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Grappling With Success: Hartford Athletes Giving BF a Boost

  • Hartford's Nolan Viens, facing camera, tries to pin Patrick Alibuda during practice at Bellows Falls Union High School in Bellows Falls, Vt., on January 9, 2014. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Hartford's Nolan Viens, facing camera, tries to pin Patrick Alibuda during practice at Bellows Falls Union High School in Bellows Falls, Vt., on January 9, 2014. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cameron Viens, left, of Hartford High, wrestles with Austin Taylor, right, of Bellows Falls, during team practice at Bellows Falls Union High School in Bellows Falls, Vt., on January 9, 2014. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Cameron Viens, left, of Hartford High, wrestles with Austin Taylor, right, of Bellows Falls, during team practice at Bellows Falls Union High School in Bellows Falls, Vt., on January 9, 2014. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford's Nolan Viens, facing camera, tries to pin Patrick Alibuda during practice at Bellows Falls Union High School in Bellows Falls, Vt., on January 9, 2014. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Cameron Viens, left, of Hartford High, wrestles with Austin Taylor, right, of Bellows Falls, during team practice at Bellows Falls Union High School in Bellows Falls, Vt., on January 9, 2014. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Westminster, Vt. — Thanks to strong youth-level participation over the years from this season’s incoming freshman class, Bellows Falls Union High wrestling coach Claude Weyant has been anticipating the wealth of depth projected for his use this winter for quite some time. Thanks to some exceptionally strong participation from Hartford High athletes, the prospects are even brighter.

Now in their third year combining with Hurricane wrestlers as part of the Vermont Principals Association’s member-to-member program, the Terriers boast 15 grapplers this season, the most ever.

Able to compete for the first time in all but the lightest weight class (103 pounds), Bellows Falls-Hartford is faring well in both dual meets and tournaments this year.

Its success is a product of the team’s dedication to the sport and fortuitous numbers, with an eager class of seven freshmen joining with Hartford’s devoted upperclassmen. Canes seniors Nolan Viens and Patrick Libuda and Hartford juniors Steve Cerrone and Austin Viens have all been part of things for the last three years, enduring the 90-minute round-trip commute to Bellows Falls nearly every weekday. The commitment is much appreciated by Weyant, whose son, Cyle, was a two-time individual state champion for BF before graduating in 2011.

“We’ve been building to this season for years, even going back to before (Hartford) was part of the picture,” said Claude Weyant, whose freshman grapplers were trained in the Rockingham Area Wrestling (RAW) organization as elementary schoolers and junior high students. “Now with Hartford and with how much improvement those guys have shown, a lot has come together for us. It’s a dream team, by our standards.”

The Terriers are led by Hartford senior Nolan Viens, an elite 145-pound competitor who’s 24-0 this season and 166-22 for his career. A stalky, speedy presence on the mat, Viens was a state runner-up as a sophomore in the 135-pound weight class before winning the 145-pound division last season and placing second it the New England championships a week later.

No one has come close to knocking off Viens this season, even when he missed weight at a meet before Christmas and was bumped up two classes to 170.

“I expect him to roll through Vermont this year. He’s got his sights set on winning New Englands, and I think he has a really good chance,” said Weyant. “He’s got good balance and moves great. To wrestle well, you really have to react quickly to what your opponent is doing, and he’s very good at going with the flow, for lack of a better term. Plus, he’s got all the things that all strong athletes need: strength, speed and agility.”

Viens, who plans to wrestle at Sacred Heart University as a college freshman next season, showed vast improvement during his high school freshman season three years ago. Often pitted against Cyle Weyant at practice, Viens took his lumps and shaped them into nuggets of knowledge and progress.

“At the beginning of the year, Cyle hammered him, but by the end of the season they were neck-and-neck,” Claude Weyant said. “It was because Nolan is very smart and always looking to improve his technique. When he makes mistakes, he understands them and figures different things out. He’s a really fun wrestler to watch.”

Libuda — Viens’ classmate and fellow running back on the Hartford High football team — has also progressed well. He placed third in Vermont in the 152-pound weight class last season, earning a trip to New Englands, and has won all but a pair of matches this season.

“Patrick is a really tough kid. Last year, he lost at states and then came back and beat the same guy (at New Englands),” Claude Weyant said. “He wrestles a lot with Nolan at practice and picks up on a lot of things.”

Cerrone (138) and Austin Viens (113) are both looking to improve this year after top-five placements at states each of the last two seasons. Cerrone, who wrestled in the 132-pound class as a freshman, has been a state runner-up the last two years.

BF-Hartford’s seven freshmen, including Hartford’s Cameron Viens, help fill six weight classes, with Kevin Gooslant and Brady Illingworth sharing the load at 160.

The Terriers still have to forfeit the 103 weight class each match, but their nearly complete roster is helping them fare better than ever at dual meets and tournaments.

“It’s really nice having the depth that we do, because all of the younger guys are getting great experience and, even if they’re losing, we know we’ve got a lot of solid wrestlers in the later divisions,” Claude Weyant said. “All in all, we’re having a lot of fun this year.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.