KP’s Conniff Bows in Sectional Tourney to Familiar Foe Warriors’ Wrestler Now Aiming for Success in States
Will Conniff displays the winning bracket after he won the Milford Tournament in the 170-pound weight class.
By en Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer
Will Conniff’s goal at the start of the wrestling season was to win the Division 2 Central Sectional championship.
The King Philip senior, who compiled a team-best 25-1 record during the regular season in the 170-pound class, knew his primary obstacle would be a matchup against Mason Pellegri of Milton, who previously handed Conniff his only loss.
The 5-foot-5 Conniff breezed to victory over his first two opponents, pinning Evins MacKenzie of Concord-Carlisle in the first period then topping Jaad Ismail of North Attleboro by a 14-4 decision. Next up in the final was Pellegri, the No. 2 ranked wrestler in the state.
The matchup was a classic.
The pair battled intensely and finished tied, 1-1, in regulation, but the 5-foot-11 Pellegri scored two points on a takedown in overtime and posted a razor-thin 3-1 victory.
“I gave 100 percent but it wasn’t good enough,’’ said Conniff, who entered the sectional at Bellingham High ranked No. 4 in the state. “I’m disappointed but finishing second qualifies me for the state tourney in Fitchburg where I could face Pellegri again. I’m excited for the opportunity and now my objective is to become a state champion.’’
If Conniff and Pellegri face off for a third clash, it will be must viewing. Pellegri defeated Conniff in the regular season by a 7-2 decision, then squeaked by in overtime at the Feb. 12 sectional. Before bowing in overtime, Conniff was close to getting a takedown that could have swung the outcome in his favor.
“My takedown attempt was close but it wasn’t successful,’’ Conniff said. “Where I lost was when I got behind Pellegri and had him around the waist. I tried pulling him down but I fell to the mat and he got on top of me for the takedown (2 points). He deserves credit for his triumph. He’s very strong, is about six inches taller than me, and he’s effective at defending himself.’’
After posting a 2-1 record in the sectional, Conniff’s overall record now is 27-2.
“Will outworked his opponent,’’ said KP coach John Adams. “He was the aggressor and he launched a strong attack in overtime.’’
Conniff’s career has had its share of ups and downs. Bumps and bruises have also played a role.
As a freshman, wrestling at 152 pounds, he posted an impressive 31-15 record. His sophomore campaign, however, was difficult. He fractured his right leg (fibula) in football and had six months of rehab ahead of him.
“My father (Shawn) suggested that I stay close to wrestling and attend practices,’’ Conniff recalled. “I agreed. I wanted to help my teammates, especially freshmen who might need some advice. Coach Adams made me a volunteer coach. I’m glad I got to participate because it was a great learning experience. I learned that when you’re down or dejected, you can still contribute.’’
Conniff wrestled during his junior year, but with COVID-19 on a rampage the wrestling season was abbreviated. He wrestled nine times, registering a 6-3 record. There was a tourney format in the Fall 2 season but KP opted to forgo any post-season action.
Always relying on a positive attitude and a team-first approach, Conniff was selected as a captain this year. His regular-season record was stunning and it included winning the prestigious Milford Tournament championship. He defeated Milford’s Ryan Donovan, 11-1.
“Winning the Milford Tournament was a memorable effort,’’ Conniff noted. “I went 3-0 overall. That was my first tourney since freshman year. Winning there meant a lot. It’s a top-notch tournament and it showed that I can lead by example and be a strong wrestler.’’
Conniff’s coach never had any doubts about his strength or his ability to lead.
“Will is a quality kid who never stops wrestling,’’ Adams said. “On the mat, he stays active from sequence to sequence. He’s talented, has a high wrestling IQ and he’s technically sound. His positive mindset and intestinal fortitude make him special.’’
At the start of the season, Conniff’s team goal was for KP to win the Kelly-Rex Division title. The Warriors finished 16-5 but fell short.
As for his individual objectives, Conniff listed sectional and state crowns as No. 1 goals. But, he didn’t stop there. “I’d like to qualify for the all-state tourney, do well there and advance to the New Englands,’’ he said.
In spite of his setback at the sectional, he’s still in position to meet his objectives at the state tourney and possibly beyond.
Conniff credits much of this season’s success to Adams, who works intensely to keep the Warriors competitive. “Coach Adams is demanding but fair,’’ Conniff emphasized. “He pushes us to excel. He’s also a great motivator who wants his wrestlers to do their best.’’
KP’s other two senior captains — Hunter Hastings (195) and Sam DeBaggis (126) — also get high marks from Conniff. “Hunter was a captain in football,’’ Conniff said. “He’s strong, he’s a leader and he’s mentally tough. Sam is both a vocal leader and a leader by example. And, he’s willing to sacrifice. He went from 140 pounds to 126, just so he could compete at the lower weight.’’
Hastings and DeBaggis finished second at the sectional, both efforts enabling the pair to compete in the state playoffs.
A good student, Conniff has been accepted at Bridgewater State, UMass-Boston and the University of Rhode Island. He hasn’t decided which venue he’ll chose but collegiate wrestling likely will not be in his future. But, global business management probably will be his major.
Conniff says wrestling has taught him some valuable life lessons. “I’ve learned how to lead, how to be a quality teammate, to be resilient and to compete with a sense of urgency.’’
Calling his older brother (Shawn) his role model, Conniff admires the way his advice has paid dividends. “Shawn, who wrestles at Springfield Tech, was a sectional and state champ at KP, he placed third at all-states and was in the top-8 in the New Englands,’’ Conniff noted. “He’s taught me how to sharpen my technique and he’s helped me with workouts.’’
As Will Conniff continues his trek through the post-season, he no doubt will rely on his brother’s knowledge and suggestions.
Especially if Mason Pellegri is his opponent.