Bright Future for Bulldogs
FITCHBURG -- The end-of-season banquet can be an emotional time for any team, as it signifies both the culmination of a hard-fought campaign and also new beginnings on the horizon, with a chance to chase even more success the following year.
For the Monty Tech wrestling squad, Friday’s banquet was even more special.
Headed into the winter, the Bulldogs announced that they would be dedicating their season to the memory of former assistant coach John Applin, who died last spring. And what a year it was, as the Bulldogs surpassed all expectations and left themselves poised for a bright future over the next few years.
For starters, the Bulldogs saw seven freshman earn varsity letters: Isaic Paulino, Colin Dudek, Lucas Stefano, Marc Andrews, Xavien Natal, Iden Klipic and Mazious Newton. I, for one, would love to see all these grapplers grow to a new level in the offseason and potentially become world-destroyers. Who knows, could Monty Tech have seven captains in three years when they’re all seniors? If they all improve and are leaders, it could get too hard to just pick a few from the list of candidates.
We could also see a large amount of 100-match winners for the Bulldogs over the next few seasons. Currently only one wrestler, Bobby Monks, is on the 100-wins banner for Monty Tech, with 119 victories, but with Paulino at 50 wins, Natal at 33 and Dudek at 23, his school record could be in jeopardy.
I’m sure he’d be quite proud to see it though. Heck, if all seven of these freshmen work hard in the offseason, who knows what could happen with all their career records? This sport gives you what you put in, that’s for sure.
Monty Tech head coach Kieron Smith had high praise for every freshman wrestler, as he had a speech for all wrestlers during their acceptance of their letters.
About Paulino, Smith stated, “Maybe unlike any wrestler I’ve had ever had when it came to his technique.”
Of Dudek, Smith said, “For a freshman in one of the toughest weight classes each year in the state (152 pounds), he held his own and competed and was only one match away from placing top-six as a freshman. That’s impressive, and if he works hard, I see big things for him.”
About Stefano, who was not in attendance because he was performing in a play, Smith said, “I was so proud of his improvement throughout the season, and that’s all you want to see as a coach.”
About Andrews, Smith stated, ”(He) always had a smile on his face after every match, and that’s great to see. I hope he always keeps smiling for us.”
“This kid had an amazing season for us, and with 33 wins he’d have the record for us, if it wasn’t for one other wrestler,” Smith joked about Natal as Natal playfully darted his eyes to Paulino.
About Klipic, Smith said, “This kid had a tough season for us at the beginning, but at the end he started giving it back and getting aggressive, and if he just keeps doing that it will be good for him.”
Of Newton, Smith said, “He has an insane amount of athleticism and you don’t usually see guys doing the things he does at his weight, and I think if he gets down to the 220-pound or 195-pound weight class, he could be a scary opponent in years to come.”
Receiving his third varsity letter for wrestling was junior Brent Landry. Smith praised Landry, saying, ”(He) has been improving throughout his career for us and earned 22 wins this season. (He) has been a real leader this season, and he’s going to be our leader next year. That may seem like a lot of pressure, but I believe in him.”
Junior Christian Colon also received a certificate for competing with the Bulldogs this season.
After the letters were presented, the season awards were handed out. Earning the Most-Improved Award was Lucas Stefano, Stefano struggled early in the season and was a back-up for most of the schedule, but after a starter had to leave the team, Stefano came into the Central Mass. Division 2 sectional tournament and earned two pins to push himself to a sixth-place medal.
The Outstanding Wrestler Award went to Paulino.
“There’s really no argument against this,” Smith said. “He had one of the best seasons, if not the best season ever, for a Monty Tech wrestler as only a freshman. He earned 50 wins, won the Athol tournament, took second at Big Red, eighth at Lowell Holidays.”
At that point Paulino’s brother, Jonah Paulino, playfully corrected Smith with a chirp of “seventh,” and Smith corrected himself before continuing to praise Isaic Paulino.
“A state vocational title and the state vocational Outstanding Wrestler Award,” Smith continued. “Was a sectional champion, my first one. Took third at Division 2 states, our highest-placing ever at that tournament, and then took eighth at all-states, our first wrestler to ever place at that tournament. So I’m proud to give (the award) to him.”
The Coach Caisse award, dedicated to John Caisse, the coach who started the Monty Tech wrestling program, coaching the team in the late-1980s and early ’90s, goes to the wrestler who has shown great sportsmanship and leadership for the Monty Tech wrestling program. This year, it went to Marc Andrews.
“When you have a kid who never stops smiling like Andrews, it’s hard to not give it to a kid like that,” Smith said.
Assistant Coach Colin O’Shaugnessy also chimed in, saying, “When you have a kid like that as a coach, that smiling almost confuses you at first. Wrestling isn’t an easy sport, so it’s surprising, but after a month you realize that’s just who he is.”
The final award of the night was a new addition this year, and perhaps the most meaningful, given the team’s admiration for their former assistant coach.
While presenting the John Applin Iron Man Award, Smith explained what made the moment so special.
“John Applin was an assistant wrestling coach for Monty Tech for eight years,” Smith said. “He was also a husband, father and grandfather, and a good man, and my friend. In the spring of 2018 our wrestling team lost John, and this season has been in honor of what he gave to the wrestling community of Monty Tech and Massachusetts in general.
“This award, the John Applin Iron Man Award, has been named after him in his honor. John held many traits that we as wrestlers and men all wish to emulate. Three that stick out to me when describing John are passion, resilience and heart. Passion for the sport and helping people in the sport, and people in general. Resilience to work through pain and stress both on the mat and in your outside life until the very bitter end, and heart, knowing that in the end, win or lose, you gave it all.
“This award is bestowed to the student-athlete who best represents these qualities that John held so very well inside himself, and with the 2018-2019 John Applin Iron Man Award and the inaugural award, I couldn’t think of any better wrestler to give this award to than Brent Landry.”
This award exchange gave way to an outpouring of emotion, as Landry and Smith embraced, both holding back tears, before Smith said to Landry, “I know what he meant to you.”
The end of the awards banquet was jovial, as wrestlers and families alike exited amid laughter and excited talk of offseason work, tournaments and clubs. Though the winter season was now truly over, through the dedication of the Bulldogs’ athletes, it was as though the 2019-20 campaign had already begun.