Sports Person of the Week
Zdunek Pins Down a Historic Finish with the Hornets
Senior captain Pat Zdunek finished first in the 160-pound weight class when the Branford wrestling team claimed the Class M state title this winter. (Photo courtesy of Pat Zdunek)
Losing was never an option for Branford wrestler Pat Zdunek. In Pat’s final season competing for the Hornets’ wrestling team, the senior captain finished his career in spectacular fashion by winning his weight class at the Class M Championship to help Branford claim its first state title in program history this year.
Coming in as the No. 4 seed, Pat defeated the top seed in the 160-pound division at the Class M meet via pinfall to advance to the final, after which he won a decision to take the title. Pat knew that seedings didn’t mean everything heading into the championship, where the best wrestlers from Connecticut gather to compete on the state’s biggest stage.
Wrestling took on a bigger meaning for Pat after he started participating as a fun activity with his friends in 5th grade. Once he realized how much he enjoyed it, Pat began to take wrestling more seriously, staying active year-round as he worked on his endurance and technique. By the time high school came around, Pat was ready for a bigger level of competition.
“We kind of just started doing it for fun and then, as soon as we hit the high school level, we realized how serious it got,” says Pat. “It was fun and it was serious at the same time.”
Pat improved on the wrestling mat every year at Branford. In his senior season, Pat recorded 32 victories for the Hornets, including 24 of those wins on pins. Pat went into every match with the same energy, focus, determination, and, most importantly, the same goal: to win. Pat was rarely disappointed by the results of his hard work, and those efforts led to an impressive run throughout Branford’s postseason meets this winter.
“The thing that motivates me the most is seeing myself on top of the podium,” Pat says. “Just going out there and thinking, ‘If I put this work in, I will win.’”
Following a regular season full of victories, Pat took third place in the 160-pound weight class at the SCC Championship. Pat lost in the semifinals, but then came back to grab two wins in the consolation bracket to finish in third place, sealing the bronze medal by pinning Tyler Smith of Fairfield Prep at the 3:00 mark.
Then at the Class M State Championship, Pat pinned the No. 1 seed, Joshua Nieroda of Suffield, in the semifinal round before winning an 8-5 decision against Jeremy Devine of RHAM in the final to capture the 160-pound title. Pat’s performance helped Branford finish in first place as a team at the meet.
Pat gives credit to both his teammates and coaches for helping him put together such a successful senior season. Branford’s first-year Head Coach Kevin Kapushinski came into the campaign emphasizing confidence to his athletes as they aimed to make history. Coach Kapushinski says that Pat’s mentality on the mat, coupled with his accountability as a captain, played a huge part in the Hornets’ storybook season.
“Patrick was one of those captains who kept everyone in line as much as possible,” says Kapushinski. “He is one of the role models, ideal wrestlers that everyone wanted to look up to.”
Pat finished off his senior year by competing among Connecticut’s elite grapplers at the State Open Championship, winning two matches in the consolation bracket. On the heels of an outstanding season that featured both team and individual titles, Pat is holding his head high as he looks back at his contributions to the Branford wrestling program.
“Continuously going into each match, pinning each kid, winning, and keeping the ball rolling—that’s the greatest feeling,” Pat says. “Wrestling at your best, nothing else matters.”
Pat likes spending time with his friends both on and off the mats. Pat’s longtime friends were the ones that introduced him to wrestling, and now he’s the one paving the way for the future generation of Hornets through his leadership. Pat enjoys the times when he and his teammates go out for dinner after matches and bond as a squad. Pat says that sharing the experience with them has fostered his love the sport of the wrestling.
“I just wanted to make sure everyone was working hard with the time we had together,” says Pat. “Even outside of wrestling, we were buddies. We were like a family.”
Pat is also a member of the boys’ cross country and outdoor track teams at Branford. Pat has a passion for running and is looking forward to competing for the Hornets during the upcoming spring season.
When he graduates, Pat is interested in studying engineering in college. As he gets ready for the next chapter, Pat wants to use the same work ethic that he displayed with the Branford wrestling team to achieve his goals in life beyond high school.
“Every time I work harder, it will make me better,” Pat says. “If you just do it every time the best, then you’re just going to come out as the best.”