Giunta and Gendels grapple their way to LL finals

Senior quad-captains Chris Giunta and Julian Gendels raised their performance level at the Class LL championships last weekend. Giunta and Gendels avenged earlier losses in reaching the Class LL championship in lead the Staples wrestling team to its best Class LL meet since moving up to LL from L in 2008.

"The coaching helped me go far," Giunta said. "They worked with me all year and helped me improve as a wrestler."

After scoring in the 40s between 18th and 21st the last three years, Staples moved up to 14th place -- which is exactly the middle position in the 27-team field -- with 68,5 points in the two-day tournament at Trumbull. Moreover, Giunta and Gendels qualified for the State Open, which takes place at the New Haven Athletic Center.

"I'm very pleased with today's performance," Wreckers Coach Kevin Lippert said Saturday night. "The LL tournament is the toughest of the four tournaments. The team wrestled very well and we had more kids wrestle in the second day [than we did last year]."

Giunta was the third-seed in the 215-pound weight class and after beginning the tournament with a bye, he advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1 decision over Simsbury's Brad Helmkamp. In the quarterfinals, Giunta had the upper hand against sixth-seeded Andrew Cavanna of Glastonbury. He was dominant in a defensive match in which he scored two takedowns in a 5-2 victory.

"Conditioning helped me in the close matches," Giunta said.

This set up a rematch with second-seeded Bryan Barnash of Trumbull in the semifinals. Barnash defeated Giunta twice in two closely fought matches, one in the regular season and the other at the FCIAC championships.

Similar to the quarterfinals, this was a defensive match with Giunta garnering an escape to take a 1-0 lead midway through the second period. Barnash tied it with an escape in the third period but Giunta, who was the superior wrestler Saturday, scored a takedown to take a 3-1 lead and held on for the victory.

"After seeing Barnash two times before this match, I worked with the coaches on what he did and I learned how to counter his moves," Giunta said. "He's a very good wrestler and it's kind of revenge and it feels good to finally beat him."

By beating Barnash in the semifinals, Giunta had the unenviable task of facing top-seed Pat Gillen of Shelton in the finals. Gillen, who will wrestle at the University of Virginia on a full scholarship next year, hasn't lost to anyone from New England since sophomore year.

Although Giunta gave it his all, Gillen repeated as Class LL champion by dominating the match before securing the pin 1:02 into it on a reverse move.

"Patrick Gillen is an amazing wrestler and I'm just happy to get to the finals," Giunta said. "He's an extremely nice person and phenomenal wrestler and if I had to lose, I'm glad it was to him."

Lippert said, "Pat Gillen is the best wrestler in the state and there's no shame in losing to him."

Gendels qualifying for the finals in the 285-pound (heavyweight) division is a feat in itself because his year looked like it was over at the end of January because of an injury.

"I decided to come back because it was my senior year and I didn't want to have any regrets and I wanted to wrestle in FCIACs and States," Gendels said. "It felt good to get to the finals."

After drawing a first-round bye, the seventh-seeded Gendels began his run to the championship with a 3-0 decision over 10th seeded William Morlock of Newtown. This led to a FCIAC finals rematch for the Wrecker captain when he faced second-seeded Marquise Weaver of Westhill in the quarterfinals.

Weaver eked out a 4-3 victory in triple overtime in the FCIAC finals but in Class LL, Gendels came out aggressively and dominated from the start. Gendels scored a quick takedown and drove Weaver for most of the match in scoring a convincing 10-2 victory.

"I was upset about losing to him in last week's match and wrestled my best," Gendels said.

Next up for Gendels was 14th-seeded Jevon Pegues of Danbury. Gendels controlled the match from the start with an early takedown and dominated the whole way in a 5-0 victory.

"I just wrestled smart and I did my best," Gendels said.

In the championship match, the 5-11 Gendels faced top-seeded Paul Sullivan of South Windsor, who is 6-2. Sullivan was good defensively and scored a takedown to take a 2-0 lead after one period. Although Gendels hung tough, he couldn't score against his taller opponent.

"He's [Sullivan] very strong and is a very good wrestler," Gendels said. "He was a better wrestler than me."

In addition to Giunta and Gendels, Staples had other highlights as well. Sophomore Jeremy Sherman was the 10th-seed at 125 with a bye and after losing in the second round, he had 16-1 and 8-3 victories in the consolation round. This set up a matched against fourth-seeded Jason Mair of the Platt Tech-West Haven co-op team.

Sherman scored a takedown to take a 2-0 lead in the first period off a great reverse but the match was tied 3-3 going into the third period. Mair took a 4-3 lead with an escape and held on for a 4-3 victory, thus Sherman fell one match short of placing.

Junior 13th-seed Mikell Washington (189) was also one match short of placing. Washington opened with a pin in 4:37 before losing by pin (3:59) to drop to the consolation round. He then grabbed 9-7 and 6-2 victories before losing 1-0 on an escape.

Sophomore Alex Kogstad (112) was also a 13th-seed and opened his run with a pin (3:36) before dropping to the consolations with a 16-1 loss. Kogstad won a consolation match by default before losing a 15-4 decision.

Also winning by pin (2:36) in the first round for the Wreckers was 14th-seeded sophomore Alex Brown (119). Brown then lost a 16-0 decision and a 2-0 decision in the consolation round.

Sixth-seeded junior Brad Menchaca (135) drew a first-round bye before losing a 3-1 decision to drop down to the consolation round. Menchaca took home 4-0 decision in the consolation round before his day ended with by pin in 3:51.

Seventh-seeded senior quad-captain Andrew Washington (140) had a first round bye before being pinned (4:28) in dropping to the consolation round. Andrew Washington begin the consolation round with a 2-1 decision before ending his career with a 15-5 loss.

Junior Stephan Patterson (152) may have been a 20th-seed but didn't wrestle like one. Patterson opened the tournament with a 9-8 decision over the 13th-seeded before being pinned to drop to the consolations. In the consolations, he won by pin (4:26) before ending his season with a 6-0 loss.

Three Wreckers were first-round casualties. Sophomore Max Kahn (103) lost 8-1 and juniors Mike O'Day (130) and Mike Sila (145) were pinned in 3:52 and 3:22.

"Mikell and Jeremy were one match short of placing, did great things and they are learning," Lippert said. "Today was about two kids, Chris Giunta and Julian Gendels, who did great things. Julian was much better than Marquise today and showed he should have won the first time he faced him. I'm proud of Julian and Chris. I worked with them since fifth grade and I saw them grow into young men. They have the hearts of champions and showed great leadership skills."

Overall, Staples was pleased with the season.

"At the start of the year, we didn't think we'd do well but we had a lot of young wrestlers step up," Andrew Washington said. "Mikell Washington and Jeremy Sherman definitely stepped up."

Senior quad-captain Mike Giunta (Chris' twin), who was out with an injury, said, "I'm very pleased with how the team did. Everyone improved throughout the year."