New Milford dominates SWC wrestling championships

NEW MILFORD — No team in the South-West Conference could beat the New Milford High School wrestling team during the regular season — and none came close at the SWC championships on Saturday.

The Green Wave placed wrestlers in the top four in 13 out of 14 weight classes, put 10 in the finals and captured seven individual titles to claim its third consecutive conference crown and its 11th in the last 12 years. New Milford scored 249.5 points, while Barlow placed second with 141, and Pomperaug finished third with 106.

“This is a special group for me,” said New Milford coach Chris Piel, who had coached many of his current wrestlers when they were youngsters as a coach with the New Milford Youth Wrestling program. “It’s awesome to see them finish off like they are.”

New Milford senior 132-pounder Colin Lindner became only the sixth wrestler in the 23-year history of the tournament to win four SWC titles.

“With all the work I’ve put in, it’s nice to see it pay off,” Lindner said. “It feels good.”

Fellow seniors Brandon Leonard (120), Mel Ortiz (126) and Tyler Schultz (138) all won their third straight SWC titles, while Luke Schell (113), Kyle Fabich (182) and Julian Reza (195) all won their first.

“I’m really proud of everybody here,” Leonard said. “Everybody wrestled well, and everybody left their heart on the mat, and everybody knew that, for all the seniors we have, this would be the last time we’d be wrestling at the high school. We wanted to go out with a win.”

Other wrestlers who won titles were Josh Brault (106), Ben Coppock (152) and Carson LiCastri (170) of Barlow, Curtis Fedorko (145) of Masuk, Tim Cocchiola (160) of Pomperaug, Nick Cote (220) of Bethel and Sergio Ferreira (285) of Stratford.

Fedorko and Ortiz were named co-Most Outstanding Wrestlers, an award Ortiz won for the third straight year. Ortiz was also honored with the Outstanding Career Award.

“I still have some things I need to work on that I saw in the match I just wrestled,” Ortiz said. “I’m really happy to have my team here all doing well. That’s the best part.”

New Milford junior Joanne Ortiz, Mel’s sister, placed second at 106, making her the first female finalist in SWC tournament history.

“I’m proud of her,” the elder Ortiz said. “She has things to work on, everyone does, but it was a good day.”

For the Wave, Vincent Rago (145) and Mike Haggerty (220) both took runner-up honors, Alex Richardson (170) placed third, and Richie Morrell (152) and Jacob Colley (160) both placed fourth. New Milford didn’t enter a wrestler in the 285-pound division.

New Milford has won the SWC title 15 times in the 23-year history of the league. The Wave had previously won five titles in the old Western Connecticut Conference, the SWC’s predecessor.

Emerging power

Barlow took home runner-up honors from the SWC tournament for the first time ever. In addition to their three champions, the Falcons claimed five other medals, with Charlie Prather (113) taking second, Ben El-Wardany (220) and Ben Bai (285) finishing third, and Alex Klein Wassink, Barlow (145) and Shayne Ortiz (182) placing fourth.

“We’ve been slowly trying to get more and more kids, especially from the youth ranks to come up,” said Barlow coach Philip LiCastri, in his seventh season at the helm of the Falcons, the first six of which were spent as a co-op team. “We had two freshmen (Brault and Prather) come out and get into the finals, and that’s the first time that’s happened since I’ve been coaching.”

Earlier this year, Coppock had become the third wrestler in Barlow history to reach 100 career wins, joining 2016 graduate Emmett LiCastri — Philip’s son and Carson’s older brother — and 2003 graduate Justin Unger.

“He’s been a great captain and a great leader for us,” the coach said of Coppock. “He’s really been an inspiration to the rest of the team.”;