New Canaan High School wrestling coach Paul Gallo changed his team's originally scheduled opening dual-meet match from Dec. 11 to Jan. 8. He is using the first month of the season as a training, conditioning and teaching period.

After all, about half of the squad -- because it also competes on the football team -- won't be available until after the mid-December Class L championship game.

"It's hard with football going so far," Gallo said.

And a holiday-filled end of the month results in some lost school days and, thus, practice time.

"It makes it very hard to get them ready," the 25th-year coach said of what has become a fairly regular occurrence each December. "Everybody else is going to have a month of practice and (some of New Canaan's wrestlers are) going to have about five days. It shortens our season. It really makes it tough."

Gallo had 11 team members setting up the mats and gearing up for practices on one of the first days of the winter season earlier this month. He expected another dozen to join the team within the coming weeks.

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This creates a problem not only for getting grapplers up to speed in terms of wrestling conditioning, but also when it comes to practice for competition. There aren't enough team members in similar weight classes to have practice partners.

"It's hard to get practices going," Gallo said. "You just want to get to the season where you can start wrestling."

"We're not exactly in the best wrestling condition," senior captain and heavyweight grappler Connor Buck admits. The senior captain, however, knows he'll be in wrestling shape soon enough, and looks forward to the season. "I'm very excited."

The team's other senior captains are Kenny Philipson (likely in the 145-pound weight division), Bran-don Pak (195) and Joao Rocha. Other team members whom Gallo expects to be key are Aidan Donovan (182), Will Arliss (170), Majro Halili (160), Dan Annulli (112) and Nick Khzouz (106).

Depth is an issue for the Rams and Gallo isn't sure that he'll be able to fill every weight class, meaning some forfeits may occur.

"You just look to win the ones you can and survive the ones you can't," Gallo said of his squad being over-matched in some instances.

The Rams stand to face tough tests from the likes of FCIAC foes Danbury, Fairfield Warde, Trumbull, and Greenwich. The coach doesn't shy away from not only taking on these tough teams but also facing challenging schools in tournaments.

The Rams will tangle with some high-level teams in the Dec. 21 Pomperaug Tournament. Pomperaug of Southbury is one of the top teams in the South-West Conference. The Rams will also see Fairfield Prep, among other non-FCIAC opponents, throughout regular season tournament action.

"You just have to wrestle some good teams -- some good competition -- or your good guys aren't going to get better," Gallo said.

The FCIAC championships were cancelled because of snow last year. This year's conference finals are scheduled for Feb. 14-15. The state championships will be held a week later.