For the first time in eight years, the Hockomock League had a wrestler bring home an individual title at the New England Championships when Mansfield’s Jayden Curley took first at 170 pounds. The wait for the next New England champ was much shorter, as North Attleboro’s Matuesz Kudra followed about an hour later with a title of his own at 285.
Both wrestlers earned the first New England titles in their respective program’s history and both followed up wins from the week before at the All-State Meet at St. John’s Prep in Danvers. When Curley and Kudra were asked how it felt to close out their high school careers with New England championships, both used the same word: overwhelming.
“A lot of people from my school showed up, my principal, my past coach, my family was there, so I just turned to them and I smiled and I was just excited,” said Kudra. Curley added, “It just kind of felt surreal.”
While each of the wrestlers was focused on the moment and their individual matches, they acknowledged that they were aware of each other’s success and were rooting for their Hock competitor.
“That was definitely some added motivation because I didn’t want Mateusz to be alone out there,” Curley said.
Kudra noted, “I was really excited for him because, you know, Hock guys stick together and support each other. I was trying to get in the zone, but at the same time I was peeking in at his match.”
The win at New Englands capped a perfect 51-0 season for Kudra, who was also North’s first all-state champ and its first Div. I college recruit. The University of Virginia-commit finished third in states and sixth in New England last season, wrestling at 220 pounds, and it inspired him to push for even more this winter.
“After the season, I was kind of disappointed with myself,” Kudra explained. “I realized that there was no reason I can’t be that top-level guy.”
With a new off-season regimen, Kudra, who only started wrestling his freshman year of high school and didn’t wrestle varsity until he was a sophomore, had a string of solid results i tournaments against other DI recruits. That included a third-place finish at the prestigious Super 32 Challenge. He also moved up a weight class, but without losing the speed and athleticism that he had at 220 pounds and the techniques he learned starting out in middleweights.
“He breaks that mold of a heavyweight and he wrestles more like a 195- or a 182-pounder,” said North Attleboro coach Geoff Burgess. “He moves less like a heavyweight and more like a middleweight. Every time he went out, I said something to the effect of, don’t let this be a heavyweight match. Put points on the board and keep scoring until he gives up and that was kind of what he did.”
After dominating throughout the season, helping the Rocketeers retain the Davenport dual meet title in the process, Kudra came into the postseason on a mission. He didn’t allow a point in his four matches at Div. 2 states, reaching the final with three pins, and continued that at all-states, not allowing a point until the third period of the final.
At New Englands, Kudra won 4-0 to get things started and then 7-1 in the quarterfinal. He got a first round pin in the semifinal and then jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the final against David Gross of Bucksport (Maine), holding on for a 5-4 victory.
“Last year when I was going to New Englands, I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was a small fish in a big pond,” Kudra said. “This year…I kind of felt like the top dog going into the tournament. I felt good, I felt dangerous, and I had a good tournament.”
Curley, who is considering several DI college programs, also had a dominant regular season, helping the Hornets claim the program’s first-ever league dual meet title. After losing to Springfield Central’s Dohnivin Harvey in the semifinals of Div. 1 states, Curley refocused on the technique ahead of all-states. That loss was a reminder of what he needed to do on the mat to reach his ultimate goal.
“It definitely woke me up,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily underestimate him, but I didn’t know what I needed to do to win a match like that and my coaches helped me figure that out.”
He won the first three matches at all-states by pin to set up a rematch with Harvey in the final. This time, the result was never in doubt. Curley jumped out to a 7-0 lead and responded to a Harvey takedown in the third period by rolling off five straight points for a major decision victory to become just the second Mansfield wrestler to win an all-state title (Jim Connors won at 285 in 2005).
“I don’t give people room to get their own attacks in because I’m always trying to attack,” Curley said. “I’ve learned over the years that you can’t get what you want on the mat by being nice, so sometimes you just have to be mean when you’re wrestling.”
That momentum carried over to New Englands. He won the first match 13-3 and pinned his next two opponents to reach the final. He wouldn’t get a rubber match against Harvey, who lost in the semifinal, but he jumped out to a 6-1 lead against Ben Dougherty of Chariho (R.I.) and took the title with a 7-5 decision.
Curley said, “I didn’t want to lose my last high school match ever, but when I’m warming up for the match I realize that none of that really matters and it’s not going to affect my wrestling. I just need to wrestle my best and that’s what I tried to do.”
“The way he wrestled at the All-State Tournament and at New Englands was one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever seen,” Burgess said of Curley. “The way he wrestled it didn’t look like any kid was going to have a chance to score any points on him.”
Both Curley and Kudra made history for their programs and both can now be considered among the best to ever take the mat at Mansfield and North Attleboro.
When Curley was asked about what it meant to him to be mentioned as one of the best, if not the best, wrestler that Mansfield has had, he replied, “I think that’s a good thing that I can set that goal for someone else to do better than I did. Four years ago, when I got here, I don’t know if they would have expected that from me. I just tried to work as hard as possible.”
“It’s hard for me to say he’s the best wrestler we’ve ever produced but he’s certainly got the potential to be the best,” said Burgess of Kudra, who finished with 112 career wins. “I think after four years in college, I’m pretty confident that he’ll be the best ever.”
Kudra remarked, “I fell in love with the sport, so if you love doing something then it doesn’t seem like a chore or doesn’t seem like it’s hard. I made wrestling my passion and I just wanted to be the best that I could be and I just wanted to make history.”