Southington’s 195-pounder Zach Maxwell heads a list of 19 local wrestlers who will begin vying for a State Open wrestling title tonight at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.
Maxwell (26-1) defended his Class LL title Saturday, winning by fall in the second round and quarterfinals, scoring a 7-2 decision over Alexander Swaby of New Britain in the semifinals and pinning Connor Sollenberger of Trumbull in the final at 5:47.
“If he wrestles well, he can put on a show like he did in the [Class LL] finals against a very good wrestler,” Southington coach Derek Dion said. “If he wrestles up to his potential, [the competition] is not going to matter.”
The West Point-bound senior, one of the key contributors to Southington’s 2013 Class LL football championship, became the Blue Knights’ first Open wrestling champion in 11 years last season and went on to finish fifth in the New Englands.
In this year’s State Open, he’ll wrestle out of the top seed and thus receives a bye into the championship round of 16.
The field at 195 also includes Dimitri Smith of Maloney, Clayton Ahearn of Lyman Hall and Jordan Baggiero of Platt. The top eight seeds have first-round byes. Smith (27-5, 3rd L) is seeded 11th, Ahearn (19-3, 3rd M) is 12th and Baggiero (26-10, 5th L) is 18th.
Maxwell, 112-24 over his career, has won 73 of his 78 bouts since the start of the 2012-13 campaign. Two of those setbacks came last year in the New Englands.
His top competition at the State Open should come from last weekend’s class winners: undefeated Class S champion Fjoralb Cekici of Nonnewaug, once-beaten Class M champion Zachary Hubler of Foran, and the ultimate darkhorse in Hall’s lanky Ogadinha Ikani, the Class L champ who only wrestled in 15 bouts all season.
The last Southington wrestler to win a State Open title prior to Maxwell was Larry Liseo at 160 pounds in 2002. The only other Knight to take one home was Bill Lee in 1999.
Platt’s junior Class L champion Marlon Argueta (34-2) heads a three-man local contingent at 120.
Southington’s Zach Bylykbashi (26-7, 3rd LL) has the experience of wrestling in five Open bouts last year and winning three. Maloney’s Nate Hunter (28-15) came out of the eighth seed to finish sixth in Class L to earn his first Open slot.
At 106, Southington junior Zach Murillo (30-4, 2nd LL) is seeded sixth and Maloney captain Ryan Pantalena (42-2, 2nd L) is seventh. Both seek retribution after close decisions in their respective finals bout on Saturday.
Murillo lost 8-5 to Danbury’s Paolo Freitas, the Open’s top seed. Pantalena dropped an 11-8 decision to Fairfield Ludlowe’s George Wales, fifth at the Open last year.
“Keep an eye on Murillo,” Dion said.
Southington will also be represented by 160-pounder Alex Martin (25-8, 2nd LL) and freshman 113 Austin Abacherli. Abacherli (21-12) came out of the seventh seed to take fourth in LL.
Maloney’s Jophy Nieves, who lost in the 152-pound semifinals last weekend to settle for third in Class L, is seeded 10th with a record of 41-4.
Joining Argueta and Baggiero from Platt are 220-pound junior John Bernardo (29-4, 2nd L), 182-pound senior Jacob Skalski (32-7, 3rd L), 145-pound senior Youssef Saez (32-4, 3rd L) and 152-pound sophomore Bernard Figueroa (29-8, 5th L).
The last Platt wrestler to win an Open crown was Luis Murillo, Jr. — Zach’s brother — in 2002 at 119 pounds.
Cheshire will be represented by 138-pounder Jacob Cervero (19-3, 3rd LL) and 170-pounder Gabe Vega (20-4), who flashed into second place from a sixth seed last Saturday.
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