CUMBERLAND â€“ Wrestling season inside the state of Rhode Island doesnâ€™t really get serious until the middle of January. A few of the top teams use the first six weeks of the season to test themselves outside the state in weekend tournaments against elite competition from around New England.
Thatâ€™s the route Cumberland High coach Steve Gordon has chosen over the years. This season, his defending state champions have won tournaments in Connecticut and Massachusetts before finishing third last Saturday in the prestigious Redskin Invitational up in Sanford, Maine.
This Saturday, the Clippers host their annual invitational tournament, now called the John D. Gorman Memorial.
â€śWe have two top 10 Connecticut schools coming in,â€ť Gordon said. â€śSouth Windsor and Bristol are both very good. South Windsor had four individual champions at our tournament last year. We also are bringing in the East Longmeadow, Mass. team that we saw up in Holyoke. And Weymouth is ranked among the top 10 in Massachusetts. North Attleboro always has a few good individuals, too.â€ť
Durfee High of Fall River is coming for the first time. Rhode Island schools entered include Ponaganset, North Providence and Burrillville.
Gordon expects his Clippers to contend for the team championship.
â€śI think weâ€™re pretty good,â€ť the coach said. â€śWeâ€™re picking up the pace as we finish our tournament season. We only have one outside tournament left. Next month, we will wrestle the top teams in Rhode Island â€“ Bishop Hendricken, Cranston West and Warwick Veterans.
â€śIâ€™m getting a little nervous,â€ť Gordon said when asked about the battle for the team championship that will highlight the state tournament at the end of February. â€śWarwick Vets is loaded from top to bottom, led by three-time state champion Mike Myers. Bishop Hendricken is a team everybody should watch. They are very well-balanced this year. Cranston West is always strong. And then there is our team. Weâ€™re going to be in the fight.â€ť
Cumberland barely held off Warwick Veterans to win the 2010 state team title. The Clippers graduated one state champion, Cameron Glad, and a former state champion, Jaron Parent, who lost to Myers last year in the 125-pound title match. The team also lost captain Ricky McCoy, who finished third at 152 pounds.
Of course, Cumberland did not lose its twin tandem of Shaidai and Shoneil Lariviere, each two-time state champions by the end of their junior year who will both be seeking their third crowns next month.
â€śThose two make everyone in our wrestling room better,â€ť Gordon admitted. â€śAnyone who wrestles with the twins is either going to get better or quit the team.â€ť
One shining example of this theory is sophomore Erik Travers, who contended for the state title as a freshman last year at 103 pounds, then moved up four weight classes to 130 pounds this season.
â€śErik is around 5 foot, 6 inches,â€ť Gordon said. â€śHe just naturally grew into 130 pounds this year. He is a hard worker, very focused, who has been doing some power lifting to increase his strength. Several of our wrestlers are working out at a power lifting gym in Central Falls.â€ť
Travers has also gained valuable experience wrestling with the Northeast Elite program based in Woonsocket and run by Bob Gibbons.
Saturdayâ€™s tournament will begin at 9 a.m. inside The Wellness Center, a bright and shiny facility that features room for four mats.
â€śWhen we started this tournament more than 20 years ago,â€ť Gordon recalled, â€śwe had just eight teams because we could only fit two mats in the old gym. Then we bumped the tournament up to 10 and then 12 teams. Now we have 17 teams wrestling on four mats.â€ť
The tournament runs throughout the day on Saturday, with semifinals early in the afternoon followed by wrestle-backs and then the individual finals at around 5:30 or 6 p.m.
The Clippers return to action quickly with a quadrangular meet at Burrillville High next Monday morning on Martin Luther King Day, a school holiday. Looking ahead, the Clippers visit Cranston West on Feb. 3, visit Hendricken on Feb. 9, and conclude their dual-meet season at home on Feb. 16 against Warwick Veterans.
Gordon noted that Myers, who lost only one match in his first three high school seasons, was beaten last Saturday in the finals of the Lowell, Mass. tournament. Myers is a two-time New England champion and one of the greatest wrestlers in Rhode Island high school history. He is wrestling at 130 pounds this season.
â€śThat tournament is a real meat-grinder,â€ť Gordon said, speaking to the caliber of competition in the Lowell event.
Saturdayâ€™s tournament in Cumberland might not be a meat-grinder but it will whet the appetites of wrestling fans who canâ€™t wait for this season to enter its crucial stage three weeks down the road.