RHAM wrestling captain (l) senior Zackary Kanaitis and junior Jeremy Devine are both contending for a state championship this winter
Most wrestling programs in the state are struggling with the number of wrestlers this winter because of the COVID-cancellation a season ago. Some wrestlers quit the sport or decided not to come back after the pandemic wiped away an entire season.
That is not the case at RHAM High School where head coach Ryan Fitch has seen a boom in numbers, which has translated into 16 wins in their first 17 matches.
“We started with 30 kids this year. We’ve never had 30 at this school and our numbers will be up even more next year,” said Fitch, who credited the town’s youth wrestling program. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a struggle with kids in and out with COVID and missing practice, but it’s been great seeing the kids back out on the mat.”
The Raptors defeated Enfield 52-21 last Wednesday, Jan. 26 in front of a nearly packed house at RHAM High School.
After a year without competitive high school wrestling, Fitch---who is in his 26th season coaching at the high school---noted that he’s felt the energy level has returned, referencing a recent match against powerhouse Notre Dame, saying, “I don’t think I’ve seen more intensity or excitement from this team. It was nice to see.”
Senior captain Zackary Kanaitis is leading the team on and off the mat. Against Enfield, he defeated K’dyn McBride by decision (16-3).
“It’s just awesome being back,” said Kanaitis, who wrestles at 145 pounds. ”We had a tournament last Saturday and we wrestled really well and beat two top-ten teams in the state. Everybody is ready to go and people are showing up to see us.”
As a sophomore in 2020, Kanaitis won a state championship wrestling at 120 lbs., defeating Mason Concascia of Waterford to win the Class M title.
RHAM finished third overall as a team that same season.
Jeremy Devine finished fourth at the 2020 finals, wrestling at 126 pounds. Devine is now a junior and co-captain with Kanaitis.
Now wrestling at 160 pounds, Devine is mowing down opponents this year. Against Enfield, he quickly pinned Robert Moeller.
Devine said it took a few matches this year to “shake the rust off”, adding, “We have a great team this year. It took some preseason work with Zack and a couple of the other seniors, but now we’re back to full strength.”
Fitch referred to his captains as “the hardest working guys in the room.”
“It is a good family atmosphere but it all starts with the leaders of the team and I got two really good leaders this year. They work together well,” added Fitch. “Zack has grown immensely and he won a state championship a few years ago, but he wouldn’t have done it without Jeremy pushing him.”
One of the reasons for the success this year is a tremendous group of sophomores, who are excelling despite experiencing high school wrestling for the first time.
Sophomore Ben Fournier has stepped into a key role, wrestling at 106. Fitch called Fouriner a “stud” and also praised Michael Guerriero for his quick development.
Against Enfield, Fournier won by decision (7-0), Guerriero (113 lbs.) won by forfeit, and fellow sophomore Gavin Ploude (120 lbs.) won by decision.
Other Raptors to win were Claire Keene (126 lbs.), Borden Landers (170), Michael Marques (182), Zackary Syme (195), and Thomas Paneccasio (220).
The team is stacked from the top down, contending in each weight class.
“Everyone is really close,” Kanaitis said of the team, “We help each other out here or if we need help in school. Right now we are just prioritizing staying together as a team.”
Devine added, “We’re always laughing and having a good time. We have a lot of new guys that came out and tried the sport and loved it and in our last tournament everyone was in every match. That’s the key to why we are so successful this season.”
Monday, Feb. 1, the team celebrated Senior Night, Monday Feb. 1, by destroying Old Lyme 78-6. The team recognized six seniors; Kanaitis, Keene, Landers, Paneccasio, Emma Heslin, and Alexander Susman.
Next up is the Bacon Academy Bobcat Classic, which is scheduled for this Saturday, Feb. 5, at 9:00 a.m.
It’ll be a good measuring stick for the Raptors before the Class M championship starts on Feb. 18.
“The more opportunities we can get the better we are. Bacon is a great tournament and we haven't had a lot of tournaments this year,” added Fitch. “We are doing well with dual meets but now we get to find out what we have in a different atmosphere.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin