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Holliston Wrestlers Aim For Strong Showing In Sectional

Holliston coach Mike Capobianco schedules strong opponents to prepare for post-season tournaments.

Staff Sports Writer
Holliston High’s wrestling team isn’t afraid of taking on Herculean tasks.
Last year’s squad, which finished its Covid-marred season with a 1-5 record, was far better than those numbers. The Panthers lost to Ashland, the eventual Division 3 Sectional champion. Natick also was on Holliston’s schedule and all the Redhawks did was capture the Division 2 State championship. 
Norton, which won the Division 3 State crown, was another talented opponent. Hopkinton and Tri County Voke also faced Holliston and they had successful campaigns. The Hillers were a Sectional semifinalist and the Cougars bowed in the Sectional finals to Ashland.
This year is no different.
 Coach Mike Capobianco’s Panthers are grinding along, facing what amounts to some of the best teams in the state. The 2021-22 schedule includes St. John’s Prep of Danvers, the Division 1 State Champion last year, St. John’s of Shrewsbury, Lincoln-Sudbury, Milford, Wayland and Melrose.
Holliston’s 0-3 record at Local Town Pages’ deadline may look anemic but it reflects Capobianco’s plan to prepare his forces for battle when it counts — at the Sectional and State tourneys. Holliston will compete in the Division 3 Central Sectional on Feb. 12 in Ashland.
“One of my goals at the start of the season was for us to be peaking at the right time,’’ Capobianco emphasized. “That time is at the Sectional tourney. Strong competition is the best way to get ready. What’s the sense of facing teams who aren’t formidable. Facing powerful programs during the regular season helps a team compete better in the post-season. 
“We never had a complete lineup early on,’’ he noted. “Covid, injuries, postponements and vacations limited us. But, we got better after each of our three tourneys. We used the Ashland Early Bird Tourney as a learning experience and after the Milford Tournament, we saw improvement in our technique. In our last tourney, the Lowell Holiday Invitational, our kids progressed nicely. Five of the boys showed they’re blossoming and in an okay position for the sectional.’’
Capobianco, who’s in his sixth year as Holliston’s coach, has other goals that are linked to the peaking process. “We want to be competitive in every match; we want to grow and improve daily; and we’re aiming to finish with a winning record in the Tri Valley League,’’ he noted. “Ashland and Norton will be at the top of the standings. We’re aiming for third place.’’
Other teams in the TVL are Hopkinton, Norwood, Dedham and Bellingham.
The Panthers’ roster has 17 wrestlers and Capobianco likes many of their attributes.
“We’ve got decent experience, we’re athletic and our work ethic is really strong,’’ he said. “Team chemistry is another plus — the kids enjoy being around each other. Our mental toughness is still developing and our techniques are improving.’’
The Panthers’ three captains — senior Matt Amante (126), junior Mike DeRubeis (120), and Zach Robinson (138) — are capable wrestlers and quality leaders. At Local Town Pages’ deadline, Amante was 5-5, DeRubeis was 9-5 and Robinson was 9-7.
“Matt, who’s in his third varsity season, has a great work ethic, is technically sound, has good instincts and is physically tough,’’ Capobianco said. “Mike is another three-year competitor whose instincts and technical ability are solid. Both Matt and Mike are vocal leaders while Zach is a natural-born leader. He’s got good awareness on the mat, works hard and is sound technically. He leads by example and by being vocal.’’
Junior Anthony Touchette (106) is a key wrestler but he’s been sidelined by an injury. “Anthony, who’s our most talented wrestler, is working on his return,’’ Capobianco said. “His goal is to be the best. He’s got mental and physical toughness and he’s our most technically advanced competitor.’’
Capobianco likes the way junior Alejandro Acevedo (132) has sharpened his ability. “Alejandro got off to a good start, compiling a 4-3 record, but he also suffered an injury that forced him to miss several weeks,’’ Capobianco said. “He’s not intimidated or shy. He outworks his opponents, is mentally and physically tough and he can have a very good year.’’
A pair of juniors — Finn Blossom (182) and Dylan Ienello (160) — possess similar attributes. “Both have really improved,’’ Capobianco said. “They work hard, their technique has improved and they’re tough.’’
Capobianco, who guided the Panthers to the TVL title during the 2019-20 season, has been the circuit’s coach of the year twice. He was a four-time TVL all-star when he wrestled at Ashland, which was a co-op team with Keefe Tech. He succeeded his father (Paul) as the Panthers’ coach.
A competitive coach, Capobianco strives to win but his philosophy also focuses on making sure his wrestlers reach their potential and enjoy the sport. “No one likes to lose,’’ he said, “but what’s just as important as winning is ensuring that the kids are improving and developing a passion for wrestling.’’
Capobianco admires competitors who learn valuable life lessons on the mat. “Sports, specifically wrestling, help kids learn to set goals, to be good teammates and good leaders, to be mentally tough, and able to overcome adversity,’’ he said. “Wrestling also helps competitors to accept responsibility and to be accountable.’’
A full complement of wrestlers will be a plus at the sectional and as Capobianco says: “We should have some boys advance to the State Tourney.’’