Skip to main content


John's Journal Top 10 From 2023-24: A Wrestling Journey From Italy To The X

Bloomington Kennedy Exchange Student Goes To State In First Year Competing

Posted: Saturday, June 29, 2024 - 9:15 AM


Bloomington Kennedy senior Tommaso Costantini (underneath) competes against Mason Orth of Rocori at the state wrestling tournament.


Here is the fourth installment of the Honorable Mention stories as I continue to look back at 2023-24. The one was a true rarity; a first-year wrestler who is an exchange student Italy qualifies for the state tournament. This story was originally posted on March 1.

Expectations weren’t overly high for a senior wrestler from Bloomington Kennedy at the state tournament Friday. The young man came to state with a record of 15 wins and 14 losses, meaning he had a losing record before the Class 2A Section 5 tourney.

The young man had never wrestled at state before. The young man had never set foot inside the Xcel Energy Center. He was wrestling at 189 pounds in the postseason after competing at 160 or 172 most of the season. In fact, the young man had never wrestled prior to this season or even seen American wrestling.

Tommaso Costantini is a foreign-exchange student from Bologna, Italy. He grew up playing rugby in Italy, and dove right into American high school sports by playing football last fall and wrestling this winter. He was a starting linebacker for the Eagles by the midway point in the season and getting to the state wrestling tournament was another memory that will last a lifetime.

Others wrestling at state for Bloomington Kennedy are Vincent Sheild-Gore, Kelsey Cruz Rojas and Noelia Fierro. Assistant coach Natalie Fisher said she was telling someone about the wrestlers; when she identified Sheild-Gore as “Vinny” the response was, “Oh, there are two kids from Italy?” No, she replied, Vinny is from here.

“(Tommaso) has learned very quickly,” said Kennedy head wrestling coach Chuck Vavrosky. “Another year and he might be up on the podium. He’s not quite there yet but he’s good enough to go to state.”

For someone who had never wrestled and knew nothing about the sport, the learning curve began very simply.

“You start out as basic as you possibly can,” Vavrosky said. “You say, ‘This is a circle, stay within the middle.’ You start off with hand-fighting and move on from there. In the last three weeks he’s really blossomed.”

Already a follower of mixed martial arts, Tommaso said he was thinking about wrestling before arriving in the U.S. last fall.

“I'm a combat sport fan. I’ve watched a lot of UFC and stuff and I wanted to try a combat sport. So I thought the best way to start doing MMA stuff is wrestling because it's the basis for it.

“Wrestling is really hard,” he added. “There’s a lot of cardio, a lot of conditioning. Practices were so hard when I first started because I didn't know anything about wrestling. It was probably harder than football. My friends, my teammates and coaches, they taught me a lot so I was able to learn a lot.”

Tommaso missed a couple weeks early in the season with an ankle injury, making it even more remarkable that his first season as a wrestler ended at state. His coaches and teammates told him about the state tourney experience, with thousands of fans in the stands and eight mats used at once, but until he stepped out for his opening match, there was no way to truly prepare.

“I was a little bit anxious and nervous, mostly because there's a big crowd out there,” he said after getting pinned by Rocori senior Mason Orth in the second period. Orth improved to 42-3 on the season.

Vavrosky has been coaching wrestling for 44 years, the last 37 as Kennedy’s head coach. Costantino is the first foreign-exchange student he has coached.

Tommaso had some familiarity with Minnesota, as well as the Vikings. He said his father used to travel from Italy to the Twin Cities on business trips and would often bring home Vikings apparel.

“Me and my dad watch games, especially with the Vikings,” Tommaso said. “And by coincidence, I ended up here.”

Upon arrival in Bloomington, where he and a Spanish exchange student live with a Kennedy staff member’s family, Tommaso said the transition was a bit difficult because he wasn’t as fluent in English as he would become.

“It was kind of hard to make friends and talk to people and stuff. But after a while, I started to get more confident and started making new friends.”

His experiences in football and wrestling have been a major component in meeting people and experiencing life as a high school student in the U.S.

“I'm having so much fun and making so many new friends,” he said. “I'm learning a lot with these new experiences and I'm growing up as a human being.”

Spring is right around the corner, and – no surprise -- Tommaso is thinking of joining the lacrosse team.

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

Next Article

John's Journal Top 10 From 2023-24: In Time Of Mourning, The Team Shows Its Support