Photo: Belmont High Senior Justin Darling winning his match vs. Arlington.
By Max Dionne
In December, a 106 pound Belmont High School freshman named Ken Kitamura brought a ray of hope to a recently down-on-its-luck sports team; he pinned his Wellesley opponent in the first 14 seconds of the very first match of the season.
Two years removed from a winless 2016-2017 season and a one win 2017-2018 season, Belmont High School Wrestling this season fought its way back into respectability with a 7-7 record. Belmont’s success has its roots years in the making. The hard work and recruiting of young talent by coaches Andy MacAulay, Keith Dionne and Andrew McCahill – for the first time in years Belmont was able to send out a wrestler in each weight class at meets – rebuilt a program which had struggled since its glory days when the Baghdady family and a giant named Comeau ruled the mats for the Marauders.
Yet the season started under a dark cloud. Having lost starters Mohammed Abdel-Salem and Omer Rona to graduation, the team suffered a significant setback when senior captain Bryson Lipson, last year’s third-ranked 182 lbs wrestler in the state, was ruled out for the season with an ACL, joining last year’s only state competitor, Abe Lipson, also lost to injury
But through hard work, team effort, and aggressive wrestling, Belmont was able to leave a marker through its journey this season including upsetting longtime Middlesex League powerhouses Woburn (41-39) and Lexington (49-30) in December. After suffering a tough loss to Reading (57-24), it came back with four wins against two losses in back to back quad meets, highlighted by sophomore Tariqul (Abid) Islam fighting through an injury to provide the winning pin in nail-biter vs. Pembroke. Belmont then secured a 60-6 blowout over Southbridge and a 49-15 drubbing of Quincy to push its record to 7-6 before falling to a talented Arlington squad in the final meet of the year at Belmont Little Gym.
Senior Justin Darling (170 lbs) led the team throughout the season and established himself as the program’s star, securing a 12-6 record, with four of those losses to wrestlers ranked in the top six in the state. He placed at every tournament he competed this season including a second place finish at Belmont’s annual Brendan Grant Memorial Tournament. He was also the only Belmont wrestler to place (a fifth) in the highly competitive Woburn Invitational Tournament that brings in many of the state’s top teams and competitors.
On Feb. 9, Belmont competed in the MIAA Division 2 Metro Sectionals to decide which wrestler would compete in the D2 State Tournament on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16-17. The Marauders battled exceptionally well across all weight classes with most wrestlers winning at least a match. At the end of the day, Belmont finished in the top 10 at ninth, with 96 points. Leading the way, and advancing to State Tournament are second place finishers Darling and junior Max Dionne (152 lbs) and third place finisher Mohamood (Mody) Abdel-Salem (138 lbs). Also scoring at the sectionals were senior captain Kamyar Nouri (285 lbs) and Islam (113 lbs) in fifth place and Gustav Bauerle (160 lbs) with a sixth-place finish.
In the state Division 2 championships, Darling compiled a 4-2 record, defeating the same North Attleborough in his first and final match to take fifth place in the 170 division. After pinning his first opponent, Dionne lost a pair of bouts by a single point to bow out of the competition while Abdel-Salam gained a great deal of experience in his two matches.
While Belmont finished 37th with 16 points, the Marauders are certainly back in the fight.