LINCOLN — When Mike Tuorto took over as the Lincoln High wrestling coach five years ago, his primary goal was to change the philosophy surrounding the program – that is, from one where mere participation was accepted to one where coaches and athletes alike craved wins, not to mention championships.
He claimed he began to see the varsity team take strides in becoming more competitive his first two seasons, but since has witnessed a renaissance of sorts.
The reason: The addition of assistant coach Anthony Turchetta, a former two-time, All-Division selection at 135 pounds from Johnston High in 2006-2007. Over these last three campaigns, the tandem has seen steady improvement, not just in collective mind-set but program success.
Two winters ago, the Lions earned a top 15 placement at the R.I. Championships, and – just last March, after snatching its first Division II-South crown – they finished in the top 10 at the state meet for the first time in, well, Tuorto didn't know how long.
That 2012-13 squad also gave the school two state champions, including then-senior Nik Zicuis at 220 pounds and current senior Alex D'Aloisio at 120.
“The culture started to change when we teamed up,” Tuorto stated moments after Lincoln had posted a satisfying 48-30 Division II triumph over Cranston East at the Lions' Den on Wednesday night. “We just had a cohesiveness; we were on the same page in what we wanted our wrestlers to do.
“We thought the same things about wrestling styles, how to conduct practices, what to teach and how, and – more than anything – help each kid develop a more competitive way of thinking,” he added. “We weren't going to continue to attend just invitationals in-state, but travel outside. We wanted them to see how kids in other states wrestled.”
Because he hailed from Kings Park High in Long Island, N.Y. – where he gleaned two All-County honors and one league title between 1997-2001 – he knew the more his Lions traveled, the more experience and confidence they would gain.
“Being from New York, I knew we had to go outside; I wanted them to see how the other half lives, what other wrestlers were doing (stylistically) and why,” noted Tuorto, who after graduation grappled at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut for three years before blowing out a wrist. “Naturally, those have helped each and every one of them grow.
“Considering where we were a couple of years ago, it's a vast improvement; we're definitely headed in the right direction.”
Call that an understatement. After the relatively easy league win over Cranston East, Lincoln bettered its overall mark to 6-1 and league record to 3-1.
It has done so with nine returning starters, and heading that stellar list is senior tri-captain D'Aloisio sio, a first-team All-Division and All-State honoree who closed last season at 44-3 overall.
At this point, the current 126-pounder has compiled a 21-0 record; he also captured his weight class championship at last week's Ted Petersen Memorial Invitational Tournament at Island Trees High in Levittown, N.Y.
“Alex is coming off a fantastic weekend, where he beat one of the top kids on Long Island – Jake Lerner,” he said. “With him, the sky's the limit. He's a special kid, one who comes along once in a lifetime. His work ethic, wrestling strengths and desire to succeed at all costs are through the roof.”
“He's a kid who leads by example, and the other guys want to be like him,” he continued. “He's very even-keeled and mild-mannered, very respectful all the time. I've never seen a more well-rounded, respectful, stand-up athlete in the 10 years I've coached, but he has that tenacity, that inner fire.
“Let's put it this way: If there's one thing I'll always remember about Alex, it's last year's state meet (at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house). He had just won the 120-pound title on a pin of Cumberland's Kris Nordby, who's an outstanding wrestler in his own right.
“He was well on his way to winning not just the state championship but also the meet's Most Outstanding Wrestler (award), but instead of concentrating on having his hand raised by the official and celebrating, he instead chose to help his opponent to his feet. He picked up the kid he had just pinned, shook his hand and slapped him on the back. Now that shows a kid's character.
“I tell the others they should try to emulate him; that's the kind of athlete everyone should strive to be like.”
Two other returnees include fellow tri-captains Alex Dasilva and Mike Morra, both juniors who grapple at 132 and 138 pounds, respectively. Each snared second-team All-Division honors a year ago while posting winning marks.
“There's only word to describe Alex Dasilva, and that's tough,” Tuorto remarked. “He's so hard-nosed, always trying to outwork everybody. In practice, when we're doing conditioning drills, he's always pushing the pace and yelling for guys to keep up with him.
“As for Mike, he's so charismatic,” he added. “He's make light of things, trying to lighten th emotional load, but he's also the guy who runs all the drills. He's like a third coach out there, by far the most vocal kid we've got.
“He defines what we're trying to do every day in practice and emulates what the coaches have planned, what they want done. Every day, he'll come into our office and asks us, 'OK, what's on the schedule? What do you want us to do first?' He tries to make all of our workouts run as a smoothly as possible.”
Among the seven others returning are junior Ben Howard (113) and senior Devin Costa (120), both of whom claimed first-team All-Division laurels; sophomore Caleb Gagnier at 145; classmates Jon Barnes and Soliamon Saqib at 152 and 160; and senior twins Victor and Valmore Dumont at 170 and 220, respectively.
“As a freshman, Caleb didn't have a winning record but he did start and gave us a lot of wins in big matches,” Tuorto offered. “So did Barnes and Saqib. Both Victor and Val were second-team All-Division. Howard and Saqib are leaps and bounds better than they were last season. They're better in technique and being more mentally focused.
“I'm not surprised at all because of all the hard work they've put in to attain what they want to achieve.”
With 10 guys back among the 14 weight divisions, you'd think Tuorto and Turchetta would believe their Lions could improve upon their top-10 state finish last year.
“Where will we finish? Who knows?” Tuorto grinned. “I mean, with wrestling, you never know. A lot of Division I teams are better than we are because we're not as deep as I'd like to be, but we'd compete, no question.
“What we're trying to do since (Turchetta and I have) been together is, like I said, is change the culture from what used to be just another sport at Lincoln, one guys (or girls) would choose just for fun, to being competitive every day. We want them to work hard and bring a winning attitude each and every day.
“I think a big part of the success we've had recently goes back to guys like Anthony Joyce, Scott Leech, Nik Zicuis and Steve Corio. Those are the kid from years past who always had that attitude. They started to change the atmosphere surrounding Lincoln wrestling, and the others started to follow suit.
“They wanted to follow in their footsteps. Alex D'Aloisio was like that as a freshman, and now the younger kids look up to him.”
Tuorto indicated if he had one more defending state champion in his starting lineup, the Lions could compete for a top-five state placement.
“That would help us move up higher in the standings, and we'd do better than we did a year ago,” he said. “Then again, this is wrestling, and we know anything can happen on any given day.”
With a smile, he added, “You never know. We do have four or five kids who could turn out to be dark horses at states, go in and shock some people, including me and Anthony.”
No matter what happens, Tuorto promised he's in it for the long haul.
“I've won titles in wrestling as a competitor and an assistant, but – honestly – they're better when you're coaching,” he offered. “It's nice when it's your own staff, and your kids put the staple on what you've been preaching.
“When we took the II-South title last year and finished top 10 in Rhode Island, we all put Lincoln wrestling on the map, and it was so satisfying. It's better as a coach than it is as a wrestler because you see the kids work toward their dreams and achieve them. There's nothing like it.
“You watch them grow and improve and mature into respectful young men and athletes, it's amazing.”
He immediately brought up D'Aloisio's name once more.
“Mark my words, he'll be known as one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of this school,” he stated. “He's a four-time All-Stater in wrestling, and he's All-State in soccer. The kids defines what a student-athlete should be. I can't wait to see how far he goes this season.
“I know he not only wants to repeat at states, but also win at the New Englands. Knowing how hard he works and how tough he is mentally, that wouldn't surprise me an iota.”