Local grapplers overcome hurdles, compete at State Open
Staples and Weston high school grapplers finished off the season, and their high school careers, in style -- among the best grapplers in all Connecticut -- in the State Open at the New Haven Athletic Center last Friday and Saturday. Although none of the three senior grapplers to represent Staples and Weston came out among the top finishers, they all proved something just by being there.
Staples senior quad-captain Chris Giunta competed in the 215-pound weight division, and fellow senior quad-captain Julian Gendels battled at 285, while Weston senior co-captain Carmine Magnoli represented the Trojans at 189. The Open includes the top competitors from among each class size in the state, meaning anyone who was on hand to battle on the mats had to work their way there through placements in class state tourney.
Gendels went down with a neck injury early in the season and thought his career might be over. Recruited to play football at Division III Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., Gendels thought about hanging up the wrestling gear and focusing strictly on the grid iron. "When I got hurt I really didn't think I was going to come back," Gendels said. But he didn't want to regret not competing and making a push for the postseason on the mats one last time. After about a month away from practices and matches, Gendels came back toward the end of the season. "I fought through the pain. I overcame the injury."
Gendels went on to place second in the FCIAC and Class LL state championships to qualify for the Open. "We were worried that it was going to take him too long to get ready for those tournaments, and do as well as he could," said his coach, Kevin Lippert, adding how impressive it was for Gendels to not only come back from the injury but do so well.
In the Open, after losing his first match and then winning his first bout in the consolation round, an 8-7 decision over Goodwin Tech's Dillon Harrison, Gendels backed out of the tournament in order to end the season, and his high school career, on a high note, he said. "I achieved more than I wanted to in the season. I thought it was a good way to end my season," he said.
Giunta had to overcome a season-ending injury to his twin brother Michael, along with not having Gendels around for a chunk of the season. Both grapplers were teammates he would tangle with on the mats in practice. "It made it a long season for him," Lippert said.
"It was kind of a difficult year because both of them were injured and I lost two of my drilling partners," Giunta said.
Michael Giunta continued to support his team members by showing up for practices and encouraging them, despite being sidelined the coach said.
In the Open, Chris Giunta lost his first match, then won his consolation round opener via injury to his opponent, then suffered a hard-fought 1-0 loss to Jonathan Law's Ted Kostopoulos, whom he had lost to earlier in the year. Giunta nearly pulled off a match-winning reverse in the 1-0 decision this past weekend.
"It was really cool being there. That has always been a goal as a wrestler, to be at the State Open," Giunta said. "It feels good just getting there and ending the season on a pretty high note."
Lippert noted that the Open marked the end of the line for some of the high schooler wrestlers. "It's a sad day when you watch your seniors wrestle their last match. They're fighters. They're two of the strongest kids on our team, along with Michael," the coach said.
All three wrestlers, the Giuntas and Gendels, were football players who decided to do wrestling in an effort to get stronger and better on the field. "Somewhere along the way they became better wrestlers too," Lippert said. "They really wrestled very hard to succeed and be the best they could. I'm really proud of them."
Weston Coach Mario Federici was proud of his standout grappler, Magnoli, who reached the state finals and the Open for the second year in a row. Magnoli won his first match in the Open, a 7-2 decision over Masuk's Kyle Hoskins. He then was pinned by Windham's Brandon Koch in 3:03 and earned a bye in the first round of the consolation bracket. Magnoli then lost a 9-5 decision to Ridgefield's Duncan Cozens, who went on to place sixth in the tourney.