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Senior captain Cody McHenry and the Branford wrestling team turned in the best campaign in program history this year. McHenry holds the Hornets’ program records for career wins (144) and wins in a season with (50). (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior captain Justin Osler was one of three Branford wrestlers to notch their 100th victory during the 2019-’20 season. Osler was the lone junior to reach that mark. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Minsok Lee finished his career with 112 wins to his credit, while earning All-State and Academic All-State honors on the campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior captain AJ Robinson reached 90 career wins this season, including a third-place finish at the Class M State Championship. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The Branford wrestling team posted one of its best seasons in program history last year, and the Hornets followed that up with an even better campaign this winter. Branford notched a dual-meet record of 26-1 during the regular season, including a mark of 5-1 in SCC Division 1 to place second place behind Xavier. The Hornets then went on an impressive postseason run that included a third-place finish at the SCC Championship and a fourth-place performance at the Class M State Championship. After that, Branford was represented by six wrestlers at the State Open. To cap off the season, senior captain Cody McHenry recorded three wins at the New England Championship.
Head Coach Jesse Hurlburt felt extremely proud about Branford’s accomplishments and received an impressive acknowledgment in his own right when he was named the SCC Coach of the Year. Following last year’s success, it was hard to imagine that the Hornets could take it to another level this season, but that’s exactly what they did.
“It was an historic season. It broke almost every record that we set, and we had a lot of individual kids break school records as well,” Coach Hurlburt said. “It was a true commitment to the team that led to that success.”
McHenry led the way in terms of individual accomplishments. The senior captain set Branford’s record for career wins with 144, including 50 victories this season, also a program record. McHenry’s three wins at New Englands also tied for most in program history at the regional meet. McHenry, who wrestled in the 195-pound weight class, won the SCC title, came in fifth place at states, and finished fourth at the Open. Coach Hurlburt marveled at McHenry’s talents, as well as his commitment to greatness.
“As a wrestler, you could argue Cody is the best in Branford history. He’s one of the top that I’ve coached. He’s dedicated and disciplined. He’s in tremendous shape and works out all year long,” said Hurlburt. “He’s really nice off the mat, but on the mat, he’s downright mean. He knows how to use his body to compete. He’s tremendous technically. It comes with years of consistent offseason work.”
McHenry was part of a quartet of excellent captains that included senior Minsok Lee, junior AJ Robinson, and junior Justin Osler. Coach Hurlburt felt grateful to his captains for promoting the type of team atmosphere that led to success.
“They worked well as a team. Cody and Minsok were captains last year. They were bumped around weight classes to help the team in previous years, and they never complained. They just said they’d do whatever the team needs,” Hurlburt said. “We saw the same things from Justin and AJ this year. The underclassmen looked up to them. They were true team players.”
Lee was the runner-up at both SCCs and states in the 285-pound division. The senior finished his career with a 113 victories, putting him in the top 10 in team history. In addition to earning All-State honors, Lee also made the Academic All-State Team. Coach Hurlburt could always count on Lee for an outstanding effort in a difficult weight class.
“Minsok’s extremely impressive. He’s also going to West Point next year. He weighs about 230 pounds and heavyweight is 285. He gave up 10 to 50 pounds on average in every match,” said Hurlburt. “He always wanted to wrestle the best competition he could find. He had two wins as a freshman and was able to break 100 career wins. It’s an impressive feat for every wrestler. In the practice room, he was always willing to take kids under his wing and show them how to be successful.”
Osler was the third Hornet to eclipse the 100-win mark this year, and he did it as a junior. Osler earned the 182-pound division title at SCCs for the second-straight year, after which he grabbed the gold at states. Coach Hurlburt believes that Osler’s relentless endurance helps him pile up the victories.
“Justin was a standout middle school wrestler, and he’s kept it going at the high school level. He’s the first kid to reach 100 wins as a junior,” Hurlburt said. “He’s an animal on the mat. He doesn’t get tired, and he’s going all-out at every opportunity.”
Fellow junior captain Robinson also had a solid season that included a third-place finish at states in the 160-pound division. Robinson also reached the quarterfinal round at the State Open. Hurlburt respects the focus that Robinson brings to each match and every practice.
“AJ’s a consistent workhorse. It doesn’t matter if he’s winning or losing by 14—he wrestles until the whistle blows, and that’s helped him win a lot,” said Hurlburt. “AJ made 90 wins in three years. That comes from consistent work over time.”
Other standout juniors for the Hornets were Peyton Tracy and Spencer Lyon, who wrestled at 145 and 152, respectively. Both athletes contributed with plenty of victories for Branford and also provided solid leadership for the club’s younger wrestlers.
“Both of them had close to 30 wins. They really turned the corner on maturity. Not that they were ever immature, but they were big in helping out underclassmen,” Coach Hurlburt said. “Peyton has had 20-plus wins the past three seasons, and Spencer was our most improved wrestler last year. It’s just a testament to everything that we teach.”
Junior Luke Volpe contributed a great deal in the early part of the year, but had his season cut short due to an injury. Hurlburt said that Volpe was on pace for an outstanding season in the 138-pound weight class.
“Luke Volpe was having a tremendous season at 18-3, but he dislocated his elbow at the Shoreline Scuffle. He had already beaten kids who took home medals at states,” said Hurlburt. “He came into this season with a fire. It was really nice to see him develop as an athlete and a leader himself.”
The Hornets also featured some standout sophomores this season, including Patrick Zdunek (132) and Jace Korab (120).
“Patrick was just one win shy of doubling his wins from last year. He’s a quiet kid that keeps his head down and puts in the work to be successful,” Hurlburt said. “Jace has high aspirations and has the drive to be the best. He’s amassed close to 60 wins. He’s always been technically sound, but this year, he really grown. He even won a match at the State Open. Both of them surpassed 30 wins as sophomores.”
As for the freshmen class, there were several grapplers who the Hornets depended on this season. Two of the most successful freshmen on the squad were Jake Elpi (106) and Carter Burgess (113).
“Jake weighs about 97 pounds, and he had a tremendous season with 20-plus wins. That’s great in it’s own right, but to do that giving up 10 pounds is really impressive,” said Hurlburt. “Carter was one match from taking home a state medal. He had 27 wins this year. He’s another technically sound kid, always working hard to get better. The freshman class as a whole stepped up for us.”
Looking ahead, it’s hard to imagine the Hornets improving on this year’s achievements, but some people might have said the same thing last season. Hurlburt knows that he and assistant coaches Dan DiBisceglie and Matt Castelot have a program that can develop fantastic wrestlers.
“It’s almost an impossible to replace kids like Cody and Minsok. You’re almost guaranteed to get 16 points from them. It’s really hard to find a heavyweight like Minsok, and the historic career of Cody will be hard to match, too,” Hurlburt said. “The future does look bright, though. We had 15 freshmen on the team this year, and there are another 10-plus kids coming from Walsh.”
While the Hornets had a stellar season by all measures, Coach Hurlburt wants even more for Branford’s wrestlers. Hurlburt said that there were plenty of lessons to be learned both on and off the mat this year.
“Wrestling the best competition, win or lose, is going to make you better. We really preach that it’s about the mindset of wrestling on and off the mat,” said Hurlburt. “You have to win and lose like a champion. We want kids to take that mindset and apply that to school and life. Wrestling is more than a sport. It’s the way you live.”
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