He may “only” be a freshman, but Newtown High School wrestler Anthony Falbo already has Class LL and State Open weight division championships under his belt. Sure, wrestling is perhaps the one and only physical athletic competition that offers a consistently equal playing field for head-to-head competitors because of the weight classes, but Falbo’s achievement is particularly impressive — as if a State Open crown isn’t enough for any athlete — because of where he falls in the lineup.
“It’s extremely remarkable because of the weight class he’s at,” said Newtown Coach Chris Bray, alluding to Falbo competing in the middle-weight division of 152 pounds.
It’s typical for a first-year high schooler to compete at 106, 113, 120, for example, but Falbo hits the mats for duals in the eighth heaviest division among the 14 weight classes. Although experiencing winning ways at 152 certainly isn’t unheard of for freshmen, success at this weight often means overcoming upperclassmen, Bray notes.
And although, yes, a weight class is a weight class, high school students who have a year or two of development over their counterparts often have a physical advantage, the Newtown coach says.
“It’s a much more mature body for a 17, 18-year-old than a 14, 15-year-old,” Bray notes.
Falbo, like any wrestler, is strong, and works extra hard to stay on top of his game. “He hits the weights so he’s helped his cause in that respect,” Bray said.
Falbo’s key to success despite often lining up against juniors and seniors: “I just go out there and pretend he’s in my grade,” he said.
Another key to Falbo’s winning ways is that he’s got plenty of experience, having wrestled since he was in second grade. He came up through the Newtown Youth Wrestling Association and has put countless hours into improving and honing skills. The 152-pound standout, however, says he doesn’t put any pressure on himself to win. “I just go out there and do my best,” he explains.
The first-year Newtown High grappler was one of the team’s nine representatives to reach the February 28–March 1 State Open at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven. He qualified by finishing among the top six in the Class LL state championships in Trumbull the week before. Falbo and junior teammate James Leuci, who grapples at 132, both won LL division titles to help the Nighthawks capture Newtown’s first team championship in the program’s history.
Leuci, who placed fourth, enjoyed wrestling at the Open and was pleased with his success. After a bye and two wins, Leuci lost in the quarterfinals before making some noise in the wrestle-backs of the double-elimination tourney.
Leuci said he was nervous in his State Open appearance a year ago and didn’t wrestle up to his ability. This time around — with support of a larger contingent of teammates and with the confidence of having claimed a state trophy — things went much better.
He’s clearly among the best grapplers in his division and, what’s more, he had recorded a regular-season win over South Windsor’s Conor Caffrey, who went on to win the 132 Open title. The State Open competition made for a great experience Leuci — but not just from a first-hand wrestling perspective.
“It was interesting, just from a viewer’s standpoint, to see all of the great wrestlers,” the junior said of his take on the Open while he was between matches.
Falbo and Leuci helped Newtown score 71.5 points to place ninth among 93 teams in the open. Danbury, with 141 points, won the title. Seven of Newtown’s nine Open qualifiers stand to return to the lineup next year, and Bray expects the extra year of experience to pay off such that his squad can challenge for the Open bragging rights.
Newtown will lose Open qualifiers Greg LaRussa (182) and Ryan Wagner (285) to graduation, but Ed Lovely (113), Luca Crudo (120), Matt Gonzalez (126), Forest Speed (170), and Andy Hubina (195) are all expected back in the mix. The roster includes some up-and-coming grapplers who didn’t qualify for the Open meet — yet that is — including another freshman in a bigger weight class: Tom Long, who has had his work cut out, facing seasoned high schoolers in the 220 division. Long and his teammates have gained valuable experience which stands to pay off for years to come.
This season continues for both Falbo and Leuci. They’ve qualified for the 50th Annual New England Interscholastic Wrestling Championships, which will be held, March 7 and 8 at the Providence Career and Technical Center in Providence, R.I.
Falbo likes that the season is still going. After all, what he likes best about wrestling “is being with my team, making it far with my team, and having good wrestling partners.”
One of them is Leuci, who tangled with Falbo during practice this week as they geared up for what stands to be their toughest competition to date.
“I’m interested to see how the competition fares compared to Connecticut,” said Leuci, who is also making his first New England meet appearance. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s the big wrestler’s ball.”