DIXFIELD — Dirigo is a defending state wrestling champion. It doesn’t have time for photo opportunities after a preseason match.
This was a big deal, too, as preseason matches go. The Cougars dispatched host Oxford Hills and perennial power Massabesic, both Class A schools, as well as reigning Class B champion Camden Hills and contender Fryeburg at the Viking Duals on Saturday.
“I was shocked that they weren’t more celebratory,” Dirigo coach Doug Gilbert said. “It didn’t bother them. ‘Here’s the trophy, Coach.’ I asked if they wanted a picture taken with it. ‘Nah, we’re all set.’ You just won a tournament, a pretty big tournament, and you don’t really care. They’ve got a goal, and the goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the year.”
After winning its first Class C title since 2007, Dirigo showed its coach, community and anybody else associated with Maine wrestling those aspirations in crystal-clear fashion.
It isn’t something you would consider likely from looking at the roster with the naked eye. Dirigo’s only senior has never wrestled in high school. The Cougars’ lineup will include three juniors, five or six sophomores and three freshmen.
Take a closer look, though.
Junior co-captain Griffyn Smith is a two-time state champion. Sophomores Hunter White, Bryce Whittemore and Tucker Barnett and juniors Spencer Vaughan and Lucas MacDonald were runners-up in Class C a year ago. Another sophomore, Jon Flagg, finished third in his rookie season.
“I think we’ve got a good chance if everybody keeps going for it and doesn’t slack off,” Smith said. “We need to realize that it’s not going to be handed to us.”
“We have sophomores who help us as leaders,” Vaughan added.
Smith (120 pounds) continues to move up the weight chart after winning the 106 title as a freshman and 113 as a sophomore. He and MacDonald (195) are expected to eclipse 100 career wins this season.
Even though it’s relatively early in Smith’s career, Gilbert has thrown down the challenge: He can become the first four-time state champion in Cougars’ lore.
“It’s about putting in the work in the offseason,” Smith said. “Not only doing work in season but outside the season. Going to the gym every day. Some people do it and some people don’t. You can pick out the ones who don’t.”
Smith beat Dillon Garnett of Dexter by technical fall, 15-0, in the 2014 Class C finals. Dexter and Calais are expected to be Dirigo’s chief team competition.
Matt Mower of Dexter has been Vaughan’s nemesis throughout his career.
“We had some pretty good matches last year,” Vaughan said. “I took him to overtime, then lost 9-2 at states.”
Vaughan and MacDonald are staying put in their weight classes, but others have made a substantial jump.
Whittemore, also a co-captain, made the transition to offensive lineman in football this season, and with it came a corresponding leap from 132 to 152 pounds. White is up from 120 to 138. Flagg, from 106 to 126.
Some of that shuffling was done to fill voids on the ladder. Dirigo is still scouting out options at 160, 220 and 285 pounds.
“We’ve got to stay healthy,” Gilbert said. “We haven’t got a lot of extra wrestlers, but I think the quality is pretty good.”
All three starting freshmen — Dalton Berry, Chase Thebarge and Jon Wainwright — were finalists in their middle school championship meet.
Any wide eyes are addressed by the Cougars’ aggressive schedule. Other than Dexter this weekend and the likes of Lisbon, Madison and Monmouth in the Mid-State League, Dirigo doesn’t face many Class C foes during the season.
“Last year we wrestled 48 of the 60 schools in the state of Maine, and that included Marshwood, Massabesic, Noble, Ellsworth, Skowhegan,” Gilbert said. “By the time the kids get (to states), I’ve got no more rookies. If you’re wrestling 45, 46 times during the year, at the end of that, I don’t consider you a rookie.”
“We get stronger by facing Class A and B teams,” MacDonald echoed. “Go out there and wrestle hard and demolish.”
Sounds like another warning to everyone. Hold all your photographs until the end, please.