From the moment Tyler Sung first stepped onto the wrestling mats at New Canaan High School, it was pretty clear the Rams had a star in their midst.
Four seasons later, Sung has not only rewritten the Rams’ record books, he’s about to embark on a journey to one of the top college programs in the country.
The New Canaan senior, who recently claimed his second straight New England championship, will be joining the wrestling program at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania later this year. Sung signed his national letter of intent in November.
The Mountain Hawks ranked 10th in the last NWCA Coaches Poll and have won three consecutive Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championships.
It’s certainly a high level of wrestling, but Sung is ready for another challenge.
“At first glance, it can be a little intimidating, but at the same time, it’s something that I really want to do and I’m excited for,” Sung said. “With Lehigh, I knew a lot of the guys who are already on the team as well as guys who are coming into the team, so it makes me fit into everything a lot more easily. It felt like family — that’s how they treated me when I went there.”
New Canaan coach Bobby Rushton said Sung has the potential to excel for the Mountain Hawks.
“Lehigh is a top program, they just won the EIWAs recently, and they’re impressive,” Rushton said. “You see so many guys from Connecticut doing well, and Tyler is just as good as those guys. If he stays focused and grinds it, we could be reading about him just how we’ve read about guys like (New Canaan’s) Michael Kraus (University of Virginia) in the lacrosse world. There’s a possibility for Tyler to do some great things there.”
Sung hooked up with the Lehigh program with the help of wrestling coach Jeff Buxton, a former coach at Blair Academy in New Jersey, who currently leads the Lehigh Valley Athletic Club. One of Buxton’s former wrestlers was Pat Santoro, who has coached Lehigh for 12 years, and he connected Sung and Santoro to get the ball rolling.
“He thought I’d be a great fit for the school, and he highly recommended it, so that was how it started,” Sung said. “We met up with Pat Santoro and it just took off from there. Outside of wrestling, what drew me to it was that they have a great business program and that’s where I want to fit in, with finance and anything business-related. That was a huge factor, and I liked the community in general.”
Sung’s resume while at New Canaan is written in gold.
Sung is the Rams’ all-time leader in wins with a 163-22 record and an .881 winning percentage. He’s won three FCIAC and Class L titles, and is a two-time State Open and New England champion.
When Sung defeated Aidan Faria of Cumberland, Mass., 6-3, for the 152-pound title at the New England meet on March 8, he joined an exclusive club, becoming just the 17th wrestler in Connecticut history to win multiple NE championships.
During the Class L tournament, Sung put on a tour de force, winning all four of his matches via pinfalls with a total time of two minutes and 45 seconds. That included a 36-second victory over Xavier’s Quinn Moynihan in the final.
Sung’s performance at that meet prompted Rushton to say “He’s the all-time greatest. As far as New Canaan history, he’s set the bar really high.”
Sung’s senior year has been an emotional one. He missed the majority of the regular season while recovering from knee surgery and then, as he neared his return, his mother, Carol Sung, passed away on Jan. 26.
When he began wrestling again in February, Sung said “With wrestling, when everything happened, that was the only place I wanted to be. That helps take everything away from me, all the pain and all that stuff. That’s where I can be myself and can just relax and feel good.”
He finished his senior year perfect at 20-0 with 12 pinfalls, and each win was powerful.
“You saw someone who is so passionate about a sport,” Rushton said. “You read about people putting the headgear on and going to a different place, and on the mat for him was where he was happiest. If you really watched him closely on his journey to New Englands, every win was a little bit extra special. You could see he was wrestling for more than himself this year.
“I think he feels like he honored his mom, his comeback and the happy ending in wrestling doesn’t make things go away, but it helps ease the pain and makes things a little bit better.”
Rushton has had an up-close look at Sung’s development since his freshman season. Rushton was an assistant to Paul Gallo for three years before taking over the head coaching spot this year, and has often trained opposite Sung.
“For me, having to wrestle him from freshman year to senior, the way he wrestles, you feel like you’re stuck to the mat. He’s probably the only kid I’ve wrestled that’s in high school who is a physical challenge,” Rushton said with a laugh.
Sung’s next step is Lehigh. He has not decided if he will compete in the National high school championships, which have been postponed, but already has an eye on the future with the Hawks and is ready to step up to that challenge.
“The first thing is going to be finding where I’m comfortable and where I’m going to be strongest,” Sung said. “From there, it’ll be trying to crack the lineup and just work for that. It’s one step at a time and don’t look past what I have to do next and take it from there. It’s small steps and just doing what I have to do.”