Banner Season for Local Wrestling Teams
For all of the celebration of this past weekend’s New England championship, it was also a bittersweet moment, signaling the end of a terrific season for local wrestlers.
For the area, this was the best all-around season we’ve had in years, with local teams producing four sectional champions, two divisional state champions, four divisional state place-winners, three all-state place-finishers, an all-state champion, and a New England place-winner. Local towns had a lot to be proud of on the wrestling mats this winter.
When talking about the area’s top wrestler this season, it’s certainly hard to go against Nashoba Regional’s 152-pounder, Brevin Cassella, as he had quite the dominant year. In the regular season he earned titles at the Marlboro Early Bird Invitational and the Woburn tournament, and only received one loss throughout the regular season, at the Massapequa tournament in Long Island during the holiday break. The momentum led to a solid postseason for Cassella, starting with his third sectional title where he pinned his way through and earned Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament. He followed that up with a Division 2 state tournament title and his second Outstanding Wrestler award in as many weeks, as he teched and pinned his way through the tournament.
At all-states, Cassella continued his title-winning ways, earning his first all-state title. He then went to New Englands and placed for the second time in as many years with a third-place plaque, his only loss of the tournament and postseason coming in the semifinals to eventual runner-up Noah Strout of Durham, New Hampshire.
Cassella wasn’t the only Nashoba wrestler to do well this season. Most notably Lucien Perla, Cassella’s drilling partner, did extremely well for the Chieftains this season as a 145-pound freshman. After earning runner-up medals at the Tyngsboro Big Red Tournament and Woburn tournament, he went into the Central Mass. Division 2 sectional tournament as the top seed, winning his first Division 2 Central championship with a win over Mohammad Lofti of King Philip. They again met in the Division 2 state tournament, where Perla emerged victorious once again for his first state title. He then went on to place seventh at the all-state tournament to qualify for the New England tournament, where he went 1-2.
Alex Childs also found success for the Chieftains this season at 195 pounds. After earning the silver medal at the Marlboro tournament and the gold medal at the Woburn tournament, he went into the Central Mass. Division 2 sectional championships as the No. 2 seed, taking second, before going onto the Division 2 state tournament, where he earned fifth place. That performance earned Childs the chance to advance to all-states, where he went 2-2.
Dylan Brown at 106 pounds, Evan Doig at 170, Vinny King at 126, and Ben Worden at 138 all reached the Division 2 state tournament for the Chieftains by placing in the top four at sectionals, while Mohammad Delen at 182 and Joe Flannery at 285 took fifth for alternate spots, and Wilson Homer at 113 and Nick Cudmore at 132 each finished sixth. All of that success culminated in a second-place team trophy for Nashoba at the sectional tournament.
For the Leominster Blue Devils, two wrestlers -- Zach Khallady at 285 pounds and Anthony Larson at 152 -- were profoundly impressive.
Khallady won the Chelmsford Invitational title during the regular season before heading on to the Central Mass. Division 1 sectional tournament, where he earned another title. He then advanced to go 1-2 at the Division 1 state tournament.
Larson finished sixth at the Chelmsford Invitational, before taking fourth at sectionals and going 1-2 while competing at states.
Monty Tech had one of its best seasons in recent memory thanks in large part to Isaic Paulino at 106 pounds.
After winning the Athol Red Raider Tournament, placing second at the Tyngsboro Big Red Tournament, seventh at the Lowell Holiday Tournament and first at the Large School State Vocational Tournament -- with an Outstanding Wrestler award to boot -- he headed to the Central Mass. Division 2 tournament, where he pinned and majored his way through for Monty Tech’s first title since the 1990s.
Paulino, only a freshman, advanced to the Division 2 state tournament, where took third place and was Monty Tech’s first state place-winner since 2007. He moved on to the all-state tournament, where he took eighth and earned an alternate spot for the New England tournament. Paulino finished with 50 wins on the season and also earned 46 bonus-point wins.
Paulino’s drill partner, Xavien Natal at 120 pounds, also did well for the Bulldogs this season. After taking second at the Athol Red Raider Tournament, third at the Big Red Tournament, and third at the Large School State Vocational Tournament, Natal came into the Central Mass. Division 2 sectional tournament as a No. 2 seed with more than 30 wins. He was able to earn the silver medal and advance to the Division 2 state tournament, where he went 1-2.
Colin Dudek at 152 pounds also did well for the Bulldogs this season, with 23 wins and a fourth-place medal at the Large School State Vocational Tournament. Just like Paulnio and Natal, Dudek is only a freshman, making for an awfully bright future ahead for Monty Tech.
Juniors Christian Colon and Brent Landry also were able to bring home hardware for the Bulldogs this season. Colon took third at the Athol Red Raider Tournament and second at the Tyngsboro Big Red Tournament, while Landry was third at the Athol tournament, third at the Tyngsboro Big Red Tournament and second at the Large School State Vocational Tournament, earning more than 20 wins on the season.
Before the season began, the Bulldogs said they would be dedicating all of their efforts to the memory of late coach John Applin. I believe their former coach is staring down smiling at these Bulldogs.
What was most interesting about this season is how supremely young both Nashoba and Monty Tech’s squads were.
For Nashoba, 10 of the athletes had never wrestled in a sectional tournament prior to this season.
Monty Tech will not graduate a single wrestler this spring, and will have more Fitchburg Youth wrestlers coming up to compete for them in upcoming years. Dudek, Natal and Paulino all came up through Fitchburg Youth Wrestling, and if the program keeps churning out athletes to that caliber for the Bulldogs, well then let’s just say big things will be coming for the program.
Could we see Monty Tech and Nashoba battling one another for a Central Mass. or maybe even state title in the coming years? Anything is possible in this sport, and I’d like to be optimistic for that.
If our local wrestling programs are competing against one another for team trophies in the upcoming years, who wins? The fans do, that’s the answer.