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Tide aims to be a tough draw

Youth infusion has Concord thinking big

The Crimson Tide went 18-1 in dual meets last year and finished second at the Division I wrestling championships. It was forward progress for Concord, which was second in the D-I meet from 2005-09, but fell to fifth in 2010 and took third in 2011. Still, Coach Ham Munnell wasn’t thrilled with last season.

“It wasn’t the way I like to do it. Sometimes it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it, and I didn’t love it,” said Munnell, now in his 18th season with the team. “So we’re making an effort to go in a different direction with how we’re approaching competition and the season in general.”

If the Tide wrestlers lose that direction, they can just look at the sign Munnell posted in the school as soon as last season ended – “Get Tougher.” That’s the change Munnell wants to make from last year, what he’s been focused on during the preseason, and what the Tide wants to show starting in tonight’s season opener against Nashua North.

“I feel we’ve definitely put in the time and the hard work during the past few weeks. We’re running stairs, pushing ourselves in the weight room and in the practice room, and I see toughness in the team, and a lot of depth, which I didn’t always see the last few years,” said senior co-captain Ben Nawn. “(Tonight) will be a good test for us to prove our toughness, we’ve got a good Nashua North team coming in and I think it’s going to go down to the wire.”

Nawn (145 pounds) is one of eight returning varsity wrestlers along with seniors Vinny Benincasa (152, co-captain), Travis Reyes (220), Sean Hall (113), Dan Losacano (126), Brennan Haywood (132) and Nick Engel (160), and junior Walters Ndi (195). Ndi was a D-I state champ last year and took fourth in the Meet of Champions. Losacano was fourth in both the D-I and MOC meets, Nawn was fourth at D-I and sixth at MOC, Reyes was a D-I runner up, and Benincasa was a D-I and MOC runner up.

“Vinny is going to be a force to be reckoned with this year,” Nawn said. “He wants that state title.”

There are a few holes in the rest of the Concord lineup, but the Tide has a steady stream of talented and well-coached wrestlers coming up from Rundlett Middle School to help fill those holes. Munnell is full of praise for Rundlett Coach Steve Shippos and his staff, who have led the Blue Dukes to the last two state middle school championships. There are 32 freshmen and sophomores on the Concord roster, and almost all of them were on those title teams. Freshman Conor Stadnicki has earned a spot in tonight’s starting varsity lineup and he’s one of five freshmen on the Concord team who were middle school champs last year along with Cal Mackenzie, Ian Burdin, Austin Lavoie and Mark Hoyt, who was also second in New England.

“They’re good, they’re good kids and they’re fun,” Munnell said. “When you get 20 freshmen it brings a certain type of energy into the program.”

Channeling that energy in the right direction is easier when you have “great leaders who are really good wrestlers and good people,” which is how Munnell described his co-captains, Benincasa and Nawn.

“I just try to tell the freshmen that it may be a little different in high school, but it’s the same sport, you were state champs at Rundlett and you know how to wrestle,” Nawn said. “We have a lot of freshmen in the (varsity) room with us and they push themselves. They want to get better and they want to prove themselves so they can get under that light.”

With so much youth on the team, the Tide might take some early lumps, maybe even tonight against Nashua North. So this preseason Munnell has put extra emphasis on the journey rather than the destination.

“I’m tired about worrying about the wins and losses and you really don’t want the guys to worry about it. I think sometimes all you do is predict wins or losses and you forget to enjoy the competition,” Munnell said. “So we want them to worry about the process and how you prepare and how you compete and how you push through. If you do all those things, you’ll probably be okay.”

That doesn’t mean the Tide has lost sight of its perennial target, Timberlane. The Owls have won the last 13 D-I titles, nine straight MOC crowns and five consecutive New England championships. With most of its team back from last year, it’s going to be tough to knock Timberlane off the mountaintop, but that won’t stop Concord from trying.

“They’re going to be great, but we can’t worry about them and we can’t wait for them to get bad,” Munnell said. “We have to get good and hopefully give them a run for their money. That’s the goal.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or at, or via Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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