Slamming Into the Season: EHHS Wrestling is Back on the Mats

As the winter sports season kicks off, the EHHS Wrestling Team and Head Coach Mr. Mark Tolla have been training for their upcoming matches against wrestlers from all across the state. The team is led by its captains Frank Papa, Jake Ortiz, and Jason Toth, with help from fellow Coaches Rivellini, Borchert, and Marolla. They have a busy schedule this year and started off with a win at their first match on Wednesday, December 15th, 2021. The varsity seniors on the team are Ethar Al-Hawari, Zayuri Castenada, Isaac Florentino, Jake Ortiz, Harris Malik, Mike Pagan, Frank Papa, Kevin Phan, and Dylan Tavares. The returning wrestlers are eager to get back on the mat after their COVID-19 hiatus alongside their new teammates.

Photo Credit: Faith Papa, Wrestling Team Manager

Head Coach Mark Tolla has been coaching wrestling for approximately 20 years as of this season. He wrestled for Danbury High School for a number of years, and eventually went back to his roots, coaching the Danbury middle school team. He began coaching the EHHS Wrestling Team in 2014 alongside Coach Lou Rivellini, eventually becoming the head coach in 2018. According to Coach Tolla, wrestling has a lot more strategy than most people understand, it’s not just grabbing people and throwing them down. He says it requires learning the basics and building on the previously learned concepts. From Mr. Tolla’s perspective, it takes up to a full year to really nail down the basics of wrestling. Senior captain Frank Papa agrees, saying it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and effort to become a good wrestler. Their training is “Tough, tedious and sometimes fun. Our team demands excellence through great work.” Through his own work and dedication, Papa was the first captain named at the end of last season. He was elated to become captain, saying, “ [It] feels great to be the captain. It’s something I’ve wanted since I first joined the team and I believe my position was well deserved due to my hard work and loyalty.”

It can be tough to completely dedicate oneself to eating, sleeping, and breathing wrestling. Wrestling additionally consists of “making weight” in your weight class in order to wrestle. Many wrestlers have to employ different tactics of cutting or gaining weight before matches. People unfamiliar with wrestling do not generally understand how it works, so Coach Tolla explains it like this: “A varsity match consists of 14 weight classes. In order to qualify for that weight class, you must be at or below that weight. The lightest weight is 106 lbs. In order to be in the 106 lb. weight class, you have to be 106.00 lbs or under. The next weight class is 113.00, so if you’re 106.1 to 113.0, you’re in the 113.0 weight class. It can be an advantage to wrestle a weight class down.” While many believe that having a higher weight than another wrestler can guarantee a win, Coach Tolla says that grit and determination can help the underdog win matches too.

When it comes to the EHHS wrestling team, both Coach Tolla and Papa agree that the team has a very familial aspect and are extremely close to one another. They are always looking to recruit new wrestlers and help them get acclimated to the intense training sessions and new moves that are being implemented throughout the season. As many new wrestlers joined the team this year, Coach Tolla looked to his returning alumni to help guide them. He says returning seniors like Zayuri Castaneda, who was the State Champion for her division in 2020, offers lots of experience to the team and spectators should watch out for them on the mat. Tolla also highlights some of his juniors as well, like Dylan Snyder and Noah Franchi for their hard-working attitude and leadership, as well as newly appointed junior captain, Jason Toth. The underclassmen are also showing eagerness and the same hard-working spirit as their upperclassmen counterparts. Despite the hardships the team has faced since the pandemic, it has not stopped them from slamming back into their 2021-22 season.