Norwalk wrestler Brendan Gilchrist earned All-American honors while finishing as a runner-up at the National High School Coaches Association tournament in Virginia Beach in April.
Under normal circumstances in a typical school year, that statement would be impressive enough.
Given there was no high school wrestling in Connecticut this winter and Gilchrist went into the nationals, as Norwalk coach Job Fernandez put it, “essentially cold,” takes the achievement to another level.
“The fact that he had no consistent training prior to a national-level tournament makes his feat all the more impressive,” Fernandez said. “(It) speaks volumes to the level of wrestler, athlete and individual that he is.”
Gilchrist wrestled at 195 pounds in the sophomore bracket and went 4-1, reeling off four consecutive pinfalls to reach the final. Sonny Sasso of Nazareth (Pennsylvania) took the championship when he won a major decision over Gilchrist, 13-2, in the title bout on April 25.
“There was definitely a lot of great competition,” Gilchrist, who won the FCIAC’s 182-pound championship as a freshman last winter, said. “There were no scrubs there, definitely. It was all really, really good high-end wrestling. (Competing at Nationals) wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my coaches and family, and it was a really great experience being able to go down there, and get matches in in preparation for a big year next year.”
While CIAC guidelines associated with the pandemic limited Connecticut high school wrestlers to conditioning only this year, all five of Gilchrist’s national opponents came from states which held matches, including Pennsylvania, Idaho and Virginia.
After winning his first two matches with pins in 2:54 and 0:44, Gilchrist squared off with Brady Colbert of Virginia and was trailing 4-3 after two periods. Gilchrist rallied and pinned Colbert at 4:47.
“(Colbert) chose bottom (in the third) and Brendan is an absolute hammer on top,” Fernandez said.
In the semis, Gilchrist was again trailing, 2-0 after one period, when he went to a reversal and took Jacon Scheib of Pennsylvania to his back. Gilchrist won by pinfall at 2:37.
“Being behind woke me up a little,” Gilchrist said “A lot of these guys are bigger than me and they have a lot more experience, so I knew I needed to end the match quickly.”
Fernandez said Gilchrist doesn’t get distracted by the spotlight of big matches or the accomplishments of his opponents.
“When you’re in a big match, sometimes the magnitude of a situation can overwhelm you,” Fernandez said. “That is not the case for him. He came in as a freshman and was able to push that aside, deal with the individual in front of him and focus on the task at hand rather than thinking about what they’ve done.
“He wants to compete and he wants to find a way to win every single time, regardless of who’s in front of him. It’s obviously served him very well.”
Gilchrist has two more years remaining with the Bears’ football, wrestling and lacrosse teams, but has started looking at wrestling in college. He said it’s really about him choosing between football and wrestling.
“I’d definitely love to wrestle in college,” Gilchrist said. “D1 wrestling is my dream right now and I think it would be awesome to get there.”
As far as Fernandez is concerned, Gilchrist is “the full package.”
“He’s one of those people who seemingly has it all,” Fernandez said. “He’s not someone who thinks because he had success as a youth that he’s going to come in and walk through the competition. He’s just a great all-around kid. His work ethic is incredible and that’s why he’s been successful.”