The history of Hand athletics includes many wins and championship triumphs, along with many great competitors. As the Tigers' legacy moves forward, one grappler is making his winning mark on the tradition at Hand for two legendary programs.
As the grandson of Hand football founder and former coach Larry Ciotti, senior wrestler and football player Kevin Wivell admits that the gridiron was a given for sports as a youngster. After being a part of two straight undefeated seasons that concluded with Class L state crowns on the football field, Kevin kept the winning streak going as he has started this season with an undefeated mark of 31-0 in the 182-pound weight class. While he can't seem to explain the goose egg in the loss column of his mark, he does credit it to dedication and persistence through the preparation.
"I can't exactly say what it is or how it has happened," says Kevin, who also wrestled for the Shoreline Hurricanes program. "I have just spent more time in the weight room getting stronger. I just feel I have been wrestling more confident and it is finally coming together this season."
Mixed into Kevin's multiple wins this year were solo triumphs at both the Ridgefield Challenge and Berlin Invitational. While the senior went onto the mat relaxed, he also ignited the fire, along with the will to win as he grappled to first place titles at both events. Both tournament wins were also conquests that were a year in the making.
"I honestly went into both competitions open-minded," says Kevin, who finished third in both events last season. "I was not banking on just running through everyone and winning it, but also not counting myself out. You never know who will step up at these events, so you also have to not overthink the matches and get loose. I just mentally prepared to go all out and I plugged away. Afterwards, it was so gratifying to win both and to quantify the work you put into it and finally be on top."
Not only an individual competitor who wants the top prize, but also a leader, Kevin has stepped up to lead a young Tigers' squad on the mat that graduated many seniors from a Class L-champion club a year ago. Again, Kevin became aware of the privilege of guiding a successful tradition by leading through action more than words.
"Leadership has been big with this team for the season with graduating so many guys from last year," says Kevin, whose Tigers won the SCC Division A title a year ago. "And we have a lot of first-time varsity wrestlers on the team. They have some inexperience, yet it's up to me to set the example for them."
As Kevin and the Tigers begin to tussle with the postseason on the mat, he is ready for the challenge. While focused on staying undefeated, he also goes with the positive adage of "a little bit goes a long way."
"It will take a lot to win in the postseason, but we need to be tough and not give up," says Kevin. "We need to pin people while they are on their backs to earn points. Those points make the difference between winning and losing to these teams. We can still win solo titles as well, and if we have a lot of strong individual efforts, it will lead to a strong group showing."
Kevin's coach on the mat also knows the dedication to winning yielded by Kevin's competitive embers. He has put in so much time to honing his successful craft of wrestling that it allows the senior to contribute in more ways than one.
"Kevin is also very dedicated in his weight lifting, which has played a part in his success. He is one of the stronger wrestlers in the state," says Hand wrestling Coach Erik Delahanty. "His strength and skills have also allowed me to move him between two weight classes in order for him to wrestle the tougher competition for the success of our team. Kevin is one of four captains on our team and so far, Kevin and the other captains have been doing a great job."
Mixed in with all the success on two proud programs at Hand, Kevin recognizes the honor of not only playing in, but assisting to carrying on the winning tradition in Madison. He feels the success comes from both athletes dedicated to their craft, accompanied by fans that always support their Tigers.
"We have a lot of special programs here, and it is even greater when the whole community is behind you," says Kevin, who also plays defensive end with the pigskin, and is looking to study finance or economics in college. "You feel the support from everyone; the teammates, the athletic department, etc. It just really shows that they care and everyone here is really dedicated to their sport and makes it a priority. I am just so proud to be a part of it all."
Spoken like an athlete of pride, Kevin feels nothing is achieved without sticking through the struggles, while also harking back to words of wisdom he mentioned during very big wins for himself.
"It sounds cliché, but I just feel you have to never give up to succeed in anything for life," says Kevin, who credits his grandfather, parents William and Susan, along with football Coach Steve Filippone for his success. "At first, you may not be successful, yet you just have to keep plugging away and you will earn it; you can get anything with hard work."