On the inside, Chris Bolletino was fuming.
And there was a moment, right as he walked off the mat, when he showed it. He tore off his ear guard, flung it against a wall, and plopped down on a mat behind his team’s bench, letting a trainer working on his cramped left calf.
It took about two minutes before Bolletino was back on his feet and, at least outwardly, it was like nothing had happened, like he hadn’t just suffered a defeat against his team’s biggest rival. He was at the front of the line, hopping up and down, clapping for his teammates, pulling for a win against West Deptford earlier this month.
It’s one of the trademarks of his time with the Haddonfield wrestling team.
Bolletino, a senior, has had a decorated career, to be sure — and he’s currently one of the top-ranked 170-pound wrestlers in the state. But he wants more.
And when he thinks about the path to his ultimate goals — regional championships, state medals — he thinks about losses like the one he suffered on Jan. 3.
Inside, the Haddonfield senior is still fuming. On the outside, he sets an example, supports his team and is bent on leaving his mark on the Bulldawgs wrestling program.
“Being able to grow — to build myself as a wrestler — is everything,” he said.
The loss suffered against West Deptford was rare regular-season loss for Bolletino, a 4-3 decision against Corey Fischer. Bolletino had battled hard and actually was ahead for most of the match before Fischer scored a take down in the last minute of the third period.
After Haddonfield ultimately defeated West Deptford, 42-27, Bulldawgs coach Mike Miller talked about Bolletino’s work ethic, his drive, and how badly he wants success this season.
So when he looked over to his star wrestler, Miller tried to have mercy on him. And to the reporters asking to speak with him, he shook his head.
“I don’t know how much you’re going to get out of him right now,” Miller said. “Knowing him, he’s probably not really in the mood to talk.”
He was right. Bolletino wasn’t in the mood to talk. But he did anyway.
And his words reflected his four-year climb, trying to knock down hurdles — his determination, in his last year of high school wrestling, to reach his goals.
He wants to win regionals. He wants a medal at states.
As he replayed that loss to Fischer in his mind in the moments after it happened, the path to his goals only became clearer. He likened it to his last heartbreaking defeat, an overtime loss in last year’s Region 7 championship to Holy Cross’ Avery DiNardi.
“The biggest memory from [the regional finals] and from [the loss to Fischer] is that I have to open up. I have to get on my attacks. I can’t lay back and wait on it,” said Bolletino, breaking himself down in almost clinical fashion. “In the regional finals. I waited until the last second to try to score. I almost got it and I didn’t because I didn’t open up. I didn’t wrestle my style. Same kind of thing happened today. I just have to work on pulling the trigger, taking my shots and just getting through it. I have to build my confidence up on my shots though, I have to believe that I’m going to score every time that I shoot.”
When Miller talks about Bolletino’s influence on his team, he talks about his drive to get better — which was obviously relentless and consuming from the moment he walked off the mat after that January defeat.
“This sky is the limit for Chris. He’s a worker — and he’s going to be right there at the end of this season,” Miller said. “At the same time, we try to preach team-first. And he’s one of those guys who’s great with that.”
Part of Bolletino’s drive is his love for his school. He’s a leader in the wrestling room at Haddonfield not just because of a personal drive to get better, but because he wants to set an example. He wants to show what it takes to overcome a loss — to get better. He wants to show his teammates what it takes to win a regional title.
And he wants to win a regional title. He wants it for his school. And he wants it for himself.
“It’s all I think about,” he said. “And it comes down to my mentality. My mentality has to turn up even more in the room. I have to turn it up after losses [like the one to Fischer] to another very good wrestler — all credit to him, he’s a very good wrestler and I’m glad I got a match like this. Losses like this can only make me better.”
Matches to Watch
Jack Welch Duals, Saturday at Moorestown
This 16-team tournament features North Jersey powers such as Delbarton and Long Branch as well as top South Jersey programs such as Cherokee, Kingsway, Buena, Delran and host Moorestown.
There will be three rounds of pool competition on Friday night and Saturday morning. The semifinals and place matches will be at 1 p.m. Saturday and the finals and place matches will be at 3 p.m. on Saturday.