CUMBERLAND — After surviving a staph infection scare that shut down the Cumberland High wrestling program for a week, the Clippers return to the mat this week for a pair of tough matches with La Salle Academy and Cranston West.
“Every match we have from here on out is going to be tough,” Cumberland coach Steve Gordon admitted on Monday. “Next week, we host unbeaten Hendricken and the week after that we visit Warwick Veterans. Both of those teams are state title contenders.”
Gordon is just happy to have his team wrestling again.
“The state health department shut us down for a week,” the coach said. “We had 12 kids sick with staph infections. It’s unfortunate. We do everything we can to keep the mats clean but if somebody brings in the infection from outside, then we have a problem, even though we wash the mats every night and make sure the kids are using skin protectors.”
The Clippers have their own skin doctor who monitors the wrestlers throughout the season. Skin rashes and infections are common in a sport where the athletes are in direct contact with the rubber mats, sometimes having their faces rubbed into the mat by an opponent who has the upper hand.
“Staph infections are one of the dangers of the sport,” Gordon said. “Our skin doctor takes good care of us. Still, we have to keep a close eye on it. Most of the kids who got infections were not varsity wrestlers but it is still a big problem because the whole team wrestles together in practice.”
Cumberland managed to get in a couple of practices late last week before heading to the Capital City Classic in Concord, N.H. last Saturday. The Clippers finished second in the team standings behind Bishop Hendricken, which is favored to win the R.I. Division I dual-meet title.
“Hendricken had three champions at the Capital City tournament and we also had three,” Gordon said. “They won at 220 (Billy Stewart), 170 (Mike Guilotti) and 120 (Nick DiMauro). We won at 113 (Cody Beaudette), 145 (Erik Travers) and 195 (Tom LaCroix).”
Hendricken finished with 242 ½ team points to Cumberland’s 209.
“Kevin (Hennessey, Hendricken’s coach) and I both agreed this tournament isn’t as strong as it used to be,” Gordon admitted. “They used to get Mount Anthony Union, one of the best teams in New England, to come there. But Mount Anthony doesn’t come anymore and some of the teams that do come are not as strong as before.”
Hendricken’s superior depth showed up in the team scoring race against Cumberland.
“We’re a little thinner than they are,” Gordon said. “Hopefully, some of our younger kids will keep improving and be ready for the state tournament (in late February).”
Cumberland, 11-0 this season, is currently riding a 43-match winning streak in duals, dating back to a loss against Cranston West at the end of the 2009 season. The Clippers, who went 16-0 the past two seasons, were nearly upset by East Providence (11-2) two weeks ago. La Salle (8-3) and Cranston West (7-5) may not have enough depth to beat Cumberland but Hendricken (11-0) certainly has the talent and the depth to make it happen on Wednesday night, Feb. 8, at the Clippers’ gym.
“We want to win every dual-meet we wrestle,” Gordon said. “Of course, the team championship at the state meet is what all the coaches consider the most important title we wrestle for. But we never like to lose a dual-meet.”
Cumberland has won 74 of its last 75 duals dating back to the 2007 season. It has gone unbeaten in three of the last four seasons.
This year’s Cumberland team is led by LaCroix, a senior captain who is 27-0 and a winner in four out-of-state tournaments. Travers is the top seed at 145 pounds. Beaudette will make his presence felt at 113 pounds in the state tournament.
In Concord, the Clippers got a third-place finish at 220 pounds from Cam Williamson, who has made the kind of improvement in recent weeks that Cumberland needs from several other wrestlers if it wants to win the state team title. Max Carlsten, another one of those unheralded Clippers, took third place at 152.
“The state tournament will be fun,” Gordon said. “Warwick Veterans has five outstanding wrestlers who will be tough to beat. Hendricken has talent and is balanced. Coventry is coming on strong this season. Their program is coming back. East Providence is very good. It’s going to be a great state tournament this year.”
The state tourney will be held at the Providence Career and Technical Academy on Feb. 24-25. The same location will host the New England championships on March 2-3.