Following a loss in the 182-pound title match in the FCIAC finals by the slimmest of margins, Greenwich’s Andrew Nanai was on a mission at the Class LL Championships.
The Greenwich senior had to work some overtime, but his mission was indeed, accomplished.
Greenwich’s solid 10th-place finish in the team standings at the CIAC Class LL Championships was highlighted by Nanai’s first-place finish in the 182-pound bracket.
Nanai, one of the captains, edged Joseph Palmieri of Trumbull in the title match, taking a hard-fought 6-4 overtime decision. The showdown between Nanai and Palmieri was a rematch of the FCIAC final, which saw Palmieri register a 7-6 victory.
“After he beat me at FCIACs, I was livid,” Nanai told Hearst Connecticut Media following Saturday’s Class LL Championships at Trumbull. “It was probably the hardest week I’ve ever practiced. I was just 110 percent every day and working on all my moves. I was ready to go in the finals this time.”
It was apparent that Nanai was going to be tough to beat from the outset of the Class LL competition.
“Coming off a second place finish in the FCIAC tournament Andrew was fired up to have a good LL tournament,” GHS coach Jere Petersen said. “In the Round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals, he pinned his opponents and was very impressive.”
Receiving a first-round bye, the top-seeded Nanai pinned Ryan Callahan of Newtown in the Round of 16, then won by pinfall against eighth-seeded Mason McMahon from NFA in the quarterfinal-round (2:37).
Holding an 8-2 lead against Matthew Jacobson from Southington in the semifinal-round, Nanai earned a pinfall at the match’s 4:43 mark.
The 182-pound title matchup between Nanai and Palmieri was a back-and-forth duel. Nanai the first two points of the match with a takedown, then Palmieri tied it at 2-2 with a pair of escapes. Trailing 4-2 in the third period, Palmieri knotted the match at 4-4 with 23 seconds remaining. In overtime, Nanai, who placed third in the tournament last season, scored on a takedown to win the title.
“Andrew was really excited, it was the kind of match a wrestler lives for,” Petersen said. “He was really happy when he won, he let out a big yell and it took him a good half hour to calm down. It was his birthday on Friday, so it was a nice way for him to end the weekend.”
Up next for Nanai is the State Open Championships, which takes place Saturday at Floyd Little Athletic Center at Hillhouse High School in New Haven.
“I believe he is seeded third going into the tournament, which is a good spot for him,” Petersen said. “He has a good shot at qualifying for the New England Championships and getting on the top of the podium.”
Senior Jackson Blanchard and junior Emanuel Lai will also be making the trip to New Haven to compete in the State Open. Seeded third, Blanchard placed a solid third in the 195-pound class at the Class LL meet. He won his first two matches, before losing to Montez Osbey from Danbury by a 7-4 decision in the semifinals.
In the consolation bracket, Blanchard went 2-0, his second win coming against Caleb Chesanow from Southington in the third-place match, 4-3.
“Jackson doesn’t get down about the losses, the losses aren’t so heavy on him,” Petersen said. “They disappoint him of course, but he very stable and losses don’t hang on and interfere with his next matches.
He has the ability to process a loss and move on to the next match. In wrestle backs, he got after it and earned that third-place finish.”
A fourth-place finish by Lai (138) qualified him for the State Open. After losing to Logan Kovacs of Danbury in the Round of 16, he won his next several matches on his way to a fourth-place showing.
“Emanuel Lai was one of the most positive surprises in the whole tournament for us,” Petersen said. “He was the ninth seed in the tournament and lost a tough match to Danbury in the Round of 16, in a match in which he actually had the momentum in, even though it was a loss. He pinned his next two opponents and had some really good matches throughout the tournament. One of the key things with Emanuel is that he’s peaked at the right time.”
Nanai, Blanchard, Lai, senior Mitchell Grimes and sophomore Carlos DeWinter also claimed medals at the FCIAC Championships. Grimes, a senior captain, was hampered by a rib injury he sustained at the FCIAC meet, but managed to make it to the Class LL quarterfinals in the 132-pound division.
“I enjoy watching these guys out go there and compete,” Petersen said. “Our senior leadership has been great. They work hard every day in practice and that energy and excitement they bring each day inspires their teammates.”
Indeed, each match for the Cardinals’ competitors at the State Open should be a challenge.
“There are no cake walk matches at the State Open,” Petersen said. “Every match there is a toss-up. You have to wrestle hard and maintain that effort the full six minutes. I feel our guys have really good chances to qualify for New Englands.”