FAIRFIELD -- The Fairfield Warde wrestling team was crammed in its upper-gym workout room Tuesday afternoon sweating and training to the classic tunes of Johnny Cash.
It was all business as usual for the Mustangs, who opened their season with a convincing 76-6 non-conference win over Ellis Tech the following day as they prepare for the Guilford Invitational on Saturday.
No wrestler was working harder at practice than senior captain Thomas Anania, who isn't supposed to hit the varsity mat until next week after recovering from hernia surgery on Nov. 5. He did, however, pick up a forfeit win against Ellis Tech.
The soft-spoken wrestler, who is scheduled to compete at either 170 or 182 pounds, is more than eager to begin his final season for one of the FCIAC's perennial powers.
And nobody has shown more determination to hit the mat than Anania.
"He has a great work ethic," said 14th-year Warde coach Jason Shaughnessy. "He has had to battle some injuries. He's a very determined kid."
After earning All-America honors by placing eighth at the freshman nationals and sixth at the State Open, Anania appeared destined for a record-setting varsity career for the Mustangs.
The plan changed in the following preseason, however, when he injured his left elbow and was forced to miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
It was a tough break for a competitor who started wrestling in elementary school and moved up through the Fairfield youth program.
"I hated having to sit out," Anania said. "I missed being out there."
The tough breaks continued for Anania during last year's preseason when he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He was forced to miss more time at the beginning of the season, but was given the option of putting off surgery until after the season.
It was an easy decision for Anania.
"The doctor knew my answer before even asking me," Anania said. "I was going to keep wrestling."
Anania battled back to finish with a 25-6 record, and after failing to place at the FCIAC championships, he ending up winning the Class L title at 160 pounds and helping the Mustangs to a fifth-place finish.
He had surgery on his shoulder on March 1 and is hoping the injury bug will finally leave him alone for the rest of his Mustang career.
"I just love wrestling," Anania said. "I have a passion for it. I love knowing that you get out of it what you put in it. You don't rely on anybody else when you are on the mat. It's you against another person."
The Mustangs have plenty of talent to take care of all the team goals.
Anania will team with fellow senior Pharoah Eaton (132), who also is a defending Class L champion and a freshman contributor to the FCIAC champion team that ended Danbury's run of 24 straight titles. Eaton placed third at last year's State Open and will be considered one of the favorites in every tournament he enters this season.
"I really wanted to work on my conditioning this offseason," said Eaton, who finished 41-6 last season. "I don't want to get tired in the third period."
One of the biggest strengths of the Mustangs will be the development of junior heavyweight Ahmed Hourani, who, despite going 12-0 last season, had to sit behind senior Mike Money -- a runner-up at both the Class L and FCIAC championships.
"I'm feeling good," said Hourani, who started wrestling as a freshman. "I was disappointed I didn't get to wrestle more. I've worked on learning more moves and not just relying on a headlock."
The Mustangs are also hoping to get big contributions from juniors Jack Anderson (113) and Dylan Bender (138), sophomore Dan Ebert (120), freshman Charlie Kane (126) and first-year senior Gabe Dias (220).
"We have a strong team," Shaughnessy said. "We have 68 kids on the team and a lot of flexibility with the lineup. We know Danbury is the team to beat, but I think Trumbull and us are right on that next tier. And I'm sure Greenwich and Ludlowe will also be good."