The early-season success of the Staples wrestling team may just be a precursor of things to come.
Under the tutelage of first-year head coach Fred Mills, the Wreckers have a 3-2 dual meet record and placed fourth at the annual Fairfield Ludlowe Invitational, finishing just seven points out of second.
The finish at the Ludlowe tournament was Staples’ best placement since 2009, according to Mills, and the Wreckers only had 10 out of a possible 14 wrestlers compete.
“We’ve done OK,” said the coach, whose background in the sport includes wrestling in South Plainfield, N.J., coaching in the highly-successful Danbury youth program (1998-2013) and serving as head coach at The Woodhall School in Bethlehem (2014-2018). “We’ve had some injuries and some kids out so we haven’t had a full lineup yet. We’re piecing things together but when we get back to full strength, we’ll be in a better position all-around.”
What Mills has stressed is changing the culture at Staples and so far things are trending in the right direction. He has a young team with 18 freshmen, but including the numbers with the youth program, there are 80-85 athletes in the fold.
“We want a program that feeds the high school in a vertical manner,” he said. “Getting that experience at the youth level is so important. In this area of Fairfield County, some kids have wrestled for many years so when they step on the mat in high school, they already have hundreds of matches of experience. That makes a big difference.”
Getting the basics down when wrestlers start at the youth level to fine-tuning techniques when they get to high school is very important and something Mills wants to see more of in Westport.
Right now, Mills said he only has a handful of wrestlers who have multiple years of experience on the mats. That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare for the season, however.
Senior George Harrington (285 pounds) is back after a phenomenal junior campaign. He won the FCIAC title and Class LL state crown a season ago and Mills expects big things from his senior standout in 2019. Harrington may even drop to 220 with the two-pound allowance going into the New Year, Mills said.
Harrington recently captured the Ludlowe tourney title at 285 as did junior Terry Brannigan (120).
Also helping to lead the team this season are seniors J.C. Montoni (160) and Jacob Qiu (170) and junior Jacob Rizy (285). In addition to those veterans, freshman Oliver D’Anna (106) has shown a great deal of promise, according to Mills.
Mills said getting the opportunity to coach at the public school level was a great opportunity for him and he’s grateful for the support he’s received from the community, the school administration and the alumni. He said he’ll play a big role in the youth program as well.
The competition in the FCIAC is always stiff with state powers Danbury and Fairfield Warde in the fold and strong squads from Trumbull, Fairfield Ludlowe and Greenwich also in the mix among others.
Mills said his team will be competing in the annual Danbury Ryan Sabbagh Holiday Tournament (Dec. 29) for the first time. Staples will host Danbury in a dual meet Jan. 9, and also host the annual John Chacho Duals on Jan. 12 and Senior Night on Jan. 16 against Westhill. The Wreckers will go to Greens Farms Academy Jan. 25 to compete for the Town Crown.
Mills wants to build an excitement in town about the sport of wrestling and so far the Wreckers seem to be on the right track.
“It’s a matter of building kids up and changing lives through wrestling,” he said. “It’s not all about wins and losses. Wrestling teaches life lessons.”