Photo: Belmont High wrestler Jaden O’Connor
Nearly 30 Belmont High wrestlers crowded on end of the on one end of the mat, cheering on senior Amir Nurhussien as he grappled with his Melrose opponant and is getting the better of him. Even if it was a junior varsity tilt, Nurhussien’s team mates couldn’t have been more involved if it was a final match for a tournament win.
With a slew of new converts – some having only wrestled for a grand total of 12 days – and returning vets, Belmont High wrestling is re-energizing its program that was a force in the 1990s with multiple state medalists and teams that could rack up the points in tournaments and meets.
“We’re still in a building phase right now but it’s growing fast,” said Craig Janjigian, Belmont’s new head coach. “Because if my memory serves me right, this is the largest turnout that we’ve had since I was [ a student] here.”
Belmont welcomed current Division 3 state champion Melrose to its new spacious, brightly lit home on the floor of the Wenner Field House. “And they showed to us they are state champs,” said Assistant Coach Andy MacAulay
“But there was no quit in us tonight,’ said MacAulay who stepped down from leading the program to take on an assistant role. “And that’s always what you got to have first before you can do anything else. And most of them were offensive minded, which I’m thrilled because a lot of kids in their first season aren’t. I’m very excited to see where we are in the middle of February.”
“Belmont does not shy away from competition,” said Janjigian.
This season, Belmont brings back its only state finalist from last year, senior Rowan Devitt at 113 lbs., who lost a close match against the Raiders, and a pair of outstanding grapplers: Andre “AJ” Sweet (132 lbs.) and Jaden O’Connor (145 lbs.)
In his match, Sweet was down 6-1 midway into the second period when he decided the time was right to end the match by pinning his competition.
Belmont’s dominating performance at the meet came from O’Connor as he went up 10-0 after one period with a series of quick combination moves. But towards the end of the second and up 12-3, O’Connor found himself with his back to the mat in danger of being pinned. But O’Connor reestablished his dominance, finishing the win on his back, exhausted.
The program’s future was on display last week with the JV wrestlers, many made up of those two week wonders. There were victories for the aforementioned Nurhussien and learning moments for others. The loudest noise from the stands came when Ava Svistunov (106), the sole girl on the team, strode into the circle. After controlling much of her match, Svistunov’s Melrose opponent took advantage of his upper body strength to pin her. But her performances have demonstrated to her coaches that she “is the real deal.”
With 7th and 8th graders attending classes in the same building beginning this coming September, it will allow the sport to establish a middle school program on site using the same facilities.
“That’s how I got my start was a youth program. It’s crucial to have a feeder program because you’re not exposed to wrestling like kids are to most other sports like basetball or football.,” said Janjigian. “We actually have a good amount of kids who are going to be successful this year. Success breeds success; it’s a positive feedback.”