Belmont’s Grappler Takes First Ever MIAA Girls’ Wrestling State Championship At 106 Lbs [VIDEO]

Photo: Belmont High’s Ava Svistunov in the first-ever finals of the MIAA D1 State Girls Wrestling Championship at 106 lbs.

When hearing last year there would likely be a separate state tournament for girls’ wrestling, Belmont High’s Ava Svistunov and Craig Janjigian, the team’s head coach, said they knew that if her progression continued in the sport, she would be topping the podium.

“We both said it, that I could win,” said Svistunov.

Svistunov with Belmont High Head Coach Craig Janjigian (left) and assistant Head Coach Andrew McCahill.

One year later, their shared vision came true as Svistunov placed her mark on Belmont High sports history, winning the Division 1 state championship at 106 lbs. at the inaugural MIAA Girls Wrestling tournament.

The 15-year-old sophomore dominated the final against Claire Roney of Wellesley High, shutting out the top seed, 7-0, in the Saturday, Feb. 17 match at Newton South High School.

“It’s a big deal, probably,” said Svistunov, still contemplating what she had done five minutes earlier.

“[Svistunov] got the job done. She dominated this tournement,” said Janjigian, who also brought three male wrestlers to the championships.

Belmont High’s Ava Svistunov won the first-ever MIAA D1 State Girls Wrestling Championship finals at 106 lbs.

Svistunov will next wrestle in the Massachusetts Girls’ All-State tourney in Salem on Saturday, Feb. 20, when the top grapplers from across the three divisions will meet to determine the best wrestlers in each of a dozen weight groups.

It was an impressive run through the tourney for Svistunov, who started early Saturday morning by pinning Jasin Abdella of Leominster in 37 seconds in the opening period. Svistunov would have her most difficult challenge in the semifinals against second seed Abigail Muller, also from Leominster. Muller would go up 2-0 early on a quick counter that landed Svistunov on her back. She would recover and score two points on a reversal just before the period ended. The second (of three 2-minute) period saw Svistunov take down Muller to go up 4-2. And for the next five minutes of the contest, Svistunov would use her weight to secure Muller – who would finish third – to the mat and counter every attempt the increasingly exhausted Leominster wrestler made to escape her opponent’s grasp.

The finals against Roney saw Svistunov being efficient and relentless, going up 4-0 early in the match and never looking back, employing the same punishing ground game she employed with Muller. It may not have been the most action-packed of the finals, but it was certainly the most effective. When the official ended the bout, Svistunov flew into the arms of her coaches and then went to greet her mother mat-side.

“Wonderful!” said Svistunov’s mother after the finals. “If I say anything else, I’ll start crying.”

Pair Of Historic Wins For Belmont High Grapplers At Annual Brendan Grant Wrestling Tourney [VIDEO]

Photo: Ava Suistunov and Jaden O’Connor with their first place medals at the 2024 Brendan Grant Memorial Wrestling Tournament

A pair of Belmont High wrestlers made history by winning their weight divisions at the Brendan Grant Memorial Tournament held on Saturday, Jan. 6.

Sophomore Ava Suistunov powered through the competitors to win the 106 lbs. weight division in the inaugural girls’ division competition. Wrestling since she was in kindergarten, Suistunov came to the finals having pinned her first two opponents before scoring early against Jailyn Edmonds of Boston’s Joshua Quincy Upper School, giving up just a single point in her 6-1 victory.

“It was good. Tough competition, obviously,” said Suistunov. “I didn’t give up, and I stuck to my plan in the matches,” she said, as she is looking forward to competing in the postseason.

Senior Jaden O’Connor became the first Belmont wrestler in the long history of the competition to win consecutive Brendan Grant titles as he prevailed at 150 lbs., defeating Seamus Olohan from Catholic Memorial via a pin in the second stanza. Last year, O’Connor took the 145-pound crown.

“It really feels good because last year a lot of people told me the first time was a fluke … and to win the whole tournament again is [great],” O’Connor said.

According to Casey Grant, this year’s contest attracted nearly 600 athletes, the most wrestlers to participate in the annual event over 14 hours in the Wenner Field House.

Belmont first-year student Eva Cohen was Belmont’s third finalist in the meet. A football team member who also plays the sousaphone in the band, Cohen took the final distance, losing to Logan Murray of Woburn, 11-1. The Ava/Eva partnership secured third place in the girls’ high school team competition with 44 points.

The Marauders’ varsity scorers included O’Connor, Luke Coelho (3rd place at 132 lbs.), Andre Sweet (4th at 138 lbs.), and Michael Wessman (4th at 120 lbs.), racking up 92 points for 11th place in the team event.

Belmont’s junior varsity squad placed a strong fourth, with Darmir Neal winning the 153.6 lbs. category, Ben Warinner (197.6 lbs.) and Shayan Rostamnezhad (135.9) taking home seconds, and Fergus Williams placing third in the 153.6 weight division.

