By Chris Villani
The members of this year’s state championship Milford High wrestling team were years away from being born when the program last captured a statewide crown, but head coach P.J. Boccia remembers it well. An MHS junior at the time, Boccia was a driving force behind the 1996 state champions in a season that was a highlight of his hall of fame career.
“I can honestly say, it’s much better to win as a coach,” Boccia said. “You see all the hard work the kids put in pay off, the grind of practice and the kids getting after it in the offseason. They put a lot of time into their craft of wrestling and I am just so excited for them, for the school, and for the league.”
During the tournament, Boccia exchanged text messages with his former wrestling coach, Garth Yohn, as well as longtime wrestling coach and former athletic director Nick Zacchilli.
“Garth is always sending me texts, he’s been so supportive,” Boccia said. “Nick congratulated me and everyone on the team.”
The road to the state championship is one that took a lot of work for Boccia, who has been with the program since graduating from Appalachian State, where he wrestled at the Division I level. Boccia helped out with the team informally before becoming an assistant coach and eventually taking over the varsity program in 2006.
Along the way, Milford started a youth wrestling program to introduce young athletes to the sport before they come to MHS.
“The amount of support we get from the town and the parents; it’s definitely all paid off,” Boccia said. “Milford is becoming one of those top-tier programs from youth wrestling all the way through.”
Milford qualified a total of 11 wrestlers for the state tournament this year and depth is crucial when it comes to winning a team title. The Scarlet Hawks had two individual state champions and added a second, third, and fourth-place finish along with two sixth place finishes and one seventh.
The 1996 team was similar. Only two wrestlers competed for individual titles that year, but the depth Milford showed is what led to the team championship.
There is one crucial difference between the two teams, however. In 1996, most of the key cogs graduated and Boccia was one of the few wrestlers returning. This year, the Scarlet Hawks’ are slated to graduate just three wrestlers and six out of the eight state place winners — including both state champs — will be back.
“This has been a great season,” Boccia said. “And it’s something to build on.”
Caption: MHS Wrestling Head Coach P.J. Boccia, pictured in the top row, won a state championship as a student and now as a head coach. Pictured Front row L to R: Cameron Phillips, Hampton Kaye-Kuter, Francesco Furnari, and Robby Lyons. Middle row L to R: Mike Mastroianni, Ryan Donovan, Alex Castro, Paul Hough, Aidan Baum, and Mikey Boulanger. Back row L to R: Coach Mark Pinto, Jack Cruz, Danny Alves, Coach P.J. Boccia, and Joey Testa. (Contributed photo)