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Steve Gordon has been coaching Cumberland Highâ€™s wrestling program since time began. Well, not quite. Just since he got the program started back in 1969. Thatâ€™s 43 years, if youâ€™re counting.
The 70-year-old coach spent many of those early years trying to build his program from the ground floor up, creating a wrestling community in Cumberland, one or two parents at a time, that formed the foundation for his program.
Gordon learned a lot from the Coventry High School wrestling program, a dynasty that produced 17 straight state championship teams between 1982-98.
â€śCoventry set the standard,â€ť Gordon said on Monday, a day before his unbeaten Clippers (13-0), would visit the 9-4 Oakers, who have revitalized Coventryâ€™s program this season. â€śThey had a great youth program in the community back when they were dominating the state. When kids got to the high school level, they were well-trained and ready to compete. They were the only school in the state that had a feeder program from the middle schools. I think they started losing kids for a while but now they are getting them back into wrestling.
â€śWe had no middle school wrestling program in Cumberland for the longest time,â€ť Gordon recalled. â€śThe parents got together and funded wrestling in the middle schools for a couple years and then we went to the School Board around 15 years ago and convinced them that there was interest in wrestling at that level. They agreed and now our middle schools produce a lot of good wrestlers. You need that because wrestling isnâ€™t a sport where you can take a kid in ninth or 10th grade and turn him into a winning wrestler.â€ť
Cumberland has produced a mini-dynasty in recent years, winning state titles in 2005 and 2010. The Clippers may be a better dual-meet team than tourney team, having won their last 45 duals in a row dating back to the 2009 season. Cumberland is 13-0 this season after finishing 16-0 the last two winters.
That streak will be severely tested tonight at Coventry and again at home on Wednesday night when Bishop Hendricken (12-0) visits The Wellness Center.
â€śItâ€™s important to wrestling in the state that Coventry is getting good again,â€ť Gordon admitted. â€śWe need them to be good. I am definitely not looking past Coventry to our match with Hendricken. Coventry won seven of 14 matches against Hendricken last week. They lost the meet (39-27) because Hendricken came up with some big pins.â€ť
Coventry, like Cumberland, is stronger in the lighter weight classes.
â€śTheyâ€™re very good from 120 through 138,â€ť Gordon said.
The Oakers fell behind Hendricken 18-0 due to losses by fall at 106, 113 and 120. They won the next four matches to climb within three points at 18-15 before the Hawks regained their edge with wins at 152, 160 and 170.
â€śHendricken is just so balanced,â€ť Gordon said. â€śThe big thing about their lineup is they donâ€™t get pinned very often. Every one of their wrestlers is very competitive. You have to avoid getting pinned against Hendricken.â€ť
Cumberlandâ€™s lineup is led by co-captain Tom LaCroix, who is unbeaten this season at 195 pounds and winner of five tournaments. Junior Erik Travers is the No. 1 wrestler in the state at 145 pounds.
â€śTommy has really stepped up this season,â€ť Gordon admitted. â€śHe lost in the state finals last year and that loss has really motivated him. Tommy wants to win in the worst way this year. He is very confident and a huge team leader. Whatever he says, the kids do.â€ť
Gordon describes Travers as â€śa machine on the mat. He doesnâ€™t let up at all in practice. Anyone who wrestles in his group during practice is going to get better. Erik is constantly on the attack and he never lets success go to his head.â€ť
Travers also lost in the state finals last year at 130 pounds to four-time state champion Mike Myers of Warwick Veterans.
Cumberland will need to attack Coventry in the first two matches, where Dylan Bross (106) and Cody Beaudette (113) launch the lineup. Bross got pinned quickly in his last match against Cranston Westâ€™s Max Oâ€™Connell, a freshman who is ranked second in the state. Beaudette erased that early 6-0 deficit with a 75-second pin to even the meet.
Cumberland, which fell behind East Providence (12-2) by 20 team points back on Jan. 16 before rallying for a 40-32 victory, could be trailing Coventry heading into 145 pounds. As Gordon said, the Oakers are strong from 120 through 138, where Dylan Dupre is one of the best in the state, as is Cumberlandâ€™s Jon Maccini. That will be an interesting swing match tonight.
Cumberlandâ€™s lineup is not without holes this season. The Clippers are vulnerable at 106, 120, 126, 182 and 285 pounds this season. Cam Williamson has turned into a solid 220-pounder. It was his dramatic pin in the East Providence match that kept the Clippersâ€™ hopes for an unbeaten season alive.
Assuming Cumberland escapes Coventryâ€™s raucous gym with a victory tonight, the state wrestling community will turn its attention to Wednesdayâ€™s match between the Clippers and Hawks, the acknowledged two best dual-meet teams in the state.
â€śI expect a pretty large crowd,â€ť Gordon said. â€śThere will be some fans and coaches from around the state who will drop in to watch this match.â€ť
Hendricken will send a solid contingent of spectators to Cumberland, and the Clippers will supply their own loyal base of two or three hundred fans to the scene. That could add up to approximately 400 wrestling fans filling the stands and standing room area near the front door.
â€śWe had a really good crowd for the Warwick meet at the end of last season,â€ť Gordon said. â€śI donâ€™t know if we can match that for Hendricken. The people who come are going to see a really exciting meet. Our kids have to go into that meet feeling they can win. If becomes important not to get pinned. Hendricken is deep in every weight class. Itâ€™s a showcase meet in the state this season but Iâ€™ll tell you one thing. We are not looking past Coventry.â€ť