STRATFORD–When Sean Sloat arrived at Bunnell High School to take over the Bulldogs wrestling program, he had seven students on his roster and a simple goal in mind.
“One of my first goals was to just grow the team, basically,” Sloat said.
Consider the first step done.
The Bulldogs have close to 20 wrestlers in the program this winter, including a host of raw freshmen who are proving themselves to have the heart and fight to build around going into the future.
In fact, at this point of the season, half of the weight classes are filled with freshmen wrestlers.
“Sometimes, it can be frustrating because they’re freshmen and there’s not a lot of experience,” Sloat admitted. “But I just have to take a step back and see how far we’ve come and how it sets us up for the future.”
Last weekend, the Bulldogs proved how far they’ve come when they took part in a multi-team meet at Jonathan Law High School.
Bunnell went 4-1 on the day and had a pair of wrestlers go 5-0, as well.
“The year before I got here, I don’t think they won a dual match and my first year we only won two or three,” said Sloat.
The Bulldogs beat Fairfield Prep (50-28), Harding (54-21), East Catholic (40-33) and Jonathan Law (39-36) to highlight the day.
Two of the team leaders—senior CJ Falotico (heavyweight) and Julian Dematteo (145) both went undefeated. Junior Tyree Hall (220 pounds) won four matches.
Another senior, Mike Amorando, is currently out injured, but will be at 126 pounds when he returns.
The talented freshmen group is led by Ryan McLaughlin at 113 pounds, who epitomizes the potential fight in the the Bulldog newcomers.
“With him, I like to talk about his heart,” Sloat said. “He’ll be in a match and get down (in the score) and instead of being negative and losing, he’ll find a way to fight back. He doesn’t have the technique yet, but he fights.”
His twin brother Luke wrestlers in a higher weight class while Nick DeManche (182) and Brandon Toscano (195) both paint a bright future.
All have ju-jitsu experience which helps them on the mat, Sloat said.
Also on the roster are: Seniors Ariel Alvarez (132) and Sean Romero (170), juniors Frank Mahar (152) and Nick Petrino (160); sophomores James Depina (138), Craig Pressley (152), and Matt Garcia (170); and freshmen Connor Souza (120), Devin Rudd (120), Sebastian Rodriguez (145), Angelo Ferranti (152), Spenser Tote (182) and Jimmy Galpin (182).
Sloat has proven his dedication to the program in his short two-plus year tenure at Bunnell.
A former electric engineer, Sloat switched his careers and became a teacher. He did his student-teaching at Bunnell before he took the wrestling job.
“That when it started. I learned about the athletic culture here,” Sloat said. “There had been other openings for coaches, but when I saw this one I applied.”
A former wrestler at Trumbull High School, Sloat didn’t complete in college—but he didn’t stop wrestling.
As an unattached wrestler, he won the 2013 Northeast Regional Greco-Roman wrestling championship at 63 kilograms.
That qualified for the 2013 World Team Trials—which, had it been an Olympic year, would have been the Olympic Trials.
With that love and devotion at the top of the program, the Bulldogs can only hope some of it trickles down to the growing roster.
“We don’t have a lot of experience, but we have tough kids,” Sloat said. “We’re going in the right direction. We’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but we’re going in the right direction.”