It was an unwanted Rice Krispies moment for Fryeburg Academy senior wrestler Connor Sheehan.
Snap — one broken bone in the ankle of the two-time state champion.
Crackle — another bone broken during the Dec. 1 preseason match.
Pop — and there went Sheehan’s hopes for senior season glory.
“I heard — I felt — multiple cracks that could be heard throughout the gym,” Sheehan said.
“I thought I was completely done. I didn’t think I’d even be able to attempt my third state title.”
Just seconds after the injury, in the first period of what was supposed to be an early-season tuneup against Gardiner freshman Peter DelGallo, Sheehan reached down and popped his ankle back into place.
“I just couldn’t take looking at my ankle like that,” Sheehan said.
From that moment, he began an unlikely path that culminated Saturday with his win in the 113-pound weight class at the New England Interscholastic Wrestling Championships.
“It’s really quite amazing, an inspirational story,” said Fryeburg Coach Bryce Thurston, who has been Sheehan’s coach since the third grade. “I never thought it possible, even as young and strong as Connor is, to get his ankle broken in two places like that and recover in time.”
Despite having wrestled only seven matches this season — two at the Mid-State League Tournament, two to win the Western Class B regional and three to claim his third state championship — Sheehan was Maine’s top seed at the New England meet.
He opened with an 11-2 win against Eric Kerr of Lynnfield-Reading, Mass., then edged Chris Bryant of Danbury, Conn., 10-9, in the quarterfinals.
Though his ankle is still not completely healed, Sheehan said his conditioning was a bigger concern at the New England meet. Against Bryant, a lanky wrestler, Sheehan built an early lead and then held on as his margin and energy dwindled.
“He got me on a low single (leg) in the final seconds and it was really close to a takedown and I defended it, and that match really got my momentum going,” Sheehan said.
In the semifinals, Sheehan pinned Michael Ruffino of Windham, Conn., in the third period. He wrapped up the New England title with a 3-1 win against Troy Gassaway of Mt. Anthony (Vt.).
After finishing fourth in New England as a sophomore and junior, Sheehan said his goals for this season before the injury included a New England championship. After the injury, he went to Providence “just hoping to win a couple matches.”
“When I won my semifinal match I couldn’t believe I was in the final, and then when I won that it was amazing. I can’t really put into words how awesome it was,” he said.
Sheehan said Fryeburg Academy trainer Jen Verrill was pivotal to his recovery.
“She pushed me hard doing stretching and strengthening and balance. She set aside an hour a day and just worked with me,” Sheehan said.
Based on his past success on the mat and his weighted 4.23 GPA (on a 4.0 scale), it’s safe to say the future biomedical engineering major at Boston University was also willing to do his share of the work.
“I knew I would do whatever it took, but really until the Mid-States it was up in the air whether I could come back,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan was one of two Maine wrestlers to win New England titles. The other was DelGallo.
“It’s pretty weird and ironic. We were following Peter around all day on Saturday, on the same mat right after him,” Thurston said.
DelGallo finished his 54-0 freshman season with a last-second win. Then it was Sheehan’s turn to finish his comeback.
“I think that was just all luck and the way the mat assignments went, but maybe it was fate, I don’t know,” Sheehan said.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:
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