TJ Vallee has learned a lot about his sport since joining the Bridgewater State University wrestling team last year. But he already possessed the attributes that have made him the No. 1 ranked wrestler in New England in his division and weight class.

Physical and mental toughness were what led Vallee to a state title his senior year at Cony High School and they’ve served him well in college. He’s currently 17-1 and the top-ranked Division III wrestler in New England in the 197-pound weight class.

“He’s extremely strong,” Bridgewater State coach Jason York said. “His strength is his strength. Also his mentality. That’s what separates him from the rest of the kids in New England.”

Vallee struggled at times his freshman year at Bridgewater, competing in the 184-pound division. He finished at 10-9 while learning on the job.

He came into this season hoping he wouldn’t have to get down to 184 pounds for two reasons: His walking around weight is 215 pounds and the Bears already have an accomplished wrestler at 197.

“I came in hoping I wouldn’t have to cut to 184,” Vallee said. “Now it’s more winning the New England tournament and going on to the national championships.”

The New England championships will be held Feb. 25 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. Vallee expects plenty of competition from No. 2 ranked Phil Ernst of Roger Williams University and Travis Spencer of the University of Southern Maine. He’s also pushed every day in practice and weekly wrestle-offs from senior teammate Andrew Frazer. Frazer will likely be on the mat this weekend since Vallee is still suffering from the effects of a concussion he sustained last week in practice.

“He’ll be back in action Wednesday (vs. Roger Williams),” York said.

Vallee’s lone loss this season came against Jared Myhrberg of Cortland State when he was pinned in the first period.

“Each match you take something different from it,” Vallee said.

York, a former state champ at Bonny Eagle High School, said Vallee is a quick learner. And although his mental and physical toughness carry him through many of his matches, he’s improved in technique as well.

“He always listens, always wants to learn more,” York said. “He’s a great kid to coach.”

York said Vallee does a good job of staying on his feet and putting opponents on their backs. On those rare occasions Vallee finds himself on the mat, he doesn’t stay there long.

“People can’t hold him down this year like they did last year,” York said. Experience rather than technique is Vallee’s next step in his progress, York said.

“He’s right there,” York said. “He’s knocking on the door. You don‘t need to be a great technician. The things he does well he does well. It’s basically just little things.”

Vallee compiled an impressive record at Cony, setting a school record for wins with 177 and pins with 113. He also was a standout football and baseball player and played lacrosse his senior year. Through it all, he worked to improve his strength and fitness and continues to do so.

“During the offseason I run and lift twice a day,” he said. Vallee said the experience he gained last season showed him he could “hang with the college guys.”

He also learned another valuable lesson last month when he was confronted by five men while just off campus in Bridgewater.

“There were words said,” Vallee said. “I said something back.”

A fight ensued and Vallee sustained a superficial knife wound to his chest. No one has been charged in the incident so far.

“I was actually lucky to walk away,” Vallee said. Added York: “Next time walk away, it’s not worth it.”

The confrontation aside, Vallee has enjoyed his time at school. “I love Bridgewater, “ he said. “I love all the guys on my team, it’s really close-knit.”

Vallee has also thrived in the classroom, achieving a 3.7 GPA last semester. An exercise science major, he plans to attend chiropractic school after graduation.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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