Warriors get ready for another promising postseason

OISIN CULLEN faces his opponent at the Brawl in the Hall. (Photo by Raj Das, edphotos.com)


MELROSE — The annual Brawl in the Hall between the Wakefield and Melrose High wrestling teams never lacks for hype.

From the pre-meet buzz – with wrestlers stalking around, heads nodding to their favorite music as the seats at historic Memorial Hall filled with rowdy fans – to the last buzzer – with Melrose celebrating their 46-24 win and 2023 Middlesex League title – the Hall was truly electric from start to finish on Tuesday night.

“This was the biggest crowd we’ve had in a while,” said Wakefield head coach Ross Ickes. “When everyone gets excited and it’s rival vs. rival, it’s good for the sport to have it at a venue like this.”

It certainly helps the Middlesex League as well. That’s because every Brawl in the Hall determines the league winner as these two teams have always rolled into Memorial Hall undefeated in league play.

TOMMY GROVER grapples with Max Rasnov at the Brawl in the Hall. Grover earned a 5-1 decision. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

This year was no different.

Melrose ended up victorious in eight of the 13 contested matchups, adding a forfeit in the 285 bracket for Stanford football’s newest member, Braden Marceau-Olayinka.

The Warriors got victories from Andrew Valley (126, DEC, 10-6), Tommy Grover (132, DEC, 5-1), Oisin Cullen (145, F, 2:15), Zach Arria (170, F, 1:03) and Joe Lamonica (220, F, 1:45).

Melrose seized control of the momentum and the crowd in the first three bouts, getting a pin at 106, a major decision at 113 and a decision at 120 to take a 13-0 lead.

The second matchup, which featured Melrose’s Michael Thomas against Wakefield’s James Fabbri, went the distance with Fabbri battling to the end. It brought both fan bases fully into the Brawl, especially the student sections who alternated, “Mikey, Mikey,” chants with “Jimmy, Jimmy!”

In the end, Mikey got the four points but Jimmy set the tone for his teammates.

Bryan Fabbri continued that fight at 120, somehow escaping a pin in the first to even it up at 2-2. His opponent, Marco Albanese, won the decision 8-4 but Fabbri’s toughness limited the damage on the scoreboard.

Valley and Grover’s decision victories at 126 and 132 respectively got Wakefield back into it at 13-6.

Valley took the early lead against Johnny Moraes and held on late for a 10-6 decision in an exciting bout that got the Warriors on the board.

Grover vs. Max Rasnov was the fourth matchup in a row that went the distance. Grover was in the driver’s seat throughout, leading 2-0 after one and 3-0 after two. His 5-1 decision officially got Wakefield back into it.

“Grover wrestled a tough kid and he was in control,” said Ickes when asked who stood out in this meet.

Alex McLaughlin pinned Aydin Lamb at 138 to extend the Melrose lead to 19-6 but the Warriors weren’t done yet.

Oisin Cullen got the Red Sea rolling again, pinning Quinn Fogarty in 2:15 at 145. Cullen went up 4-1 after one and was on a mission to pick up a needed six points for his team, eventually getting it done in the second to make it 19-12.

Steve Fogarty got those six back in the next bout at 152, pinning Jack Hodgdon in 1:55 to make it 25-12.

The Melrose fan base was full of confidence as one of their best in Oto Albanese jumped into the ring at 160 against Wakefield’s Sean Callanan. Going for the pin early on, Albanese couldn’t wrangle Callanan who matched his opponent’s intensity from start to finish. Callanan continued to fight in the second in what was quickly turning into the best bout of the night. The Red Sea added to that with some creative chants including a “Happy Thanksgiving,” one in reference to their second straight football victory this season which quieted the Melrose side until Albanese was finally able to end it with a pin and a seemingly insurmountable 31-12 lead.

Arria stepped in at 170 against Pedro Ribeiro and executed perfectly, getting the job done in 1:03 to earn a pin and six points.

Ben Burdetsky battled for 3:05 before Nico Chiulli got a pin late in the second at 182.

An impressive matchup at 195 went the distance as Wakefield’s Kip King and Melrose’s Gabe La Verde traded points until La Verde ended up on top with a 3-2 decision for a 40-18 advantage.

Lamonica provided the Warriors with some hope for their postseason run with a pin in 1:45 at 220. The junior, who is working his way back from an injury sustained during the football season, is a key competitor the teams needs to help the heavyweights.

“It’s great to get Lamonica back because he really solidifies the back end of our lineup,” said Ickes.

In the end, it wasn’t what Wakefield was hoping for, but it helped the team get back into their postseason mindset, something Ickes and his coaching staff preaches from day one.

“We matched up as best we could, they just had a little more firepower; sometimes that’s just how it goes,” said Ickes. “The D3 North Sectionals is the start of the season for us, the rest is just the preseason. We always talk about that. The only thing that matters is February.”

The Warriors are the reigning Div. 3 North champions after coming out on top in thrilling fashion last year.

Once again, Wakefield won’t be favored to win it on Saturday, Feb. 11 at Tewksbury High, but they’ll be ready to make a run anyways.

“We’re certainly going to go for it,” said Ickes. “If we sneak a couple of kids into finalists matchups then we will give ourselves a chance, just like last year.”

After sectionals, the Warriors will get ready for Div. 3 states, which Melrose won last year. Wakefield took 3rd.

The Div. 3 state tournament will return to Wakefield High this season. That will take place on Feb. 17 and 18.