PROVIDENCE — Those who are driven to excel fully understand the magnitude of qualifying for the New England Interscholastic Wrestling Championships.
With that qualification comes an expectation of success, and – when it doesn't come – the hurt runs remarkably deep.
No one knows that better than East Providence High senior Joao Vicente, the two-time Rhode Island champion at 126 pounds. After finishing fourth a year ago at the regional event, the lanky grappler had spent months mentally and physically gearing up to capture his first-ever crown at these 48th annual New England Championships.
Alas, Vicente didn't achieve his dream at the finals, held Saturday night at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house. It instead was realized by Ryan O'Boyle, a senior at Central Catholic High in Lawrence, Mass., who posted a 15-0 technical-fall decision over the emotional Townie.
In the process, O'Boyle defended the same title he snared last winter.
A mere seconds after the defeat, the misty Vicente fell into the arms of head coach Tom Galligan, then walked outside the packed gymnasium in an attempt to gather his thoughts. Galligan, in his 21st year at the helm, needed little time to reflect on his student-athlete's phenomenal career.
“The thing about Joao (pronounced ja-WOW) is he'll come back and work twice as hard; he just doesn't accept losing, never has,” he explained. “He's in the National Honor Society and a four-year captain of our wrestling team, so that's just part of his chemistry – winning.
“He came from nothing in middle school,” he continued. “He went from being a not-even-mediocre, junior varsity wrestler at Martin (Middle School) to the captain of the high school varsity team as a freshman. What does that tell you?
“I remember his first day of practice (his) freshman year. I was so impressed by his work ethic, it took me less than two weeks to name him the captain. I've never done that before.
“I've always believed that captains are an extension of the head coach, so I don't let the team vote on it. I decide, and I think it was an outstanding choice. What you see here is his incredible desire.”
In the match, O'Boyle needed only 52 seconds to register a two-point takedown and three-point nearfall, good for a 5-0 advantage. And, with only seven seconds left in the first period, he made it 8-0 with a second nearfall, courtesy of a half-Nelson.
Just 12 ticks into the second stanza, O'Boyle utilized another takedown and nearfall to extend the lead to 13-0, then ended it on one more half-Nelson and final takedown.
“(O'Boyle's) a tough kid,” Galligan noted. “Joao shot with his arms out and a little too wide, and the kid was waiting on it. Joao just got caught. That's life in the big city.
“(O'Boyle's) a veteran New England champ, and Joao made a couple of fundamental errors,” he added. “Those mistakes turn into big points in a tournament like this. He made two moves, and he was down 10.
“Am I disappointed? Are you kidding? How could I be when I've got a kid like him? His work ethic is through the roof. You know, I've had wrestlers with twice the talent of Joao, and they don't even come close to what he's accomplished.”
The Townie, who went 3-1 overall, crushed Jake Paul of Pathfinder, Mass., 15-4, in a preliminary match, then edged Shelton, Conn.'s Sean Kellett, 7-5, in the quarterfinal before ousting Cody Keane of Glastonbury, Conn,, 15-5. After the final, he ended his season with a terrific 49-2 mark – and his career at 149-26.
After he accepted his second-place plaque, Vicente indicated that claiming runner-up status “is NOT a consolation.
“I don't know what went wrong, maybe tunnel vision,” he said. “I just went back to my old ways. I didn't create angles. I just shot straight in.”
When asked what he was thinking, he answered only, “This stinks. I just don't like losing. That's why I always work so hard.”
Not so surprisingly, Vicente has received plenty of letters from schools interested in his talents. They include Brown University (where he interviewed with coaches just two weeks ago); Johnson & Wales; Rhode Island College; Roger Williams; American International College (in Springfield, Mass.); and even Oklahoma City University.
“I don't know where I want to go yet, but I do want to be a physical education teacher – and someday a high school wrestling coach,” he said quietly, still without a glimpse of a smile.
No other Townie placed in the top six at the tournament, though junior 285-pounder (or heavyweight) Jonah Aurelio came the closest with a 2-2 record.
The two-time R.I. state titleist lost to Michael Johnson of Cathedral High (Mass.), 8-2, in a preliminary, then pinned Michael Pearce of Mount Mansfield, Vt. at 36 seconds and did the same to Greg Murray of Haddam, Conn. at 1:46.
Aurelio, however, lost a consolation round to Colchester, Vt.'s Eric Decker at 2:18.
“There are no easy matches here at the New Englands,” Galligan stated. “Jonah wrestled badly in his first match, then did well in the second and third before losing again. Hopefully, he'll learn from what he did this year and use that education next time around.
“I know he wanted to place in the top six, but he's a wrestler, so naturally, he wanted to win it. He won only one and lost two last year, so he's improved by a win. I know he wants more than that.”
As for Cumberland, which last week captured the state team crown by a single point over Hendricken, it closed with only two individuals in the top six.
In the 145-pound weight division, Erik Travers romped over Kane Hardaker of Quabbin Regional in Massachusetts, 9-1, in a preliminary bout, then edged Tanner Burke of Pinkerton, N.H., 8-6, but he lost a tight, 6-5, verdict to Jake Savoca of Daniel Hand High in Connecticut.
In the consolations, he captured an 8-3 victory over Justin Caparco of Johnston, R.I. and a 10-1 verdict over Josh Hadley of Mount Greylock, Mass. before losing to Exeter/West Greenwich High's Andrew LaBrie, last week's 145-pound state champ, 9-4.
Travers eventually settled for sixth following a 13-6 loss to New Milford, Conn.'s Anthony Terlizzi.
Senior Tom LaCroix, whose eight-point victory over South Kingstown's Ryan Smith in the 195-pound final at the state meet delivered to Clippers' veteran mentor Steve Gordon his fourth Rhode Island crown, also finished sixth.
His road included a 6-5 preliminary loss to Brewer, Me.'s Victor Irwin and four straight consolation triumphs over Cal Lechowicz of Hampshire, Mass. (pin, 1:56); Mikell Washington of Staples, Conn. (6-4); Ramesses Akamefula of Brookline, Mass. (9-2); and Michael Cassin of Eastern High in Bristol, Conn. (10-2).
LaCroix then dropped a 6-5 decision to Leo Trindade of Billerica, Mass., and lost the fifth-place bout to Spencer Foucher of Mount Anthony Union High, Vt., 2-1.
“(Foucher) got his one two-point takedown in the first period, which was only a minute long to speed up the tournament,” LaCroix offered. “I got a one-point escape with about 15 seconds left in the third, but it wasn't enough. You need setups and leverage at New Englands, and it just didn't happen for me.
“I did win four in a row to get back into the medal rounds, but Trindade took me down with five seconds left to win it,” he added. “I didn't place last year, so this is a step up, I guess. What bothers me is that first loss was to a kid (Irwin) that I believe I can beat most of the time.”
Revealed Gordon: “We did OK as a team. Tommy lost his three matches by a total of three points; each one was by a point. Still, all six states are here, as it's the New Englands, and it's very stiff competition in every weight class. There are no 'gimme's.' There never are at this tournament.”