With Participation Climbing, Belmont High Wrestling Sees A Growing Future

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.”

Belmont Wrestling Is Up Off The Mat, Sends Three Grapplers To States

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. 

Sports: Young, Learning, Determined; Belmont Wrestling Laying a Solid Foundation

.Photo: Belmont High Head Wrestling Coach Ivan Lozano (right) and assistant Matt Curaj                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

“Shoot!” yelled Belmont High Head Wrestling Coach Ivan Lozano to the Belmont wrestler struggling to get an advantage over his Watertown competitor in the small gym at the Wenner Field House at Belmont High last week.

Lozano was directing his young freshman wrestler to dive toward the opponent’s legs, grab them and then dictate the action. 

But whether it was inexperience, fatigue or just a lack of confidence, Lozano’s wrestler couldn’t commit to the bread-and-butter move. Soon after, the Watertown wrestler got on top of the Marauder and … “bang!” the referee slammed his hand to the mat indicating a pin against the Belmont grappler.

After the match, Lozano, and his assistant Matt Curran spent a moment with their defeated charge to review what he did well and leave him with some encouraging words on improving after another tough loss in a season that can best be called a learning experience.

While there is no getting over that his wrestlers still have some way to go “you always have to be positive because when he hears negative things on the mat, he’s going to be thinking negative,” said Lozano.

There has been an enormous number of times the opponents arm was raised in victory this season. So be it, said Lozano, because his and Curran’s vision for the team is one with a single long-range goal: rebuild the sport that had fallen on hard times since he was a wrestler at Belmont High only five years ago.

Lozano wrestled with good competitors on a Belmont High team that included a state champion, Sami Baghdady.

And today, Belmont wrestling is his squad to guide.

“I love this team,” said Lozano who graduated from Belmont in 2011 and from UMass Boston in 2015. “It really is a blessing that so many freshmen who came out and committed themselves to the sport,” he said.

While nearly the entire team had no exposure to high school/collegiate-style wrestling that relies on strength and guile to pin an opponent, “they are coming here with the right mindset, ready to work,” said Curren graduated in 2014 from New Hampshire and 2010 from Arlington High.

“It’s better to have a new group of freshmen because they are coming to learn the basics. We’ve got them for four years,” said Curren. “As long as they are working hard, having fun and learning the sport, that’s all that matters now.”

There have been some encouraging results from recent meets. At the annual Brendan Grant tournament held at the Wenner in January, Belmont secured a pair of podium places as freshmen Bryson Lipson and Omer Rona finished fifth and sixth respectfully in their weight classes. 

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Lipson, who came away with a bit of a bent nose at the end of the night, won two matches  before falling to the eventual champion at 152 pounds.

“I had one great match that went into overtime, sudden death. It was a good feeling to win that way although it did tire me out,” said Lipson.

Rona used a quite unique strategy in his victory, allowing his first-round opponent from Wakefield in the 195-pound category to “let him throw me around” until the final 30 seconds before turning the tables on him.

“He was guaranteed to win because he was up by ten points. But he was so tired trying to pin me that I got around him. He tried to get up but because he had no energy left I went for an arm bar (a favorite of UFC star Rhonda Rousey) and got the pin,” said Rona.

[When told of Omer’s “technique,” Belmont Selectman Chair Sami Baghdady – who was an outstanding high school wrestler and whose namesake was a state champion as a freshman for Belmont – advised Rona to “find a less unorthodox approach if he wants to survive long in the sport.”]

It is Lipson, Rona and the dozen or so wrestlers who just want to participate and improve gives the Belmont Wrestling brain trust confidence in what they are doing. 

“It’s a very young team which means they have to come her every day to practice which they have been doing. It’s about fine tuning their technique for the next two to three years and then you will see our freshmen now be on top,” said Lozano, who relies on his small senior class to keep the “kids” motivated” through the growing pains of an inexperienced but determined team. 

While the season is close to ending, Lozano and Curren will ask half a dozen wrestlers to commit to off-season training with them and area coaches.

“That will keep the sport going, as we improve, so will the number of kids who will come out for our sport,” Lozano noted.

Both coaches fully believe that wrestling’s future in Belmont “is more than promising. We actually see us achieving some realistic goals,” said Lozano.

“It’s only up from here,” said Curren.

As for the wrestlers, the question is with so many good sports teams to try out for, why choose to wrestle. 


“Because it’s one of the, if not the most intense physical sports there is. I’ll keep working hard and practicing and try to get better,” Lipson said.

“It’s a sport I don’t have to worry about a team or a ball, I just have to worry about the other guy and myself. It’s all very simplistic,” said Rona, a 9th grader who enjoys physics.

So, how do you use physics in wrestling?

“You don’t,” said Rona.

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