Improved team looks toward State Tourney

MANCHESTER - It's that time of year. The winter sports season is winding down and several teams are gearing up for the playoffs and a championship run.

The Burr and Burton Academy wrestling team is no different. With the season coming to a close, they have set their sights on the State Tournament.

"We sat down and we talked [about] going into States with a positive attitude. I think they realize how [they need to] just go in and wrestle tough," said BBA coach Zach Monforte following a team practice on Monday. "I know that the kids are looking forward to the varsity State Tournament and just having the opportunity to wrestle there."

Just over three weeks ago, more than 100 people were on hand at the E. H. Henry Gymnasium for a historic event - the first home wrestling tournament in BBA history.

The program began last year as a club sport and initially generated some buzz with about 30 students showing interest in the sport. By the end of the season though, only six remained. As the program nears the end of its second year - its first as a varsity sport - there are 16 student athletes on the team.

It is one of many signs of forward progress that the program has been experiencing over the course of the season. The others have come from the athletes themselves who have continued to improve.

Last weekend, BBA wrestled Mount Anthony Union High School, Bellows Falls, Fair Haven and John Stark N.H.

Although they lost the meet against MAU - who has won 25 consecutive state championships - 79-0, Monforte said there were some matches that were encouraging.

One, he said, was the match between BBA's Chris Pelk and MAU's Jacob Woodside in the 160 pound weight class. Pelk lost the match 12-5, but Monforte said there were some positive signs.

"The third period was great," Monforte said. "I don't believe he let up a point in the third period."

Two of the other highlights of the meet against MAU, Monforte said, were Sean Armstrong's two matches - one which he lost to Rachel Hale and the other to Tabor Watson.

Despite their losses to MAU, Monforte saw some progress.

"We're doing good stuff," Monforte said. "And it was better than expected."

Against John Stark N.H., the Bulldogs won the meet 51-21. During the meet BBA wrestlers compiled three pins - worth six team points each - and a major decision for four team points to help pick up the win.

Armstrong's match against Bellows Falls' Brendan Kendall - who had beaten Armstrong three times throughout the course of the season - was also something that Monforte considered one of the highlights of the meet.

"Sean wrestled him again at the Jamboree and he won," said Monforte. "He pinned him in the third period. That was a great match."

In the meet against Fair Haven, Monforte indicated that he saw encouraging signs from BBA's Bjorn Boutan - who wrestles in the 132 pound weight class - when he squared off against Fair Haven's Kaleb Larock.

"Bjorn lost the match, but the reason it stood out to me was because the kid he wrestled is a tough wrestler," said Monforte. "It was just nonstop. Bjorn ended up getting pinned in period 3. When you break it down into three periods it was an all out brawl."

Boutan had faced Larock on two occasions prior to the Jamboree last Saturday, getting pinned in the first period both times.

The sport is beginning to gain some traction both among the student body at Burr and Burton and throughout the community. Monforte said youth wrestling leagues - which will eventually serve as a feeder program for the high school - have been established.

Though the pieces are in place for the program to be even more successful in the future and become a greater part of the sports culture throughout the community, Monforte said the success that the program has had thus far would not have been possible without the student athletes.

"They've really set the standard for establishing wrestling at BBA," said Monforte. "[And hav ing] success in the community, that's what it's all about."

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