DIXFIELD – Dirigo understands that it would be unwise to accept the status quo.

With three returning state champions, expectations are high. Derek Daley (130 pounds), Jon Smith (135) and Kyle Meile (171) realize the stakes will be raised every time they step on the mat.

“It’s different this year,” Smith said. “After having won a (individual) state title, it is real important for the team to win a state championship. We came close last year. This is a new season and there will be adversity. It will depend on how we adjust to it, but we’ve been dealing with it since middle school.”

Adversity can strike at any time and have a dramatic impact on a wrestler, both mentally and physically. This happened to Daley and Smith in the finals of the McDonalds and Atlantic tournaments, respectively.

Daley was decisioned by eventual Class B state champion James Spencer of Belfast. At the state meet, Daley was sick both days, but executed a head-and-arm pin in the finale.

“I learned a lot last year,” Daley said. “One of the things I need to do is to be able to go (strong) for three periods.”

Smith lost a 9-2 decision to two-time Class A state champion John Hussey of Marshwood. For Daley and Smith, now juniors, it was their lone loss in Maine.

Meile was in dire straits, trailing 16-5 in the third period at the state meet. He maintained his composure, scored a reversal and stuck the opponent in the closing seconds.

“You are never out of a match,” Meile said. “So, you cannot lose your head. We’ve got a good group of veterans and newcomers on the team, and I feel we’ve bonded well. I’m a senior now, but I remember coming in as a freshman and not even knowing who the seniors were.”

Dirigo was knocking on the door last February, following a big win in the regional. It provided momentum, but the Cougars finished second to Lisbon in the state meet.

The above wrestlers have plenty of support. This includes Josh Palmer (145), who was a sate finalist as a freshman last winter. Brett Staples (119) and Pat O’Leary (285) each placed third in lower weight classes. Mike Jonaitis (135) is a former two-time state finalist. Matt Smith (152) returns to the varsity, and Kevin O’Leary (189) returns after missing last year with an injury.

A strong early schedule will have the Cougars competing against the top teams in Classes A, B and C. This could be a double-edged sword. While the veterans are used to the level of competition, the newcomers could feel intimidated or suffer from a lack of confidence.

Newcomers Dylan Castonguay (103), Chad Oakes (112), Josh Hines (125), Dekota Holmquist (160) and Justin Buttich (215) will need to contribute.

“I like the schedule,” Smith said. “We’ve been through it before and there is a good diversity of talent. It might hurt records for some guys because we open up against three strong C teams, then (Class B state champion) Mountain Valley and the McDonalds tournament. But, it’s really good competition and gives you a good measure of where you stand.”

Dirigo also has a built-in incentive because the three defending state champions, plus Jonaitis and Pat O’Leary are all within reach of their 100th career wins. Having five teammates potentially achieve it in the same season is rare.

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