Plagued by the shortcomings that come with a scant roster, the Darien wrestling team finished its year with a 23rd place finish out of 27 schools at the Class L meet last weekend at Bristol Central High School.
Seven members of the Blue Wave squad competed in the state competition, including seniors Colton Appleby, Tyler Hill and David Ziga. The three wrestlers were the final remaining members of Darien's 2011 squad that went 20-3 and broke numerous state records.
"They were a part of the program when we were very, very successful," said coach Joe Vano. "They got a concept of what it's like to be successful during their sophomore year. Their junior and senior year, they helped the team out and got kids involved. Overall, they were successful both on the mat and as a team."
Appleby, Hill and Ziga will all leave Darien High School in the top five for total team wins recorded during an individual wrestling career. After their stellar freshman campaign, the trio watched the number of teammates around them shrink and, consequently, the amount of team success that could be had on the mat.
In fact over this season, the Blue Wave gave up between 24 and 30 points in each meet because they were forced to forfeit matches in weight classes that they could not produce a wrestler for. As a result, Darien finished with a 5-26 overall record.
Vano, who completed his 19th year leading the program, admitted that competing with a small roster made for a rather difficult season. However, he also says that the team's record does not quite indicate the kind of year his team truly put forth.
"When you're losing every time, it is tough," Vano said. "The kids don't focus on their individual match and can lose there too. But the next day I would always sit down with them and say `Take away the forfeits and see where we were.'"
Removing all opponent points created by Darien forfeits and the team record improves to 13-18.
Individually, Hill was the only Blue Wave wrestler to place in the FCIAC tournament, registering a fifth-place finish in the 145-pound division. Ziga recorded a pin in the first round of conference competition, but later faltered in consolation rounds. Overall, Appleby finished with the best regular season mark of 31-10.
Meanwhile, Stovall opened his year with zero wins and 13 losses, before winning the 220-pound class at the Valley of Champions tournament on Jan. 25. After two early-round wins, Stovall pinned Joseph Corkindale of Holy Cross in 45 seconds to claim first-place. Darien finished seventh out of the 10 competing schools.
Looking ahead, Vano is hopeful.
Next season, all non-graduating members of the team project to return. Furthermore, the local youth program will be started up once again and should provide a pipeline of young wrestling talent. Whether or not another group will come along to match the career accomplishments of Appleby, Hill and Ziga remains to be seen.
However, there is no doubt that Blue Wave wrestling will continue to compete and make up for their lack of strength in numbers with a steely strength in resolve.