By Jason Sonski
For all the accolades and titles that have been attained by the Danbury High wrestling program, it's the one that got away that will always serve as extra motivation for the team.
Nobody on the current roster was on the team that Saturday evening at New Canaan High on Feb. 12, 2010 at the FCIAC championships when Fairfield Warde shook up the state wrestling world by ending the Hatters' 23-year reign as conference champions.
Danbury seniors such as Kevin Jack and Chris Bryant were still in middle school waiting for their chance to join the storied Hatters' program. Another FCIAC title banner being added to the wrestling gym on Clapboard Ridge was as sure a thing as the first day of school.
"They have always been the best team in the state that everybody looks toward trying to beat," said Warde coach Jason Shaughnessy, who picked up his 300th career victory this season. "When we beat them at that time it showed that they are beatable, but they have come back strong since then."
Danbury (15-2) has won the FCIAC title every year since that second-place finish to Warde and is currently No. 1 in the state poll. Meanwhile, No. 7 Warde (15-3) has remained among the top teams not only in the FCIAC, but in the state.
The two wrestling powers are set to meet in their annual dual-meet clash Wednesday night at 6 at Fairfield Warde. The snowstorm might have changed those plans with each school district using Wednesday as a Snow Day -- Danbury coach Ricky Shook said the match will not be made up -- but the focus remains on the mat for the two rivals.
"These current guys don't know much about that," Shook said, referring to the 2010 FCIAC championships. "But I bring it up all the time before we wrestle them. I have to look up and see that's the banner missing."
Despite ending the Hatters' FCIAC title run, Warde and the rest of the FCIAC teams have failed to figure out a way to top Danbury in a dual meet. The last time Danbury lost an FCIAC dual was in January 1986 when Greenwich earned a 37-24 victory. The Hatters' streak stands at 363 straight FCIAC wins.
It's appeared for a while that if any team is capable of ending the Hatters' streak it would be Warde.
"This is our FCIAC tough match of the year," Shook said. "Trumbull is up there, too. Every year it's usually us and them for FCIACs and it should come down to us two again. Warde does a great job and Jason is a great coach."
Warde is on pace to enjoy another strong postseason with a deep team that has done well in both dual meets and tournaments. The Mustangs reclaimed the title at their own tournament earlier this season by beating defending champion Simsbury.
"The season has been pretty good," Shaughnessy said. "We have wrestled close to our potential. We've had a few bumps in the road, but have shown a lot of depth. We were happy to get our own tournament title back."
Warde has benefitted from the continued development of senior heavyweight Ahmed Hourani, who is undefeated this season, according to Shaughnessy.
"He's a lot more motivated this year to be in top shape," Shaughnessy said. "He's attacking legs more and wrestling well from the top. He's become a complete wrestler for us."
Price has provided a big boost to the lineup.
"He has done exceptional," Shaughnessy said. "He's a first-time varsity wrestler. He was undersized at 106 last year, weighing only 95 pounds. He worked hard to add some weight."
Danbury goes into the match having its only two losses this season coming at the hands of New England powers Mt. Anthony of Vermont and Timberlane of New Hampshire. The Hatters sustained a heartbreaking 33-29 loss to Timberlane last Saturday in the finals of the New Fairfield Duals. It was a see-saw meet that wasn't decided until the final match.
"There were a lot of tough matches," Shook said. "We don't get many of those. I wish we had those all the time. We had a loss in overtime and three one-point losses against Timberlane. We wrestled good for the most part, but just didn't get it done. I don't like losing.
"We will be fine. The losses humble your team. We know what we have to do for New Englands."
Besides Jack and Bryant, the Hatters are receiving big efforts this season from sophomore Jeremy Fields (113), junior Juan Garcia (182), freshman Andrew Marquis (152), sophomore Matthew Adam (170) and senior Tristan Jakobson (220).
"Danbury is a very strong team as usual," Shaughnessy said. "We will just focus on individual matchups. We know we are a big underdog to them. We just need everybody need to do their job. We want to compete with the best."