By Tim Lima
---- — Three Pentucket wrestlers will compete tonight against the best high school wrestlers that Massachusetts has to offer in the MIAA All-State competition.
Kyle Knox, Noah Malhi and Josh Wesolowski all qualified for the tournament with outstanding performances at the Division 3 State Tournament held last weekend. Knox finished in seventh place at 120 pounds, Malhi finished in fourth at 170 pounds and Wesolowski was the runner-up in the 132-pound division.
While each finish was a feat worthy for print for Pentucket’s three wrestlers, how they made it there is a story in itself.
Knox overcame a slow beginning in his tournament performance to win his last two matches and secure a spot on the podium. Malhi finished in fourth place; an accomplishment that came by beating the Western Massachusetts champion and surviving two one-point matches, coming away with wins.
Wesolowski’s performance, while to be expected at this point, is anything shy of usual. Already one of the best wrestlers in the history of Pentucket high school as only a junior, Wesolowski had the opportunity to secure the D3 State Championship but fell short against one of the state’s best wrestlers, the two-time Massachusetts state champion Brandon Weir from Hampshire Regional High School.
“The matches before that were slow, boring and cautious,” said Pentucket head coach Dennis Puleo. “But Josh and Brandon woke up the crowd. There was no lull in the action whatsoever. It was a zero to zero score after the first period and was two to two after the second, and Josh just couldn’t counter one move that Weir executed in the third. For fans it was entertaining and for coaches and the loser, it wasn’t, but you had to be pleased with Josh’s opportunity and his ability to do what he did. We’re hoping for more from him this week.”
For Wesolowski, Weir’s prior success did not make falling to him any easier to stomach.
“I was really hard on myself after I lost,” Wesolowski said. “Weir was already a two-time state champ and I thought I should have won the match against him. Just as winning in wrestling is great, losing in wrestling is equally as crushing.”
Falling to one of the state’s best is no consolation for Wesolowski, who goes into every tournament looking to win. Performing well at this tournament is a matter of redeeming himself, not only for his second-place finish last weekend but also for falling just short last year. Needing to place in the top six to qualify for New Englands, Wesolowski finished in eighth place, just one point short.
“I think I have a shot to win it all this year,” Wesolowski said. “If I finished in the top three I would be upset about losing, but I wouldn’t be crushed. My goal since last year was to make it to New Englands. I fell one point short of making it last year, so that has been driving me all season. Until I lose a match, I’m in it to win it.”
Adding to the thrill of wrestling in his second-straight All-State tournament is doing so alongside two of his teammates.
“Both of them came out and wrestled amazing at States,” Wesolowski said. “They all worked really hard at practice all year and performed well all season. It’s paying off for them right now.”
Unlike Wesolowski, Knox and Malhi will be competing in their first All-States competition, though that doesn’t mean that expectations are tempered.
“I hope to place in the top six and go to New Englands,” Malhi said. “Last year, I didn’t make it to states and my goal this year was to make it this far. I’m feeling pretty good and have had some good practices. It would be nice to get a few wins at this tournament because It’s been a great season so far.”
As just a sophomore, Malhi is the youngest Sachem to make All-States this year. Performing up to his ability was contingent upon suppressing nerves, something that he has excelled at as the season progressed. By putting his nerves past him, Malhi was able to beat the second-seeded Kolby Smith from Sabis High School in Springfield.
“It felt really good beating him because I was nervous, but I came out strong and it felt good beating him,” Malhi said. “I wasn’t even seeded for the tournament and he was seeded second, so it felt good to get the victory as the underdog.”
Like Malhi, Knox’ goal for the tournament is to qualify for New Englands, something that he feels all three of them are capable of.
“I feel good,” Knox said. “I feel like I can do well in it. My goal is to place in the top six and to qualify for New Englands. It’s awesome because last year, only Josh made it with two of our seniors. It’s a great feeling to have them both with me this year, knowing that we are all returning next year.”
With three of its All-State wrestlers returning next year, greatness may be on the horizon for Pentucket wrestling. However, before sights can set on next season, they will be secured on making their run as memorable as possible this year.
“If we all made it to New Englands, it would be awesome because we have all trained really hard and we all deserve to be there,” Knox said. “We haven’t had many people from Pentucket go to New Englands in a while, so if we all did, that would be special.”
Getting to New Englands would take a monumental effort from all three in a truly unique environment. Held at the Tsongas Arena this year, it will be far from a normal atmosphere.
“Doing this for 45 years, I have seen it get tougher and tougher each year because a lot of kids are working for more of the year to get better technique wise,” Puleo said. “You can’t make mistakes here. You’re going against the best in Massachusetts to qualify for New Englands. If you’re not psychologically ready to do that, you can come out on the short end of it. We don’t want to be happy just being there, but want to do something there. All three of them know that.”