The Danbury wrestling program had accomplished virtually everything entering this season, with the gym’s banners covering one wall to the next with honors.
2019 somehow raised the bar with perhaps the finest grappler the school has ever produced.
Ryan Jack wrote his name in the Danbury record books this past weekend, becoming the first from Clapboard Ridge to win a NHSCA national championship. He won all seven matches across three days in Virginia Beach, Va., in the 126-pound division while trailing for just one period along the way.
“It’s kind of crazy; it’s very hard to win that thing,” said Hatters coach Ricky Shook. “I’ve brought all my good guys there and no one ever won. He barely gave up anything all weekend; he wrestled really well. I’ve been going for 30 years and never won it.”
With about as much experience as possible — with older brother Kevin, current NC State freshman Jakob Camacho and a host of Hatters — in his corner, Jack rolled to the title.
“Having them in my corner — they have the same mentality as me — helped a lot,” Jack said. “They were saying that you know you’re the better one in this tournament, just stay focused the whole time and you’re good enough.”
Jack — who earned All-American honors for the third straight trip — was also named the Most Outstanding Wrestler in his year for the complete performance. He finished his season at 47-0 by winning a 12-5 decision over Zach Redding of Eastport-South Manor (N.Y.) in the finals.
“There are always nerves going on the big stage with everyone watching,” Jack said. “I didn’t want to lose in front of them so I put that behind me.”
The FCIAC, Class LL, State Open and New England champion is just a junior, leaving another year to possibly own every record that’s available for the Hatters. He’ll now get a short break before joining up with his club team Empire Wrestling Academy.
“It feels amazing,” Jack said of his crowning moment. “All these great wrestlers who came from Danbury; to be the first one feels good and I have some bragging rights now.”
Several other locals claimed All-American honors, too. Danbury native and Iona Prep junior A.J. Kovacs took second at 152 while Hatters teammate Kyle Fields was named All-American for a third straight season by taking fifth at 132.
Fields knocked off Timberlane’s Connor McGonagle in the quarterfinals; Fields lost to the Lehigh-bound senior in the New England finals in early March but responded under the brightest lights.
“We just made adjustments and (Fields) made adjustments,” Shook said. “We kept getting closer and finally we got it. He got two takedowns and was up 4-1 in the final period, and if we don’t get taken down twice there we’re good.”
Danbury won more than 30 matches as a team, having brought about 20 grapplers to the site, ending the season that produced a second New England title in three seasons.
New Milford senior Joanne Ortiz took third in the 103-pound division in the girls’ portion of the tournament.