dec. Marc Maurath (Newtown), 7-4
152 Jeremy Devine (RHAM) dec. Donell Young (Fairfield Ludlowe), 8-5
160 Lincoln Carlson (East Lyme/Norwich Tech) dec. Cavin Napoletano (Haddam-Killingworth), 9-5
170 Jacob Martone (Haddam-Killingworth) pin Chad Mairano (Simsbury), 4:23
182 Brayden Soleau (East Lyme/Norwich Tech) dec. Cole Snider (Branford), 11-1
195 Jake Kszywanos (Stratford) dec. Malachi Fowler (Windham), 4-3
220 Nehemias Pettway (Fairfield Warde) dec. Jhonnyel Ramirez (Danbury), 5-2
285 Doug Traynor (New Fairfield) pin Keonta Crawford (Enfield), 4:40
106 Alex Oberc (New Milford) dec. Zachary Brzoska (St Joseph), 4-1
113 Mason Arborio (Berlin) dec. Jack Batista-Fletcher (East Haven), 11-5
120 Jerry Hill (Bethel) pin Nick Savarese (Simsbury), 2:52
126 Griffin Devivo (Simsbury) dec. Cael Loria (Xavier), 3-1
132 Evan Schibi (Gilbert) dec. Dylan Sherman (Fairfield Ludlowe), 5-1
138 Joseph Kennedy (Plainville) dec. Josh Howard (Southington), 5-4
145 Maximus Morse (Xavier) pin Zavier Hernandez (Brien McMahon), 3:19
152 Caiden Talento (Platt) dec. Thomas Brunelli (Norwich Free Academy), 3-2
160 Teddy Goetz (New Canaan) dec. Rome Smith (Cheshire), 5-3
170 Ahmed Hernandez (Platt) forfeit over Cameron Sammarco (Lyman Mem/Windham Tech), 0-0
182 Dominic Iaquinto (Danbury) dec. Andrew Johnson (Portland), 12-1
195 Aethan Munden (Trumbull) pin Michael Marques (RHAM), 3:00
220 Yael Garcia-rodriguez (Windham) dec. Drew Schwartz (Branford), 5-2
285 Jeff Quirion La Oz (Plainville) pin Jon Dasilva (Newtown), 2:53
Outstanding wrestler: Khalil Bourjelli (160), New Milford
2023 CIAC State Open brackets and results