MIDDLETOWN – They are teammates and fans of each other who just happen to be on opposite sides of wrestling’s spectrum.
Eli Cyr competes at 113 pounds, Nygell Smikle at 285. Cyr is a seasoned varsity competitor and captain; Smikle is a first-year wrestler with raw talent. Cyr is soft-spoken and measures himself when he speaks, while Smikle shoots from the hip.
Yet these two Middletown seniors share the one big thing every high school wrestler exhausts himself for before their career is up — an individual state championship.
In last week’s Class L meet, Cyr capped a dominant dual season by pinning Jake Aldi of Bristol Central in the final seconds of the first period, while Smikle pinned Xavier’s Jameel Salami at the 3:10 mark.
Cyr and Smikle move on to the State Open, where they will be joined by teammates/qualifiers Kalil Shabazz (second Class L, 126 pounds), Ian Mounts (sixth, 145), Jake Toth (sixth, 195) and Erik Dubon (third, 220).
“I’m really happy for Eli,” coach Mark Fong said this week before a Blue Dragons workout. “He put in the time to really improve and to reach his goal. One of his goals was to be a state champion.”
“Nygell is blessed with a lot of size and he’s very athletic for his size,” Fong said. “He’s quick, agile and has good body awareness, and all those things help him with his wrestling. At that weight, there is very limited technique, so it’s more about staying in position and executing in that position.”
Cyr and Smikle have experienced completely different journeys in getting to the top of the Class L podium.
After giving basketball a short-lived shot, Cyr joined Fong’s program as a sophomore and spent the season conditioning himself to be a wrestler, absorbing his coach’s knowledge and honing his technique. The sport also helped with self-discipline.
“I’ve grown a lot and matured a lot,” said Cyr, who has 100 varsity wins to his credit. “I’ve learned to handle myself better. I’ve grown up from a little kid and wrestling has helped me a lot with that, in school and other stuff.”
As a junior, Cyr finished fifth in the 106-pound division in Class L and did the same at the State Open, earning him the right to experience the New England championships, where he won a few matches.
From there, feeling additional motivation to improve, Cyr ramped up his offseason work — “It was non-stop and it helped me a lot,” he said — which includes year-round wrestling at the KT KIDZ club in Rocky Hill.
He also had the opportunity to compete in the USA Men’s Junior Greco-Roman National Championship in July in Fargo, North Dakota, and he reached his age group’s semifinal round at 106 pounds.
“Eli’s first year was a learning year, as far as our expectations as a program and learning to control his emotions,” Fong said. “His success as a junior set the tone for his offseason. He put in a lot of offseason work and traveled and got to experience a lot of different things.”
Smikle came to the mat fresh off an outstanding football season. He played on both the defensive and offensive lines and was a New Haven Register/GameTimeCT All-State and All-CCC selection.
By his admission, he should have wrestled as a junior. That year, he showed up with his brother for a Super Bowl spread that Fong hosted. “He just wanted the food,” Fong said.
Once football season was over, Smikle was all in.
“The first couple of matches, I didn’t have a feel for it,” Smikle recalled. “There was a lot of new stuff I was doing. My first match was against a kid I ended up pinning twice later in the season, so I slowly progressed and got better.”
Some of that help came from Fong’s network of devoted alumni.
“Nygell was fortunate enough to have a lot of alumni come in to work one-on-one with him, to make up a lot of ground for him,” he said. “It was a lot of one-on-one attention in practice and it’s helped. It has played a huge role in his success.”
While Smikle will go up against more experienced opponents this weekend, Cyr will be a top contender at the State Open at 113. He has earned his stripes the last two years either at, below or above his weight, having defeated Simsbury’s Ty Finn, the Class L champion at 120 pounds, Trumbull’s Travis Longo, the LL champ at 113, and against Xavier’s Michael Rapuano, the L champ at 106.
Longo was a 2018 state champion, beating Finn at 106 pounds in that final.
“I had wrestled Ty Finn three times and lost, so when I beat him at a tournament it gave me a lot of confidence in myself,” Cyr said. “Later on in the season I beat Travis and that had me feeling really good at that point.
“The State Open is just another stage where I’m excited to go and get after it. I really want to win the thing.”