Published February 24. 2013 4:00AM
New Haven - One year ago, Ledyard High School's Colin Grim was a spectator at the CIAC State Open wrestling tournament.
One week ago, East Lyme's Kareem Small lost his shot at a division title.
On Saturday, both seniors earned a measure of redemption by capturing State Open championships.
Small held on to beat Windham's Mike Ruffino 3-2 in the 113-pound final at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
Grim edged Jimmy McDunnah of Wethersfield 5-3 to win at 182.
"This has always been a dream," Grim said. "I never thought I'd be able to win (at the) State Open. I busted my butt. … And I finally made it."
Small said: "This was my last wrestling match in the state of Connecticut. This is it. I just wanted to leave it all on the mat, knowing that when I look back at this, I did everything I could to be the best."
Danbury scored 130 points to win the team title after a two-year absence on top. The Hatters have won all 11 of their Open titles since 2001.
Windham and South Windsor tied for second place (121). Ledyard, the Class M champ, placed sixth (76).
Small was used to the Open experience, having finished third last year at 106 pounds. He had lofty goals for his senior season, only to miss more than two weeks due to the flu. He also lost to New Milford's Kyle Lindner in last week's Class L final 12-8.
"I was disappointed that I lost and it put a little dent in me," Small said. "It may have put a little spark (in me), but I just wrestle every time the same way."
Grim was a little too raw to qualify for last year's Open. He and coach Steve Bilheimer agreed that he became a more cerebral wrestler this season, which he showed in winning a Class M title last weekend.
"He had a bad end of the season last year," Bilheimer said. "I really thought going into this that he was capable of winning it, and he proved me right.
"Part of (his turnaround) is confidence. Part of it is he's wrestling smarter. Sometimes in the past he would have little snafus where he would not make the best choice on the mat. … He's gotten more explosive. He's gotten better on his feet, and that's really helped him."
Grim and Small both escaped trouble late in their respective matches. Small had a 3-0 lead with 56 seconds left when Ruffino pulled off a reversal for two points.
Small came dangerously close to being turned onto his back, but held on. Earlier this season, he was tied with Ruffino in the second period when he got pinned.
"He almost did have me," Small said. "I just didn't want to lose. I live by hard work and dedication. I kept on working. Fight it off, fight it off.
"It all came down to who wants it more and how much heart you've got."
Grim led McDunnah early in the third period when the latter grabbed ahold of his leg while the two were standing.
Somehow, some way, Grim managed to keep his balance and free himself.
"I was nervous," Grim smiled. "I'm not going to lie."
Brentt Smith of Waterford finished fifth at 113 pounds while Montville's Jacob Caskey placed sixth at 132.
Ledyard had three other place winners: Devon MarcAurele (120 pounds, fourth place), Ben Morales (220, fourth), and Brandon Finney (152, sixth).
"I knew we'd have a hard time winning this," Bilheimer said. "I was just hoping for a top 10 (finish).
"I was not happy with our performance Friday night. I thought we wrestled horrible. Things came together a little better today."