St. Bernard wrestling coach eager for next year

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Feb. 21, 2011
St. Bernard senior 135-pounder Tim Neilan placed sixth at the State Class S championship Feb. 19 in Hartford. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
St. Bernard senior 135-pounder Tim Neilan placed sixth at the State Class S championship Feb. 19 in Hartford. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

St. Bernard wrestling coach Keith Grills stepped back in November to his alma mater to coach the sport he loves - the sport that gave him self-respect, respect from others and confidence.

Through a tumultuous wrestling season with his young team – only five of his grapplers had any high school wrestling experience – he said he’s seen them grow stronger and gain more heart with every meet.

“Some of them won just one match,” Grills said, “but I’ve seen all of them get stronger, and all of them definitely got something out of wrestling this year.”

The Saints have struggled this year with numbers, too. At their healthiest, they’ve been able to field 15 wrestlers, including three from Norwich Technical High School. The Norwich Tech wrestlers (including Geraldine Taranto, the team’s lone female wrestler) compete as individuals on paper and can’t score team points for the Saints, but they are otherwise treated as full teammates, being cheered on as they run through the “Saints tunnel” on their way to the mat.

Still, at some meets this season, nearly half the Saints’ matches have been lost by forfeit due to injury, skin disease or illness. “You name it, we’ve had it,” Grills said.

Grills has every intention of sticking around at his alma mater for the long haul. That’s why he’s already started recruiting for next season’s team. In addition, he’s instructed his wrestlers to set a goal: each wrestler is to recruit two more people for next year’s wrestling team.

“With eight returning wrestlers and two more people each, that’s a full team,” he said. “We really need to have a JV and varsity team.” That way, illness and injury open the way for younger wrestlers to step in, rather than lose the team six points without even blowing a whistle.

Among the wrestlers who have given notice that they’re returning next year are standouts Bobby Daly at 112 pounds, Victor Calle at 130 pounds and Zander Johnson at 189 pounds. “My expectation now is that we’re going to grow more. We’ll have more and more kids, and wrestling is going to be big [at St. Bernard] like it used to be,” said Grills.



Coach’s Corner-

St. Bernard Wrestling Head Coach Keith Grills

First year as coach: served as SBS assistant coach 1985-87.

Grills is a 1983 graduate of St. Bernard, and plans to continue coaching at his alma mater. A high school wrestling star himself, he said that the sport helped him grow. “I had no confidence as a freshman. By senior year, I had confidence that I could grow stronger,” he said.


Spotlight Players-

Tim Neilan


135 pounds



Paul Steinhagen


145 pounds



Ryan Newsome


171 pounds



“I think each and every one of them went above and beyond their goals,” Grills said of the team’s seniors. “When I started out this year, I was just hoping the seniors could be leaders, as they were.” They helped their new teammates see that “when you’re out there, you’re wrestling on your own, [but] with the team, everybody’s there for each other.”

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