This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published February 8, 2021
With the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) having canceled the winter wrestling season, the six seniors on this year’s Branford wrestling team will be unable to compete in their final campaigns. However, Head Coach Jesse Hurlburt will always appreciate how Hornets’ seniors have forever changed the culture of the program, while achieving some significant milestones along the way, during their tenures with Branford wrestling.
Although the Hornets aren’t competing, the team has still been taking part in socially distanced conditioning for one hour a day a few times a week. Coach Hurlburt wanted his wrestlers to do everything they could to stay together and felt that the conditioning sessions provided a great way to do that. As expected, the Hornets’ seniors have been leading the way at the practices.
“This group of seniors have been the mainstay of our program for the last four years,” said Hurlburt said. “These seniors have broken pretty much every team record we had.”
During their three years of competition, the athletes in Branford’s senior class helped the Hornets earn 59 total team victories, the most that the program has ever had in a three-year span. Branford also posted three-consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history. Last year, the Hornets set a school record by notching 26 victories on the season, after which they recorded their all-time best performances at both the Southern Connecticut Conference Championship and the Class M State Championship by taking third place and fourth place, respectively.
Branford’s current senior class features Justin Osler, AJ Robinson, Luke Volpe, Peyton Tracy, Spencer Lyon, and Dylan Pyle. Osler, Robinson, Volpe, Tracy, and Lyon were set to lead the Hornets as their senior captains this year.
“For the first time in my 12 years coaching, we had five captains. We didn’t necessarily want to have five captains, but there was no way around it,” Coach Hurlburt said. “These kids just truly embodied that around them.”
Pyle joined the team as a junior last season. While Pyle only competed in a handful of meets, Coach Hurlburt said that he was still key member of the team in the 160-pound weight class. Hurlburt commended Pyle for always having a smile on his face, while bringing a great attitude to the squad.
“Pyle was only a one-year wrestler for us. He played football with a lot of the kids on our team. He brought a friendly, funny atmosphere to the team. It made you appreciate having him and makes you really glad you have him,” said Hurlburt. “He was able to pick up a lot from the other seniors. He was a great addition to our team. We loved having him.”
Branford’s other seniors all entered the program when Hurlburt became the Hornets’ head coach four seasons ago. Hurlburt feels proud that all four of them have etched their legacy with the program by guiding Branford to unprecedented heights.
Coach Hurlburt said that Lyon, who wrestles in the 252-pound division, has improved the most out of any athlete he’s ever coached. At the end of his freshman season, Lyon started taking advice from his coaches and began focusing more on his technique. By his junior year, Lyon had become one of Branford’s top wrestlers and was looking to improve even more as a senior. Lyon finished his high school career with 75 wins, and Hurlburt felt that had a great chance to break 100 this year.
Osler, a 182-pound grappler, took first place in his division for the second-straight season at last year’s SCC Championship and then finished first at the Class M State Championship. With 103 career wins, Osler became the first wrestler in Hornets’ history to reach the 100-victory mark as a junior. He also served as a junior captain last season.
Osler is slated to continue his wrestling career at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. Coach Hurlburt described Osler as a tough kid who never shows any fear on the mat, adding that he was an excellent motivator for his teammates. Hurlburt believes that Osler had the potential to break Cody McHenry’s school record of 144 career victories had the 2021 winter season been held.
Robinson claimed third place in the 160-pound division at the Class M meet, in addition to serving as a captain, last winter. Coach Hurlburt said that Robinson is the epitome of what a coach looks for in a captain, calling him a well-spoken kid who the underclassmen always looked up to due to both his technique and work ethic, particularly in the weight room. Sitting with 90 victories, Robinson was in line to top 100 as a senior this year.
In terms of personal growth, Hurlburt said that he’s never coached an athlete who has come further than Tracy. In his four years with the Hornets, Tracy learned how to deal with and bounce back from defeats, while maturing as both an athlete and a person. He ultimately became a leader on the squad and did a great job of helping his teammates get through hard times.
Wrestling in the 145-pound division, Tracy brought his own unique style to the mat and ended his career with 88 victories. Coach Hurlburt said that Tracy is going to be missed by the team and will succeed in whatever field he chooses.
Volpe suffered an elbow injury early in his junior year, prematurely ending his season. However, as he was rehabilitating from his injury, Volpe remained a part of the team and never missed a practice or a match, essentially functioning as an extra coach. Volpe worked with the Hornets’ underclassmen and helped coach the JV team. Coach Hurlburt said that Branford’s younger wrestlers felt comfortable learning from Volpe, and he was pleased to see Volpe keep his head up despite the fact that he couldn’t compete.
Since becoming the head coach of the Branford wrestling program, Hurlburt has emphasized the notion that a wrestler’s legacy is just as much about that atmosphere that you create on the team as it is the number of wins you earn. While this year’s seniors didn’t get to complete their careers the way they wanted to, Coach Hurlburt said that they’ve cemented their place in Hornets’ history by doing everything they could, both on and off the mat, to take the program to the next level throughout the past few years.
“Watching these kids, you see this group of seniors have a great head on these shoulders,” Hurlburt said. “You see that friendship. It created a spark in this program we were really missing. It truly ignited our program and made it as special as it is today. Through hard work and determination, they could do anything. I could never thank this group of seniors enough.”