CANTON – When Canton High wrestling Josh Bristol got his Warriors together in December to prepare for the season, he was missing eight wrestlers that had helped Canton win a North Central Connecticut Conference championship and finish sixth in Class S – their best finish since 2002.
Five wrestlers had graduated and three couldn’t come back for various reasons.
But this was a season of hard work and perseverance for the Warriors. At one point of the season, Canton had a 5-10 dual meet record but Canton finished strong with 10 victories in their last 11 matches to finish 15-11.
Canton finished second at the Shelton Invitational in December and second at the Lawless Invitational, held in their own gym. It was the first regular season tournament held in Canton since 1973.
After losing to Stafford by three points in early January, the Warriors won their final three matches in the NCCC to put themselves in position to contend for a league championship. One of those victories was a 45-27 win over Suffield/Windsor Locks.
Canton had three wrestlers that finished with over 35 wins this season and six with at least 25 wins. Sophomore Ethan Titus (106) and senior Austin Kilduff (170) each finished second in Class S as the Warriors finished ninth for their second consecutive top 10 finish.
“I can honestly say that this team came together better than I thought it would (in December),” Canton coach Josh Bristol said.
In the NCCC, the league championship is determined by points earned during the dual meet portion of the schedule and at the league tournament. Suffield/Windsor Locks, Canton and Stafford each finished 6-1 so the winner of the NCCC Tournament would take home the league championship.
Suffield/Windsor Locks had eight finalists and seven individual champions to win their first league title since 2007. A week later, the Wildcats would win their first-ever state championship by winning at the Class M meet.
Canton had eight finalists at the NCCC championship meet with Kilduff and sophomore Chris Dinneen (195) bringing home titles. Titus (106), junior Matt Webb (126), senior Jack Freedenberg (1232), sophomore Ryker Bahre (128), junior Nate Biega (160) and junior Connor Clement (182) each finished second.
At the Class S championship meet a week later, Titus and Kilduff each earned a spot in the finals while Webb finished third at 126.
Titus (39-7) had a pair of pins in his first two matches before finding himself tied with Abbott Tech’s Jake Defonce in the semifinals, 2-2 early in the third period. Titus escaped with 54 seconds remaining to take a one-point lead and got a clinching takedown with 12 seconds left. A two-point near fall gave Titus a 7-2 win and a berth in the finals.
“In neutral, he has a normal game plan but once he gets (wrestling) on the mat, he has an unorthodox style,” Bristol said. “I have seen him come from behind with pull out big moves, big reversals and (get) big back points when it is needed.”
In the final against top-seeded Kaden Ware of Killingly, Ware got the first two takedowns of the match to build a 4-1 lead after two periods. A third takedown with 1:38 remaining in the match stretched the lead to five points, 6-1. A late reversal cut that lead to three points, 6-3, but Titus ran out of time.
Kilduff (40-3) spent the season pinning people and it wasn’t much different in the Class S tournament. Kilduff won his first two matches by pin in 54 seconds and 1:52. His win in the quarterfinals was his 24th pin of the season and the 70th of his career. He is ranked No. 7 for pins in team history.
“Austin pinned his way through the season,” Bristol said. “That was his style. Once he took someone down, they weren’t getting back up.”
As a junior, he had 28 pins. This year, it was down to 24 pins with 10 forfeit. “A lot of people were ducking (avoiding) him,” Bristol said. However, one of the reasons Canton had a successful season was that those wrestlers who ducked Kilduff usually lost to junior Connor Clements at 182 pounds.
In the semifinals, Kilduff didn’t get the pin but he dominated in a 12-1 win over Killingly’s Jon Creswell. However, in the finals, top-seeded Ryan Power of Lyman Memorial/Windham Tech caught Kilduff on his back and won the Class S title with a pin in 2:29.
At 126, junior Matt Webb (36-7) moved into the semifinals with a pin and a 10-0 shutout victory before he dropped a 12-2 loss to Oxford’s Thomas Verdigione. Webb pinned Lyman’s Jeffrey Stobert in 2:10 to earn a spot in the consolation final.
Down by one point after two periods against Montville’s Quinn Bond, Webb got an escape with 1:57 left and a takedown with 1:32 remaining to grab a 3-1 lead. Bond escaped with 44 seconds left to cut the lead to one but Webb was able to elude takedown attempts from Bond to finish third.
Jack Freedenberg (132) went 3-3 at the Class S tournament to finish sixth and earn a trip to the State Open. Freedenberg lost his first match of the tournament but won three straight bouts in the consolation round to earn a medal.
He beat Northwestern’s Colden Williamson, 8-6, with a takedown 10 seconds into overtime to remain alive. He secured a medal with a 9-5 win over Terryville’s Levi Avolt. Freedenberg led by one, 6-5, with 44 seconds left before he escaped to extend the lead to two. He clinched the win with a takedown with seven seconds remaining.
Nate Biega (160) went 2-2 in the tournament, finishing one win shy of finishing among the top six and earning a medal. Ryker Bahre (138), Clement (182) and Dinneen (195) each won a match in the tournament.
By winning a medal, Titus, Webb, Freedenberg and Kilduff each earned a trip to the State Open tournament the following week in New Haven. Kilduff had to pass after hurting his shoulder in the championship loss to Powers.
With 40 wins, Kilduff is the first Canton wrestler with that many victories in a single season since Skylar Lang (44-3) in 2014.
Titus (106) went 2-2 at the State Open, opening with a 16-3 win over Avon’s Aidan Badhdassarian with five takedowns and two near falls. But Titus dropped a 4-0 decision in the quarterfinals to Trumbull’s Michael Longo, giving up a reversal early in the third period.
Titus beat Ridgefield’s Alex Blaha, 8-0 thanks to two takedowns, a reversal and a near fall. But he saw the season come to a close in a 4-1 loss to Haddam-Killingworth’s Cameron Hines. Up by one, Hines got a takedown with 1:31 remaining to secure the win.
Webb (126) went 1-2 at the State Open. His lone victory came in a 4-1 win over Tanish Joshi of Foran in the consolation round. Tied at 1-1, Webb got an escape and takedown with 40 seconds remaining to secure the win. Webb was eliminated when New Milford’s Max Piel got a takedown with 59 seconds left in the match for a 4-2 victory.
Freedenberg (132) lost his two matches at the Open by pin and in an 8-5 loss to Oxford’s Thomas Chappa in the consolation bracket. An escape from Freedenberg with 1:17 remaining cut Chappa’s lead to one but Chappa was able to get a takedown with 14 seconds remaining to clinch the victory.
NOTES: The last time that Canton had back-to-back top 10 finishes at the Class S championship meet was in 2001 (ninth place) and 2002 (fifth place). … Biega (26-10), Clement (27-10) and Dinneen (25-13) each finished with at least 25 victories this season. Seven wrestlers had at least 25 wins, led by Kilduff with 40 victories. … For just the second time in team history, the Warriors put together four consecutive winning seasons. The only other time this occurred was five straight winning seasons from 1993-97. Canton was 15-11 this winter, 20-3 in 2019, 12-9 in 2018 and 14-5 in 2017.