The Day

Whalers’ Santana-Liriano shaped up to win heavyweigh­t title


Killingly — New London has carried a mock championsh­ip belt to wrestling matches this season with the school's trademark “NL” in green letters on the nameplate.

Whalers junior Henry Santana-Liriano earned the right to have the belt draped over his shoulder after winning the heavyweigh­t title at Saturday's Eastern Connecticu­t Conference tournament, the first time he had wrestled at the tournament.

It wasn't lack of ability that kept Santana-Liriano from wrestling at the tournament before — it was himself.

“I was overweight,” Santana-Liriano said. “I was 300 pounds last year.”

The maximum weight for heavyweigh­ts in Connecticu­t is 285.

New London head coach Mike Gorton said, “He liked wrestling. He was really good when we wrestled with him in practice but he just wouldn't lose weight.”

The Whalers had plenty of new faces this season but put in the work during the offseason to finish in a three-way tie with Norwich Free Academy and the East Lyme/Norwich Tech co-op to share the ECC Division I title. They last won in 2019, sharing it with NFA.

Gorton was able to get some of his wrestlers to go to the Whaling City Athletic Club in the offseason to train in jiu-jitsu to better prepare themselves for this season. Santana-Liriano didn't take part but found another way to whip himself into shape.

“I was playing baseball,” he said. “All the cardio that we did in the baseball season, that got me right.”

Santana-Liriano was seeded third at the ECC tournament and faced No. 1 Naszier Matthews of Fitch in the final. Santana-Liriano was nearly put on his back twice in the second period before pinning Matthews in 3 minutes, 22 seconds.

Santana-Liriano was the lowest seed to win an ECC title.

“He made a decision that, ‘I don't want to be over 300 pounds anymore,'” Gorton said. “I didn't think he was going to wrestle (this season).

“He's such a nice kid. He's so helpful and he's just a great person. … I'm going to start crying thinking

about him. And you could see his best friends, everybody, wanted (him to win) so bad, you know? That was a magic moment.”

Santana-Liriano said, “I was not expecting to win but, hey, it’s wrestling. Anything can happen. Just go out there and don’t give up and it will pay off eventually.”

Santana-Liriano and the Whalers will compete at the CIAC Class M championsh­ips at Law in Milford this weekend.

• • • •

There might not have been a bigger surprise champion at the ECC tournament then Lincoln Carlson, a sophomore from the East Lyme/Norwich Tech co-op.

Even Carlson was surprised.

“I did not think I was going to win,” Carlson said after winning the 160-pound title. “I was hoping for maybe fourth (or) third. I’m very happy about it.”

Carlson wasn’t expecting to win because of the presence of Jack Richardson. The Killingly senior was the 145-pound champion at last season’s ECC tournament and New England championsh­ip. He began the weekend 37-0 and the top seed at 160.

Fourth-seeded Aaron Palacios-Mendoza of Windham stunned Richardson in the semifinals by pinning him at 4:28. He was way behind, 13-5, before catching Richardson for the pin.

Carlson earned a 7-5 decision over Palacios-Mendoza.

“I was really nervous because he’s a good wrestler,” Carlson said. “He’s just strong and my shots weren’t taking him down like I expected.”

Carlson trailed 3-1 headed into the third period.

“I knew that I had to wrestle smarter because I knew he was going to counter off my shots,” Carlson said.

•••• Minutes had passed after Brayden

Soleau won the 182-pound championsh­ip and the East Lyme sophomore was still trying to catch his breath.

“I do have asthma,” Soleau said. “I’ve been struggling with it since I was little. I’m pushing through. I’m also not in the best condition. I was sick for like two weeks. I haven’t been able to recover lately. … I’m still kind of tired from that.

“I had something like bronchitis in the beginning of the year. I feel like I got it again.”

Soleau has hardly been slowed by illness. The top seed entered the tournament 34-1. He won his first two matches by pin in a combined time of 1:59 and followed with an 8-6 decision over NFA’s Zaire Wallace in the finals.

Soleau wrestled the third period from underneath admitted being winded.

“I was thinking about using my inhaler but I was like, ‘screw it,’” Soleau said.

“‘I’m just going to push through and see how it goes but honestly, my inhaler hasn’t been helping too much.”

Soleau was one of 10 top seeds to win a title.


Senior Jesse Costley from the Griswold/Wheeler co-op got defensive to win the 145-pound title.

Costley was down a point to Lucas Gannotti of Waterford late in the second period when Gannotti shot in and grabbed Costley’s right leg.

Costley countered by floating over Gannotti, grabbed the latter’s right arm, put him on his back and pinned him moments later at 3:53.

“You just keeping wrestling,” Costley said.

“You don’t think about what they’re doing. You think about what you’re doing and you just go out there and look for a score.

“I don’t even think half the time. I just counter. You can’t think, man. You start thinking and the other person

is already doing.”

Gannotti beat Costley in last year’s 132 third-place final, 5-4.


NFA’s Jaiden James continued his successful senior year by decisionin­g Lyman Memorial-Windham Tech’s Hunter Sanchez, 11-3, to defend his 120-pound title

James improved to 26-1.

“It feels good,” James said about repeating.

“I’m ready for (this) week. I got a loss at the beginning of the season. I’m ready to avenge myself.”

James lost a majority decision to Isaac Quiles of East Hartford, 15-2 on Jan. 14. Both will wrestle at the Class LL championsh­ips at Trumbull.

Quiles won the 120-pound title at the Central Connecticu­t Conference tournament on Feb. 3. He won the Class LL 106-pound championsh­ip last season and was runner-up at the State Open.

James was fourth at Class LL last year.


NFA senior Tommy Brunelli had the fastest pin in the finals when he beat Killingly’s Alex Potapskiy in 54 seconds at 152 to win his first ECC title.

Brunelli placed third at 145 last season.

“Going up a weight class, not cutting (weight) at all,” Brunelli said. “It’s been a challenge.”

Brunelli didn’t make it look challengin­g as he won all three of his matches in a combined time of 8:32, the second-fastest time among the champions who won all their matches by pin.

Windham’s Malachi Fowler was the fastest as he won his three matches in a combined time of 4:20 while successful­ly defending his title at 195.


Lyman Memorial/Windham Tech junior Cameron Sammarco, like Costley, came from behind to win at 170.

Sammarco, the top seed, trailed 4-0 early in the third period when he hit Waterford’s Devon Powers with a fatman roll and put him on his back for a pin at 4:50.

“That’s all I was going for,” Sammarco said of the move.

“He went for my leg and I picked his ankle right to his back and stuck him from there.”

 ?? DANA JENSEN/THE DAY ?? New London’s Henry Santana-Liriano and Fitch’s Nastier Matthews compete during their 285 lbs wrestling tournament championsh­ip title match on Saturday at Killingly High School.
DANA JENSEN/THE DAY New London’s Henry Santana-Liriano and Fitch’s Nastier Matthews compete during their 285 lbs wrestling tournament championsh­ip title match on Saturday at Killingly High School.

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