CUMBERLAND --- Steve Gordonâ€™s Cumberland High wrestling program has reached the enviable point where the Clippers donâ€™t have to rebuild â€¦ they just reload.
After losing two multiple state champions (the Lariviere twins) to graduation last June, Cumberland might have expected a slight regression this season. There is no regression to be found, at least not yet. (The season still hasnâ€™t reached the halfway point.)
Cumberland improved to 7-0 in Division I with a 56-24 rout of South Kingstown on Wednesday night. The Rebels are one of those good programs that does have to reload.
â€śThey have a lot of good young wrestlers,â€ť Gordon conceded. â€śTheyâ€™re going to be pretty good next year.â€ť
Cumberland remains on top because its program is deep and reaches down to the middle school level, where quality coaching launches the process of molding winning wrestlers at the high school level. The teamâ€™s success over the past decade (two state team titles, perennial contention for top honors) builds a great attitude among each of the 70 or so wrestlers who compete for the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams.
â€śThis is a young team,â€ť Cumberland senior co-captain Tom LaCroix said after Wednesdayâ€™s match ended. â€śIâ€™m just trying to help them along.â€ť
LaCroix, a 6-foot-3 package of long arms and legs, is unbeaten inside and outside Rhode Island at 195 pounds. In a matchup of perhaps the top two wrestlers in the state at this weight class, LaCroix scored a tough 7-1 victory over Ryan Smith that was closer than the final score suggested.
â€śHeâ€™s a tough wrestler,â€ť LaCroix said. â€śI was able to use my leverage to fight him off a few times. It was a great match. I think we are seeded one and two in the state.â€ť
The two wrestlers were scoreless through two periods. LaCroix kept pawing at Smithâ€™s head in the first period while Smith saw two good takedown attempts neutralized by the Clipper seniorâ€™s leverage advantage.
â€śTommy is the kind of wrestler everybody hates to wrestle,â€ť Gordon said. â€śHe is tall and lanky. Heâ€™s quick and he can use his legs.â€ť
In the second period, LaCroix controlled Smith with a leg ride, even though the Rebel almost rolled through for a reversal midway through the period. LaCroix hung on for a stalemate that stopped the action. Smith tried to stand near the end of the period but LaCroix had a good grip on his arms and shoulders as the period ended.
In the third period, LaCroix took the bottom position and reversed during a wild scramble that saw the Clipper come out the back end for a 2-0 lead. LaCroix then turned Smith for a two-point near fall, and added a three-point near fall late in the match. Smith never stopped coming, though, and finally escaped for his only point with 22 seconds left.
â€śIâ€™m sure weâ€™ll be seeing each other again,â€ť LaCroix said. â€śHe kept coming but my conditioning is good. I didnâ€™t get tired.â€ť
Cumberlandâ€™s always-strong lightweights got the match off to a strong start with five pins in the first six matches. Cody Beaudette (113) pinned his man in 2:41 before Kris Nordby pleased the estimated crowd of 250 fans with a pin in 35 seconds.
Sean Creamer fell behind 7-3 at 132 pounds before taking down Mike Congdon and pinned him midway through the second period.
Jon Maccini followed with a pin at 138 late in the second stanza. Erik Travers went out and scored a 48-second pin at 145 pounds. Cumberland had a 30-6 lead at this point, one that would expand to 47-6 on wins by Max Carlsten, Aaron Oâ€™Toole and Chris Hayes.
â€śI think we have five wrestlers who could win (individual) state titles,â€ť Lacroix said, speaking for his teammates. â€śBut we have a lot of work to do. We need to practice and get better.â€ť
Cumberland, which has won two out-of-state tournaments this season, faces a heavy schedule over the next few days. The Clippers visit North Kingstown tonight, then host the John D. Gorman Memorial Tournament on Saturday.
â€śWe have 17 schools entered,â€ť Gordon said. â€śI think the semifinals should happen around 2 or 3 in the afternoon on Saturday. We hope to have the finals by 7 p.m.â€ť
Cumberland will then host East Providence, Pilgrim and Burrillville on Monday in a quadrangular meet set to begin at 9 a.m.