Mikell Washington takes home the bronze medal from the State Open wrestling championships.

A senior captain for the Staples wrestling team, Washington took third in the 195-pound weight class this past weekend in New Haven.

"It's great to see my hard work pay off," Washington said.

Washington was Staples' only representative at State Open, and scored 19 points.

"I'm very excited and happy for Mikell," Wreckers coach Kevin Lippert said. "He had a fantastic tournament and wrestled well. We felt all year he had it in him, and he proved us right."

By placing third, Washington is the first Staples wrestler to qualify for the New England championship since Nigel Lee did it during the 1994-95, season. Back then, Ross Gillen was the Wreckers' head coach, and Lippert was his assistant.

"Mikell worked hard, and dedicated himself to doing it," Lippert said. "I hope he's not done yet."

Following New Englands is Senior Nationals. Washington qualified for State Open by placing third at Class LL the weekend before.

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Similar to his first Class LL match, Washington's first State Open joust went into overtime. At Opens, he was tied with Killingly's Jacob Whitehead after regulation.

"This weekend, I got off to a slow start because I had jitters, but came out with a victory, and I really turned it on after that," Washington said.

The match was tied after the first overtime, but it ended in the second overtime once Washington scored a reversal against Whitehead to win it 5-3.

"We practiced the moves all week in practice, I knew I was supposed to keep my hips low, and that's what I did," Washington said. "I knew I was the better wrestler than him. I wanted to keep on going, and I had to get it done."

Next on the docket for Washington was Farmington's Tom Stevens. Stevens stayed alive for the first two periods, but in the third period, Washington pinned him at 4:39 of the match.

"I felt confident in that match," Washington said. "The move I used to pin him, I practiced it 50,000 times. I saw I had an opening, and I pinned him."

Following his pin, Washington moved onto the semifinals, where he faced the eventual champion, Norwalk's Brandon Riggins.

Riggins, who was the runnerup at New Englands last year, won the match, 15-2, and got seven points for tilting.

"He had seven points off of tilting, and that increased the score," Washington said. "Without the tilting, it would have been a closer match. I definitely gave it my best."

This was the second straight weekend where Washington lost to the eventual champion. The loss dropped him to the consolation bracket.

Despite falling short to Riggins, Washington was undeterred, and Derby's Luis Casco felt his wrath. Washington won convincingly, 17-4, two points short of a technical fall.

"Just like last week, I was a man on a mission," Washington said. "I wanted to make it to the New England tournament, and I wanted another week of wrestling."

The win over Casco clinched a trip to New Englands in Providence (top four go). Washington then claimed third place with a 13-6 decision over Bristol Eastern's Michael Cassin.

"Three weeks in a row I got third [he did it at the FCIAC championships Feb. 11], and I told myself, `I'd like to do it again,'" Washington said.

Figuring out where Washington will finish at New Englands is difficult because of the unfamiliarity with the field.

"It's impossible to tell," Lippert said. "I know the kids in Connecticut in his class, but I don't know the kids from out of state. We're going into a situation where we don't know the competition. Mikell is a good wrestler, and he'll go in with confidence and wrestle well. This tournament will be tough, but we're excited, and we'll see where he stands."

Washington said, "I hope to wrestle to the best of my ability, and I hope not to get the jitters."