DANBURY, Conn. – After losing in the finals last year, Immaculate High School wrestler Steve Ghossaini was determined to return to the state wrestling championships and reach the top step of the podium. Even if he needed to work overtime to do it.
Ghossaini, a junior, won the Class L championship at 195 pounds in last month’s state tournament. He was named The Danbury Daily Voice Athlete of the Month for his achievement.
He wrestles for the co-op team of Immaculate and Joel Barlow High School in Redding. In the finals, he defeated Cy McIntosh of Bristol Central, 3-1, in overtime. Ghossaini lost in last year's 195-pound Class M final to Nicholas Poulin of Windham, 7-4.
“It felt crazy,’’ Ghossaini said. “When I first got the takedown to win and was on the top step of the podium, I just couldn’t believe it. I thought it was just another match until I got on the podium and everyone was taking pictures.”
The meet was held at Bristol Central, so Ghossaini had to tune out the crowd rooting for McIntosh. “Nobody from the gym wanted me to win,’’ Ghossaini said. “In overtime, it’s whoever scores first wins. I was gassed, and he was gassed. I had to pull out whatever I had left. My coach, Anthony Bonagura, helped me a lot. He beats up on me and throws me every single practice. It’s not about strength. It’s about being smart on the mat.”
Ghossiani is also coached by Phil LiCastri, head coach for the co-op team. The loss in last year’s finals provided year-round incentive for him to return to the state championship, he said.
“I’ve never been intimidated in a match, but that guy intimidated me,’’ Ghossaini said. “He was like 6-feet, 4-inches, made noises when we wrestled and a tattoo of Canada across his chest. I was down by seven points and came back to lose by two. It was close, but I just ran out of time.”
If Ghossaini had been wearing the orange and blue of neighboring Danbury High School, his title would not have been a surprise. Few people, however, associate wrestling with Immaculate.
“When I say I’m from Immaculate, people say, 'Where’s that?'’’ Ghossaini said. “I tell them we’re combined with Joel Barlow, and they’re two of the most inconspicuous schools out there. It’s kind of like an underdog thing.”
He finished fourth at the State Open and went 1-2 in the New England tournament. He also is a standout on the football team, which has not won a game since 2009. His wrestling success as an individual takes away some of the sting of the lack of football success.
“There’s nothing I hate more than losing,’’ Ghossaini said. “People say I must be depressed playing for Immaculate football. We have those moments where we all pull together, and I love playing football. Wrestling is different. It’s an individual thing, and my hatred for losing is something that provides great motivation.”