Connor’s comeback complete; wins third state wrestling title

CHAMP AGAIN — Senior Connor Sheehan made it all the way back from a broken ankle suffered in the preseason to win his third state wrestling title Saturday. (Rivet Photo)

CHAMP AGAIN — Senior Connor Sheehan made it all the way back from a broken ankle suffered in the preseason to win his third state wrestling title Saturday. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — When Connor Sheehan heard the “crack,” he figured his high school wrestling career had dramatically ended.

During a preseason tournament, Sheehan was battling state champion Peter DelGallo in a 106-pound weight class bout.

“As I was doing a back takedown (something I must’ve done a million times), my body went one way while my ankle went another. The cracks in my ankle could be heard throughout the gym. It was truly a fluke incident,” he recalled.

Connor underwent surgery, and had eight screws and a metal plate inserted.

“Early on in my recovery, I didn’t think I would ever be able to wrestle this season. The doctors were putting my recovery time at six to eight weeks (making my return seem impossible),” he said. “I never really got the sense that I could be ready for Regionals or States. It was kind of a play it by ear thing. All I knew was that nothing was going to stop me from competing in my last year of wrestling.”

Brother Zach, who wrestles at the 120-pound class, just knew his sidekick would somehow make a return.

“Unfortunately injuries happen, but it was devastating for me, something snapped inside me as well,” Zach said. “Three days after the injury, I knew he was going to be back to wrestle. The doctor said there was a chance he would be back in time and I knew if there was any way he could make it back he would.”

Saturday, the drive and hard work were realized when Connor captured his third state championship. He jumped out to a 5-0 lead against Camden Hills’ James Archer, and then pinned the Windjammer at the 3:26 mark to claim the 113-pound title.

Ironically, DelGallo of Gardiner was again state champ at 106 with a pin of Kyle Bonti of Morse in 2:57.

“With the help of our physical trainer, Jen Verrill, I made it back with a week to spare. God has truly blessed me. I was not only able to return to the mat and compete in the sport I love, but I was also able to capture another state title,” Connor said.

The injury did cast some doubt in Connor’s mind as to how effective he would be in his quick return to the mat.

“I didn’t have a regular season other than two matches in the final tournament. Having the ankle injury, I had to approach wrestling opponents differently than if I hadn’t had the injury,” he said. “My confidence was definitely shaken. But in a way, that was a good thing. I had to go into each match ready to wrestle my toughest. I couldn’t underestimate any opponent, regardless of their record.”

Certainly, a large and boisterous home crowd gave FA wrestlers energy and confidence as they pursued state title dreams.

“Being at home for the last tournament of my high school career was huge. There is nothing quite like stepping on that mat in front of a gym full of your friends, family, and community cheering you on. Having all the eyes of the community on us in the biggest tournament of the season elevated our motivation greatly,” Connor said. “Hearing the roar of the crowd as I entered my championship match is a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life.”

There was always the constant worry that Connor might twist the ankle in the wrong direction. Anyone watching a high school wrestling match will quickly discover the sport is very unpredictable.

“The injury was definitely in the back of my mind. It still was in the back of my mind up until my state finals match. I had to try and block that out of my mind and just wrestle the best that I could,” he said. “At first, I had to wrestle down on one knee for a while. I still had quite a bit of scar tissue in the front of my ankle, which prevented me from driving through a shot. But, I got impatient with that style of wrestling and tried to return back to my regular style. It took some time, but eventually I was comfortable wrestling on my feet. The part of my game that took the longest to come back, and still honestly isn’t back yet, is the cardio. Wrestling is such an intense sport. You have to go 100% for six minutes straight. I still find myself getting winded before the match is over.”

After breezing through his matches to land in the finals, Connor faced off against an opponent he had not encountered before.

“I had never wrestled him before so I had to go into the match ready for anything. My strategy was to always be on the offensive. I had to always attack and never let up,” Connor said. “Winning that match was such an amazing feeling. Rewinding back two months earlier, I was sitting on my couch with a throbbing ankle and pain meds in my system. I was devastated, thinking that all my hard work was being flushed down the drain. I never thought I would be able to return this season. I was watching my teammates practice and compete as I watched from the sidelines. Being able to return to the mat and win my third state title was such a blessing. God was truly watching over me.”

And so were his very supportive family, including wrestling teammate and brother, Zach. When Connor won the title, he immediately raised three fingers into the air — indicating this was his third state title. Shortly thereafter, he made his way into the stands, hugged and kissed his mother.

“Ever since I was little, my parents have supported me. In anything I have done, they have always been behind me 100% of the way. They are always there for me win, lose or draw,” he said. “When I had my injury, they helped me stay optimistic. There is not a match that goes by when I don’t hear my mom yelling from the stands. My family means everything to me. I am truly blessed to have such an amazing and supportive family.”

Not only did the brother Sheehans each win a title Saturday, they point to the other as being main reasons behind their successes.

“Zach has helped me so much in wrestling. We beat on each other in practice and though we might go home after practice not speaking to each other, we are always there for each other at the end of the day,” Connor said. “He is an amazing wrestler and an amazing little brother.”

The respect is mutual.

“Connor is irreplaceable, but we both wrestle with heart and try to set the pace, but it is very rare for him to make mistakes and I tend to make them here and there,” Zach said. “Connor taught me to never count myself out and to keep pushing myself to be the best of the best because you can always improve.”

On each winning title, Zach said it is a moment each brother will fondly remember for a lifetime.

“It is a remarkable feeling, sharing that experience with your brother. Both of us wrestle day in and day out, beating each other up, and have worked hard for this and I don’t want it to end,” he said. “We started this journey together and we finished it together.”

In two seasons, Zach has compiled a record of 69-12. He hopes to duplicate what his brother achieved while at Fryeburg Academy.

“I would love to follow in his footsteps, but as this point it isn’t the state championships I am after, it is getting noticed at the college level, so whatever it is I have to do to accomplish that I will,” he said.

As for Connor, although his senior wrestling season opened to a nightmarish moment, the story had a very happy ending.

To his complete surprise, Connor was presented the Class B Outstanding Wrestler Award at the conclusion of Saturday’s state meet.

“I was honestly shocked when my name was called for the outstanding wrestler award. There are some great wrestlers in Class B and I am honored to have won the award. I couldn’t have done it without my brother, my teammates, and especially my coach,” he said.

Receiving congratulations from fans, young and old, Connor offered the following advice to fellow wrestlers: “Wrestling is an extremely tough sport. But, it is also one of the most rewarding. You not only gain a sense of independence and pride in yourself, but also a sense of brotherhood. If you stick with wrestling, I can absolutely guarantee, you will not regret it.”

Connor Sheehan has no regrets as he leaves the high school mat. He was 7-0 this season, and chalked up an amazing 130-7 record during his four years. He will be majoring in Biomedical Engineering at Boston University this fall.

“I am going to try to wrestle at BU as a walk-on,” he said. “We’ll see what happens!”

 

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