By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Wrestling Online
CANTON, Jan. 30, 2002 -- It hasn't been an easy season for the Canton High wrestling team. But attaining success is never easy.
The Warriors won 14 of their first 16 matches and seized control of the North Central Connecticut Conference race by going undefeated in the league, winning all six of its dual meets.
But over a two-week stretch in late January, the Warriors suffered its share of adversity to test them as they complete the 2001-02 season.
It began in mid-January when senior Adam Szychowski (215) nearly passed out on the mat after wrestling against Granby due to an asthma attack. He was taken by stretcher to the hospital. He missed nearly a week but returned to the lineup with new medicine.
The Warriors have been challenged most of the season, going 3-1 in matches decided by four points or less.
But they faced the challenge of stiffer competition at the eighth annual Eagle Classic at East Catholic High. Canton placed two wrestlers into the finals Szychowski and Josh Kaplan (140) Canton was an impressive sixth in the field of 20.
Canton was tested again a week later when Tom Bujold (135) one of four captains on this team broke his collarbone in an emotional loss to then-No. 8 RHAM in the Rockville Duals, 59-15.
Bujold's match was the first of the match and it shook the Warriors. Kaplan, his long-time training partner, took the mat next and dropped a tough 8-5 decision to RHAM's Louie Grano. The Sachems rolled to a 32-0 big lead thanks to a technical fall and three straight pins.
When the RHAM coaching staff and Canton staff began arguing over rules involving who can sit at the scorer's table, the Warriors completely lost their focus. Rockville beat a distracted Canton squad, 48-31 for third place in the tournament.
The remaining challenge will be to overcome the loss of a senior leader, Bujold, who finished fourth in Class S a year ago and won a NCCC championship as a sophomore. He finished 23-5 for the year with 10 pins.
Before Bujold got hurt, Canton was on track for its first NCCC championship since 1997 and a threat to contend for the Class S championship.
The potential to achieve these goals remains. But the remaining wrestlers will have to work that much harder, which hasn't been a problem for this team.
"We have a lot of senior leadership and they all work hard," long-time coach Bill Phelps said. "They all want to be here and they all want to do the best they can. It's a combination that you can't beat."
Bujold, Kaplan, Szcyhowski and Mike Grafstein (189) are the captains on this year's team, which was 17-4 with two weeks left in the regular season.
"We worked hard in the offseason and it pays off during the season," said Kaplan, who won his first 22 matches in a row before losing in the Eagle Classic finals to Ben Lackey of Mount Anthony Union from Bennington, Vt., the No. 3 ranked wrestler in the nation at the time in his weight class.
"The past two years six of us have gone to wrestling camp at Cornell," Kaplan said. Bujold, Stephen Babcock,
Grafstein, David Brummert and Josh Bristol were in camp this summer with Kaplan.
Kaplan was pinned by Lackey in the finals while Szychowski lost in the 215 finals to Killingly's Mike LaBeef by pin. Bujold was sixth while Babcock was fourth.
Mount Anthony, a perennial New England powerhouse, easily won the tournament by 116 points while Killingly, RHAM and Berlin each finished in front of Canton, which did beat Windham High and New Fairfield, a pair of teams that have spent some time among the top 10 teams in the state.
"Some were saying why do we come here," Phelps said. "But win or lose, they got a lot of experience for the state tournament and that is what it is all about. We showed that we can compete in the state and in New England."
MAT DUST: Canton had thrilling wins over Nonnewaug and Avon in January.
On Jan. 16, Chris Palozie (171) escaped in double overtime to earn a 8-7 decision over Nonnewaug's Jon Ronalter and lift the Warriors to a 35-31 victory. Palozie escaped and got a takedown as time expired in the third period to force OT.
Canton trailed by 12 points, 28-16, but Bujold (140) earned a major decision, Kaplan (145) and Sam Junno (152) pinned to give CHS a 32-28 lead. Nonnewaug's Andrew Walker (160) slipped past Courtney Hill, 4-1, to trim the lead to one, 32-31 and make Palozie's bout the one that decided the match.
It was only Canton's second win over Nonnewaug since 1988.
Canton 39, Avon 36
Against Avon, the Warriors rallied from a 16-point deficit to beat Avon, 39-36 on Jan. 5. Avon won five of the first seven bouts of the match that began at 145 pounds to take a 28-12 lead.
Canton's David Brummert (103) rallied from a 6-3 deficit to beat Avon's Sebastain Lora, 8-6 to cut the lead to 13 before Canton's Brian Phelps stunned Joel Hava at 112 pounds.
Hava led 10-5 after one period with five takedowns. But Phelps caught Hava in a headlock and pinned him in the second period to cut the Avon lead to seven, 28-21. At 119, Canton's Josh Bristol rallied from an early 4-2 deficit to pin Reid Time and pull Canton within one point, 28-27.
Avon lost one team point when Rob Tolk was penalized for not having his shoelaces taped, as required by regulations. But Tolk (125) still pinned Anthony Daniels to give the Falcons a six-point lead, 33-27.
At 130, Canton's Chris Ziemba got a reversal in the final 30 seconds tie his match with Adam Freilich at 2-2. But Freilich prevailed when Zimeba was penalized one point for locking hands and Avon led, 36-27.
Canton pulled within three thanks to a forfeit at 135 pounds and won the match on a Tom Bujold (140) pin. It was the closest match ever between the two schools.