This winter, wrestling has undergone a renaissance in Haverhill.
The Haverhill High wrestling program was reinstated after a year's hiatus and sent wrestlers Parris Williams and Orlando Rojas to the state finals. The Whittier Regional High wrestling team also had a nice year, finishing with double digit wins despite not teaming up with the Haverhill High program, as they had in the past.
The foundation from which those two high school programs are built also had a successful season. The Haverhill Youth Wrestling program is sending 16 wrestlers to the Massachusetts Youth Wrestling Association State Championships at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough.
"It was a fantastic team this year," said Dave Guselli, one of the team's coaches. "I'm really going to miss these kids. These kids came to practice and worked hard every day. There were no discipline issues at all.''
Guselli enjoyed that this team had balance. Last year, the team had Rojas, who went on to win the gold medal at the New England Championships. This year there is no wrestler like Rojas, but there are several wrestlers who are working hard to learn and finding success.
"This is a very coachable and likable team," Guselli said. "They may not be as talented, but they are still such a great group to work with."
Guselli said the strength of this year's team was dual meets as opposed to tournaments. Haverhill finished in first place in the Northeast Regional Wrestling League for the second consecutive season.
The team finished in sixth place out of 54 clubs in the novice division (fifth and sixth grade) at the states last Sunday. The biggest bright spot was Jake Nicolosi, who took home the gold medal in the 79-pound division as a fourth grader wrestling against older kids.
"You could call (Nicolosi) a phenom," Guselli said. "I never think he is out of a match. Even if it looks like he is out of a match, I always think that he's going to win."
During the sectional meet, Nicolosi was down in one match 14-1 and would have lost if his opponent got to 16 points. With three seconds to go in the match, Nicolosi came out of nowhere to pin his opponent and pick up an incredible victory.
"He's way beyond his years," Guselli said. "He's got that killer instinct where he never doubts himself."
Nick Tejada won a bronze medal in the novice division while Everett Rickett, Sam Prescott and Shaun Mears also placed. Tejada, Nicolosi, Prescott, and Mears will advance to the New England Championships, which are to be held on March 10 and 11 in Nashua, N.H.
Haverhill also performed in the middle school division (seventh and eighth grade) and finished in seventh place out of 87 clubs participating. Jake Prescott and Reece Millington each won bronze medals, while Stefano Zarro finished in fifth place. All three wrestlers will be at the New England Championships in Derry, N.H., on March 18.
To finish in seventh place out of 87 squads is an achievement in itself, but it becomes even more noteworthy because Haverhill has just 24 participants in its middle school program. Many programs that they go up against can pick from a pool of 50 to 100 kids who can qualify for the states and they are traditionally the teams that do well in these tournaments.
Guselli hopes that three or four wrestlers combined from the two divisions can place at the New England Championships.
"It's hard because you don't know what the competition will be until you get there," he said. "It will really depend on the matchups to see how well our kids do."
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