Bulldog grapplers’ strong start highlights overall depthBy Jay Turner
It was a banner opening week for the Canton High varsity wrestling team as the Bulldogs earned a thrilling dual-meet win over King Philip and then set a new team record with a third-place finish at the annual Scituate Tournament.
While it’s too early to make any proclamations, the Bulldogs already appear to be firing on all cylinders, and in contrast to the past two seasons, in which the squad featured a handful of studs but lacked overall depth, this year’s group looks solid in every weight class — anchored by a trio of talented seniors in Brendan Lewis (126 lbs.), Sean Murphy (132 lbs,), and Caleb Nix (195 lbs.).
All three wrestlers picked up victories in last week’s home opener against KP — Lewis and Nix by pinfall and Murphy in a major decision that proved critical in the team’s eventual 37-36 victory.
Lewis, who took third at last year’s sectional championships, looked dominant in his season debut and is poised to take a leap into stardom this season, according to head coach Brian Caffelle.
“Brendan looked fantastic,” Caffelle said after the KP match. “He’s probably the strongest guy out of our whole lineup and he has been training like an animal during the offseason and he’s ready to thrive in a leadership role.”
Nix, who is one of four co-captains this season along with Lewis, Murphy and Nick Lee, also opened eyes in his match against a tough Warriors opponent. After struggling through the first two and a half periods, he seized the momentum and threw his opponent to his back for the pin.
With the win by Nix, the match came down to Mark Whalen at 220 pounds. Facing an opponent that he had lost to twice last year, Whalen looked unfazed — and considerably stronger — as he grappled his way to the clinching victory.
“He wrestled just a great match,” Caffelle said of the promising junior. “His opponent kind of thought he had his number, but Mark just did a great job of countering his offense. He took him down three times and sealed the deal for us.”
Caffelle said the win over the Warriors — in front of a big home crowd no less — was a real confidence booster for the team, and it carried over to the Scituate Tournament, where the Bulldogs once again showed off their depth en route to a third-place finish in a competitive seven-team field.
Of the 14 starters who competed for Canton, a whopping 10 placed in the top three or better, led by Lewis, who took home the title for the second consecutive season after pinning all three of his opponents.
In addition to Lewis, three others made it to the finals at the tournament: Whalen at 220 and newcomers Polan Makarov (182 lbs.) and Nick Matt (heavyweight). Meanwhile, another six took third place: Stephen Corkery (106 lbs.), Justin Dickie (113 lbs.), Anis Chakir (120 lbs.), Joe Pacitti (138 lbs.), Stathi Dandis (170 lbs.), and Nix (195 lbs.).
Reflecting on the strong start, Caffelle said it is clear that the team has come out ready to wrestle. “Everyone has been in a good mindset in terms of working hard and pushing each other, and the leadership we’re getting from our captains has just been incredible,” he said.
He fully expects the team to be competitive in every match, and if all goes well, they should be in contention for one of the top spots in the Hockomock League’s Davenport Division.
The Bulldogs (1-0) were due to return to action this week against Taunton and will travel to Hanover this Saturday for a quad meet. The team will then close out the calendar year with an away meet against Franklin on December 22, followed by the annual Lowell Holiday Tournament on Monday and Tuesday, December 28-29.
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