CUMBERLAND -- Tonight marks the beginning of the best 10-day stretch in Rhode Island wrestling this year. It starts with a battle between two unbeaten high school programs. Defending state champion Cumberland will host 2010 runnerup Warwick Veterans tonight at The Wellness Center with the regular season dual-meet title at stake.
On Friday, Brown University will host No. 1-ranked Cornell in a 3 p.m. match at the Pizzitola Center. The match will be well-attended by various high school coaches from near and far along with several teams. Cumberland coach Steve Gordon, for one, is bringing his entire squad to watch the meet.
Next Monday, Warwick Veterans will finish its dual-meet season with a tri-meet against fellow state contenders Bishop Hendricken and Cranston West. That’s a helluva tuneup for the state meet, which begins four days later at the Providence Career and Technical Center on Westminster Street. The state meet starts at around 4 p.m. on Friday and finishes with championship matches in all 14 weight classes beginning at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.
This is where Cumberland picked up its state team championship last year. It is why the Clippers are considered the defending champions. People forget who wins the dual-meet championship in a hurry, even though the title means everything to the winning team when it happens.
The state meet tends to dwarf all other competition as it is the event that every wrestler points to from the time official team practice sessions begin in November.
“The state team title has always been held as more prestigious by coaches,” Bishop Hendricken coach Kevin Hennessey was saying on Tuesday afternoon. “Don’t get me wrong. I would love to have an undefeated season and win the dual-meet championship. I really liked the dual-meet tournament we had for a few years and am unhappy that it no longer exists.”
Hennessey led Hendricken to the state team championship in 2004. His Hawks are usually in the thick of things each winter. Hendricken is 11-2 this season, losing only to Cumberland and Cranston West. A student of the sport, Hennessey is a good man to talk to when it comes to forecasting what will happen tonight when Warwick Veterans visits Cumberland.
“I think it’s going to come down to strategy,” Hennessey predicted. “There will be some lineup changes by both coaches that will have a big impact on the meet. It’s a matter of who puts his wrestlers in the best position to win.
“Bonus points could be big, too,” Hennessey added, referring to pins, technical falls and major decisions that offer more team points than just a straight three points for a victory by decision. Pins are worth six team points, tech falls are good for five and a major decision (where a wrestler wins by eight or more points) are worth four team points.
Cumberland scored eight pins and one major decision in its 52-30 win over Hendricken last week. In that meet, 13 of the 14 individual matches ended in pins. Neither Gordon nor Hennessey were happy with that aspect of the match. Pins should not occur with such rapidity when two good teams meet.
“I don’t know if the average fan sees all the strategy involved in wrestling,” Hennessey said, seeking to explain how an overmatched wrestler can help his team just by avoiding giving those bonus points to the opposition.
“Every wrestler goes out there with the intent to win,” Hennessey said, “but sometimes the job of a wrestler might be not to lose by a pin. You tell the kid to control the hands, slow down the match, work the lines (out-of-bounds). Stalling is part of the sport in certain situations. It is part of the strategy of wrestling.”
Warwick Veterans is led by three-time state champion Mike Meyers, who has lost only two matches in his high school career, one in the finals of the New England championship as a freshman, and then this winter during a tournament in Lowell, Mass. Meyers is wrestling at 130 pounds this year. He is scheduled to face Cumberland sophomore Erik Travers, who is seeded second in the state behind Meyers.
Meyers is so good that Travers may have to wrestle a cautious match just to avoid getting pinned. Or, it could be that Travers has developed so rapidly this season that he might give Meyers a real battle. That’s the beauty of wrestling. When two talented kids square off, nobody really knows what is going to happen, even when one of the best wrestlers in state history takes the mat.
Cumberland usually holds a decided advantage in the lightweights. The Clippers piled up an early 24-3 lead over Hendricken. Warwick Vets, however, will be favored in the first two matches tonight. Freshman John Altieri is ranked No. 1 in the state at 103 pounds. Cumberland’s Cody Beaudette is the second seed.
At 112, Warwick sophomore Nate Colicci is seeded second in the state. He’ll be a heavy favorite over Cumberland’s Kris Nordby.
Cumberland has relied all season on the pinning skills of the Lariviere twins (Shai and Shoneil) at 119 and 125 pounds but these two dynamic Clippers will be running into Warwick wrestlers who will seek to use all of the mat and avoid getting cradled, or headlocked, or stuck in the mat by the twins.
The Clippers also normally get six points from Travers at 130 but that isn’t happening tonight unless a blue moon is hanging in the sky over Cumberland.
After Meyers and Travers settle things at 130, the dual-meet will really get interesting. Cumberland will be favored at 135. The 140 bout could be a tossup, a swing match that might establish momentum for the team that wins this match. Warwick coach Mike Nappa might start juggling his lineup and Gordon, who normally wrestles his set lineup, may have a switch or two in mind.
If it comes down to the final bout, Warwick heavyweight Pearce Thomson probably has an edge over Cumberland’s Josh Delannoy. The Wellness Center crowd will be making a lot of noise if this dual-meet comes down to the final match.
The winning team will celebrate its victory while the losing team will immediately begin thinking of revenge at the state meet.
Before then, the Rhode Island wrestling community will descend on the Pizzitola Center for Friday’s Brown-Cornell meet.
“I think it’s a great thing for wrestling to have the top team in the country come to Brown,” Hennessey said. “I just wish they weren’t having the meet at 3 in the afternoon. I wish they made it a real showcase event and started the meet at 7 p.m. My freshman team has to practice on Friday afternoon for their state meet so a lot of our kids will miss seeing Cornell. We’ve been to their camp a few times. (Cornell’s) Robbie Koll is a great coach.”