Call the Green Wave a runnerup no longer.

The New Milford High School wrestling team claimed its first state championship last weekend in Bristol.

The milestone performance by coach Chris Piel's mat crew completed a nearly 40-year rise in state prominence for the NMHS wrestling program.

During the past 10 years alone, the oft-times South-West Conference champion Green Wave had finished second in its state class meet four times, third another four times and once fourth.

Senior Nick Amorando and junior Conor Kirkegard earned respective second straight individual state `L' titles at 103 and 125 pounds to lead the Green Wave to its team gold.

The NMHS squad endured heartbreak along the way when senior 171-pounder Karl Bradshaw was disqualified during his semifinal match with Alex Delaney of Fairfield Warde.

Trailing, 11-7, but still very much alive in his Round of Four bout, the Green Wave veteran said he inadvertently and briefly clamped his mouth on his rival's arm, which was wrapped across Karl's face.

A resultant mark on the Warde grappler's arm proved sufficient for officials to DQ the NMHS senior, in the process eliminating the 13 team points he had accumulated to that juncture while effectively ending his high school wrestling career.

Still, the Green Wave was able to ride a balanced performance to the championship.

NMHS finished with 216 points for the two-day competition at Bristol Eastern High School to edge Hand of Madison's 214.

Host Bristol Eastern was third at 191 and Fairfield Warde finished fourth in a 30-team field with 175.

"I am very proud of our guys," said coach Piel, "not so much that they won a state championship, but more over they came together when their teammate was down."

"Karl's whole world collapsed around him," he added. "The boys banded together and, even though it was devastating to lose Karl and his team points, they got the job done."

Conor Kirkegard outwrestled William Crisco of Hand, 6-2, to grab his 103-pound title.

Nick Amorando pinned Pharoah Eaton of Fairfield Warde at 2:19 to achieve his gold medal at 125 pounds.

Alex Thalassinos and Anthony Terlizzi lost respective title bouts by narrow 7-5 and 11-8 margins to bring home second-place points at 112 and 145 pounds.

Tyler Monroe and Andrew Golden fought their way through wrestlebacks to deliver important third-places points at 119 and 130 pounds.

Ian Curtis and Kameron Bradshaw battled to fourth-place finishes at 135 and 140 pounds.

All eight of those NMHS grapplers, the most in school history, qualified for the state open tournament today (Saturday), Feb. 25) and tomorrow at the New Haven Athletic Center,

Keenan Owens also contributed sixth-place points at 160 pounds.

"Today, I am proud to be a wrestling coach," reflected coach Piel, "to know that I was a part of something greater than state championships."

"I was a part of the maturity and growth of these fine young men," he remarked.

As the Green Wave takes its shot this weekend at adding the state open title to its collection, coach Piel was quick to note the roles played in the development of the program by a quintet of folks, four of whom were on hand to see last weekend's title run.

Ex-Green Wave wrestler Pat Burns and Daryl Daniels, both former NMHS head coaches and now volunteer assistants, were praised by the current head coach.

"Daryl and Pat were guys that I had the honor of coaching under," said coach Piel. "They deserve as much if not more credit."

Also drawing his plaudits were Mike Morris of New Milford, the former Danbury High coach and now a member of the national wrestling Hall of Fame, and team historians Erich and Neen Doubek, for their efforts with Mr. Morris starting and nurturing the town's feeder program, called the New Milford Wrestling Association.Beginning the state open competition, following are the top Green Wave grapplers' individual records:

Conor Kirkegard (38-0), Anthony Terlizzi (36-3), Nick Amorando (35-3), Alex Thalassinos (35-3), Tyler Monroe (34-8), Ian Curtis (33-9) and Andrew Golden (32-9).

Karl Bradshaw finished his senior campaign with a 36-2 record.

Norm Cummings