Maine’s best wrestlers will have an opportunity to test their skills against the best the region has to offer this weekend when they compete at the 53rd New England Interscholastic Wrestling Championships.
And recent competition might be an asset at the two-day, double elimination event at the Providence Career and Technical Center in Rhode Island.
Wrestlers from throughout Maine were among the top three individuals in the 14 weight classes who advanced at the state qualifying tournament last Saturday.
The Maine Principals’ Association arranged the schedule so wrestlers would not be idle an extra week, and at the qualifying meet, there were many quality matchups to help prepare Maine wrestlers for the upcoming challenge.
Area wrestlers competing this weekend include Danny Buteau (132 pounds) of Oak Hill; Dirigo’s Bryce Whittemore (160); Mountain Valley’s Caleb Austin (126) and Ethan Boucher (138); and the Oxford Hills trio of Dawson Stevens (160), Zuka Mabior (finalist at 182) and Jeff Worster at 220.
“The kids wrestled well (at the qualifier). Three is the most ever going to New Englands for us,” Oxford Hills coach Tony Stevens said. “Zuka came to us last year as a sophomore from Florida. He had wrestled in middle school. He’s a great kid with a heart of gold.”
The qualifying tournament was extremely competitive and included a handful of surprises.
Buteau, a four-time state champion, and Boucher will each return to the regional event for the fourth consecutive year.
“I’m feeling really confident. I think if I wrestle at my best this could be the year I place,” said Buteau, who lost by a point to Samson Sirois of Skowhegan in the qualifying final. “I am actually better off being second seed the way the bracket is, so I should be all set.”
Austin had predicted an ankle-pick prior to decisioning Chris Salo of Deering in his final, 8-4. Boucher lost a tight, 2-0 decision to unbeaten Bradley Beaulieu of Marshwood. The Hawks’ wrestler executed a reversal early in second period. It was the closest match this season for Beaulieu, who placed third in New Englands last year, and was a finalist in 2015.
“Caleb and Ethan are feeling great after a great all-state tournament,” Mountain Valley coach Gary Dolloff said. “I thought they were both sharp. Heading into the week, it’s a big plus that we are right on track to be in condition to wrestle and be in great mat shape. Both coming back for New Englands is a better atmosphere. They know what to expect. Ethan is primed and ready and would love a shot to get on that podium.
“I think he has a shot at it,” Dolloff added. “And Caleb lost a couple close matches last year and hopefully has learned from that and works hard to get on the podium and maybe on top of it. So, we are super excited with our chances, and we shall see.”
Whittemore beat Stevens in a semifinal, but lost to Sam Anderson of Sanford 11-6 in final.
“Hoping to go down and win a few matches,” Whittemore said. “Hopefully make my name known to a few people and find the podium.”
The New England tourney is a totally different setting for Maine wrestlers, and there is little time to prepare for, and get to know, your opponent. Because of that, the initial takedown is important. A defensive style can be counterproductive.
Maine returns four medalists from last year’s regional meet, including finalist Cody Craig (106) of Skowhegan, who is ranked No.1 nationally by Wrestling USA Magazine, and Andy Shorey (145) of Noble and Robert Heatherman (170) of Mount Ararat/Brunswick, who placed third and fourth, respectively, a year ago.
Marshwood, qualified the most wrestlers to New Englands with seven and the Hawks have been was the highest ranking Maine team at the meet for the past two years.
Some Maine wrestlers already know who their first-round opponents will be in the 32-person bracket, while several wrestlers will receive byes Friday in the opening round and compete in next round. The action Friday will complete the quarterfinal round, with the remainder of the tourney set for Saturday.