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Avon’s Chris Gens wins State Open championship

Avon’s Chris Gens battles with Danbury’s D.J. Donovan in the State Open finals at 220 pounds. Gens prevailed, 3-0 to remain undefeated and capture his first State Open title.

NEW HAVEN, February 29, 2020 – There hasn’t been a steady stream of challenging wrestlers for Avon High senior Chris Gens to compete against this year.

But at Saturday’s State Open wrestling championships, it didn’t take long for Gens to be challenged at 220 pounds.

He got taken down early in the quarterfinals by Glastonbury’s Kirill Fioletov but rallied for the win. In the semifinals, Gen used a three-point near fall with 13 seconds left in the second period to beat Southington’s Jacob Vecchio, 4-1.

And it was tough in the championship match against Danbury’s D.J. Donovan but Gens remained poised to become just the second Avon wrestler in the last 17 years to win a State Open championship with a 3-0 victory over Donovan at the Floyd Little Athletic Center on the campus of Hillhouse High.

Gens (43-0) is the just eighth Avon High wrestler to win a State Open championship and the first since Este Lara did it in 2007. Before that, Adam Tolk won an Open title for the Falcons in 2003.

“All year he has been used to pinning kids,” Avon coach John McLaughlin said. “We talked about at this level, you have to be content with a 3-1 or a 1-0 victory.”

Wrestling Donovan, the Class LL champion from Danbury, was no easy feat for Gens, a solid, strong wrestler. “That was pretty tough,” Gens said. “He was strong. Probably the strongest kids I’ve wrestled this year.”

Gens got a two-point takedown with 1:01 left in the first period and added an escape early in the third period for a 3-0 lead.

Avon’s Chris Gens gets airborne in his semifinal win over Southington’s Jacob Vecchio at the State Open in New Haven.

The takedown came when Donovan aggressively went after a takedown against Gens, who was able to counter and slip behind for the 2-0 lead. “That counter wrestling was great,” McLaughlin said. “Chris is so hard to score on. His strength is ridiculous. His positioning in ridiculous. A lot of times, kids get desperate to shoot and they open themselves up to (moves) that (Chris) can finish.”

In the quarterfinals, Fioletov took Gens down early in the first period for a 2-0 lead. Gens tied it with a reversal but Fioletov took a 3-2 lead with an escape. Gens got a takedown and near fall with nine seconds left in the first period to take a 6-3 lead. He finished with a 7-3 victory.

“Everyone is tough here but it’s been good,” McLaughlin said. “He was losing in the quarterfinals and that was good because he showed poise. Every time he is in a tough match, he learns to get through it which is good.”

Gens, who won his second straight Class M championship a week ago, advances to the New England championships next weekend in Meuthen, Massachusetts.

Winning the State Open was a long-time goal of his and he was feeling the pressure.

“To be honest, it was more challenging mentally,” he said. “Of course, it is challenging physically because it is wrestling. With the mental battle, there are two sides in your head. One is doubt. The other side says, yes, you can do this. It’s a constant battle and it wears you down. Thank God, this is over.”

Avon’s Chris Gens celebrates with head coach John McLaughlin after Saturday’s State Open championship.

He laughed and had a big smile. He was asked about next weekend’s New England championships. “Oh that is just fun,” he said, relishing and savoring the moment of winning a state championship. In that moment, that future tournament was in the future.

It will be another challenge for Gens at the New England championships. The only Avon wrestler to win a New England title was Shawn Gethin, who won at 119 pounds in 1997. Este Lara (119) was the only Avon wrestler to make a final, finishing second in 2007.

Lara is the most recent medalist for the Falcons at the New England championship. The first wrestler to win a New England championship medal for Avon was current coach John McLaughlin, who was third at 152 pounds in 1989.

Avon had three other wrestlers compete at the State Open. Freshman Jonah Weber (113) went 2-2 with two wins in the consolation round including a technical fall over Jeremiah Irizzary of East Lyme/Norwich Tech, 17-2, before he was eliminated.

Aidan Baghdasssarian (106) went 1-2 while Zac Coleman (126) went 0-2.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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