METHUEN, Mass., March 8, 2020 – Watch Avon High wrestler Chris Gens during a tournament and you won’t see too many smiles. The senior is focused on the task at hand. Even after a win, his hand gets raised and there isn’t any celebrating because he knows there is another match, another challenge to meet.
But after Gens won the State Open championship at 220 pounds in New Haven, he was bursting. He couldn’t stop smiling after his 3-0 win over Danbury’s DJ Donovan in the championship match to become the first Falcon wrestler in 17 years (2003) to capture a State Open title.
Head coach John McLaughlin was grinning ear to ear but joked that he would have to get Gens to refocus for the New England championships the following weekend.
McLaughlin never got that chance. Gens missed four days of school leading up to the New England tournament with the flu. He got himself to school on Friday so he would be eligible to compete and got through a workout.
“I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to wrestle,” Gens said.
But he was here on Saturday morning ready to go. Gens won a pair of matches in overtime, including a quarterfinal victory over Rhode Island champion Cam Bailey of Bishop Hendricken, to earn a third place finish at the 2020 New England championships.
Gens dropped his first match of the season in the semifinals when Maine champion Jeffrey Worster of Oxford Hills got a decisive takedown with 33 seconds left in a 5-3 victory. Gens won his final two matches of the tournament including a 13-4 win over Donovan in the consolation final.
Gens is the sixth wrestler in school history to come home with a medal from the New England championships. The last wrestler to achieve that was Este Lara, who was second at 119 in 2007.
“I thought I would wrestle in the tournament, go out there and do the best I could and I did,” Gens said. “I still had my wind. I felt the same. I said I would go down fighting.”
Gens (47-1) opened the tournament with a 5-2 win over Lucas Olson, a junior from Longmeadow, Mass., who was sixth at the recent Massachusetts All-State tournament. Two-point takedowns in the first and second period but Gens ahead 4-2 after two of three periods.
Gens’ match with Bailey in the quarterfinals was battle from start to finish. It was tied 3-3 after one period and 5-5 after two periods. Gens took a 6-5 lead with a one-point escape when Bailey intentionally let Gens go to try for a match-winning takedown. Gens was penalized one point for stalling with 1:09 left to tie the match.
“It was down to the last drop of sweat, fighting, fighting for six minutes and then it went to OT,” Gens said.
In overtime, Gens got a takedown with 12 seconds gone to secure the victory.
“The competition here is the best in New England he hasn’t seen competition like this on a consistent basis all year,” McLaughlin said. “It is good for him. He really stepped up to the plate. In OT (against Bailey), he had a nice underhook to a far knee pick which was great.”
That win earned Gens some rest, too. As always, the tournament was held over two days. But instead of a Friday and Saturday schedule, day one was on Saturday with wrestling through the quarterfinal round. On a Friday and Saturday schedule, a wrestler could compete in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final in a few hours.
Gens got time to rest up for Sunday’s semifinal contest against Worster, who has won more than 200 career matches. Worster got the first takedown but Gens battled back and it was tied 2-2 after two periods.
In the third period, Worster escaped five seconds into the period to take a 3-2 lead. Both wrestlers worked for the takedown but it was Worster getting a takedown with 33 seconds left for a 5-2 lead.
Gens didn’t fold in the consolation round, wrestling tough.
He had a three-point lead over New Hampshire’s Griffin Ostrom of Merrimack High after two periods. In the third period, Ostrom escaped to cut the lead to two with 1:23 left in the bout. Six seconds later, Ostrom got a takedown to tie the bout at 3-3.
Gens escaped with 50 seconds left to take a 4-3 lead. But he was penalized one point for sprawling backward when Ostrom tried for a takedown as the clock ran out sending the bout in overtime.
Gens scowled and then laughed. He went right back to work, taking Ostrom down seven seconds in OT to move into the consolation final with a 6-4 OT victory.
In a rematch of last week’s State Open final, Gens dominated with four takedowns and a pair of two-point near falls to beat Donovan, 13-4 and finish third.
It was a great finish for Gens, who won his first 45 matches of the season, won the CCC Small Division title, captured his second consecutive Class M championship and his first Open crown.
In the New England championship match at 220, Worster fell to defending New England champion Beau Dillon of Salem, N.H., 3-2.