Sixty-five athletes tried out for the Fairfield Warde wrestling team this year.
It is an impressive number, no doubt, but it speaks volumes about the program that Mustangs head coach Jason Shaughnessy has built.
Warde will be young at many weight classes, but that doesn't mean it'll be inexperienced. Shaughnessy's middle school coaching-- through the town's PAL program-- has created a wrestling culture.
"We have a strong squad coming back," Shaughnessy said. "We're a young squad. But young or not, we could end up starting three freshmen who have been wrestling a while."
Defending Class L state champions Thomas Anania and Pharoh Eaton return as senior leaders. Eaton and Anania have qualified for New Englands multiple times in their high school careers.
Besides Eaton and Anania, Colin Ventura and Dylan Bender return from the squad which finished fifth at Class L's and 12th at the State Open.
Shaughnessy expects greatness and for the wrestlers expected to contribute, the learning curve is less than at other schools.
"I expect them to be ready to go," Shaughnessy said. "There is some assumed knowledge and we expect them to have higher-level technique right away."
Among Warde's goals is unseating the two-time defending FCIAC champ-- and 30-time league champion-- Danbury. The Mustangs have never beaten the Hatters head-to-head, and doing-so is one of Shaughnessy's few unattained goals.
"When you've won [the FCIAC] 27 of the last 28 years, you enter as the preseason favorite," Shaughenessy said. "Every year we aspire to be the best, so we'll see what we can do."
Shaughnessy thinks the Class L crown-- which Warde won in 2009 and 2010-- is attainable.
"I think we have a good chance to be a state champ," he said. "It's easier to win the states than the FCIAC."