CUMBERLAND – This will be Steve Gordon’s 46th consecutive season at the helm of his Cumberland High wrestling program, and – as has been the case for the previous 45 – he arrived at Monday afternoon’s practice session at least 30 minutes beforehand.
As always, he does so to greet his grapplers, check on possible injuries or illnesses (i.e. football) and/or prepare them for the task at hand: Getting physically and mentally primed for another premier campaign.
“I just enjoy what I do; I don’t teach a ton anymore by getting on the mat because I’m getting older,” he grinned while standing inside the famed “Circular” (or transitional) building’s gymnasium as his kids slowly filtered in through the entrance doors. “Fortunately, I have some great assistants who have my back.
“It’s definitely harder for me to do the hands-on teaching, so – if I can’t – I rely on them to help me get my point across,” he added, pointing to assistants Jerred Dean and Colin Smith.
Gordon’s crew finished fifth at the R.I. Championships at the Providence Career & Technical Academy’s field house last winter, that after it claimed the state title in dramatic fashion in 2012; he truly believes this edition of grapplers could manufacture another thrilling moment for him come late February.
Here’s why: He has nine seniors who most probably will start amid the 14 weight classes, not to mention some underclassmen who should fill in nicely at the vacated spots.
Those soon-to-be graduates include Dylan Bross at 113 pounds; Cody Beaudette at 120; Kris Nordby (132); Kyle Durkin (138); Steve Masi (145); Nick Tribelli (152); twin brother Ben Tribelli (160); Chris Hayes (182); and Matt Reilly (heavyweight).
Beaudette, Nordby, Nick Tribelli and Hayes, by the way, will serve as his quad-captains.
Among the other starters: Juniors Dylan Faria and Nick Giorgio at 170 and 195, respectively; classmate Dylan Herrera at 220; sophomore Kylie Creamer at 126; and freshman Kam Porcaro at 106.
That lineup, however, could change, as Gordon still conducts “wrestle-offs” up until the mid-season mark to give hungrier and more improved Clippers a chance to start in Division I dual meets.
“I have high hopes for this group,” Gordon stated. “As always, Hendricken is loaded in D-I, and Exeter/West Greenwich is going to be a really good tournament team because they have the brothers, Andrew and Christian LaBrie, and Carl Neff back at 195; all three are defending state champions.
“But winning a state (team) title isn’t so much about how many finalists you have but the number you have wrestling back,” he continued. “The guys who end up placing third, fourth, fifth or sixth, they can score 75, 80, 85 or 90 points doing that for their team through the back door.
“Another thing is this: You never know what’s going to happen at the state tournament. There are kids who you thought would win the championship, and they’ll get upset in the quarterfinals or whatever; then there are the kids who you think will finish fourth or fifth win the whole thing.
“These guys could surprise some people; we’ve got a lot of depth this year. As always, our goal is to win every time out, and I believe we’ll be very competitive. That’s why I schedule so many out-of-state tournaments.”
He indicated his squad will attend the David Bloom Memorial Dual-Meet Tournament in Wantagh, N.Y. (on Long Island) this weekend, and one meet will be against the host school, which captured the New York Division I state crown last season. It also will travel to Vermont to face New England titlist Mount Anthony Union.
“That’s why I like to go against teams out-of-state,” he explained. “It’s all about showing the kids how much talent is out there. I tell the guys all the time, ‘There are people who are much better than you are,’ and it gives them an idea of what they need to do to reach that level. When you face the best, you’re only going to improve. It’s all about technique and desire.”
Gordon also listed his early-season starters by grade, but noted those could be tweaked given a “wrestle-off,” where the winner at a training session earns a bid to start in his weight division. For more detailed analysis on each, read on:
113 – Bross started as a sophomore, but didn’t last year for one very good reason: Beaudette claimed the job.
“Dylan has a ton of experience, and he’s the state JV champion in that class,” Gordon said. “We’re expecting some big things from him.”
120 – Beaudette mustered a superb dual-meet campaign as a junior, but had to settle for runner-up honors after dropping a tight decision to Warwick Vets’ senior John Altieri in the state 113-pound finals.
“He was second as a freshman, third as a sophomore and second again last season, so he’s getting sick and tired of it, and – frankly – so am I,” Gordon offered of Beaudette, who hopes to continue his academic and wrestling education at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island College or the University of Southern Maine (that decision is still pending). “It’s almost a given those two will meet up again in the finals; I know they will in the regular season. Right now, they’re the favorites to get back.
132 – Nordby suffered a disgruntling loss to then-junior Alex D’Alessio of Lincoln in the 120-pound title bout last February, but he’s hell-bent on returning the favor.
“He’s a very tough kid; he’s extremely skilled and works so hard,” the mentor stated. “We don’t know right now if we’ll move him to 126, but I know he’s more comfortable at 132.”
138 – Durkin started for Gordon and Co. a year ago and recorded a solid dual-meet record, though failed to place at the state meet.
“He’s one of a lot of guys who have been wrestling all year,” Gordon said. “(Assistant) Colin Smith opened up the Blackstone Wrestling Club last year, and they go to various AAU or other tournaments to hone their skills. Kyle wrestled all spring, summer and fall, and that only helped him.”
145 – Masi is “only in his second year, but he wrestles more like he’s in his third or fourth,” Gordon said. “He’s extremely dedicated to the sport.”
152 – Last season, Nick Tribelli was a Cumberland standout at 132 pounds, but added some bulk to his frame via weightlifting sessions with his twin brother Ben. Gordon believes he could do some damage in his new weight class.
160 – The same goes for Ben, who competed at 138.
“He’s just like his brother,” Gordon grinned. “He’s a very good technician; he didn’t fare very well at states, but he was good during our dual meets. We’re hoping for a great breakthrough season for both of them.”
182 – The truly gifted Hayes needs no introduction to the Cumberland faithful, now after leading the Clippers to a second consecutive Division II Super Bowl berth. On the mat, he managed a disappointing third-place finish in the state 170-pound category, but Gordon is anticipating a better campaign this time around.
“This kid is tough as nails,” he said. “He’s one of our hardest workers, one of the first to show up for practice and the last to leave. He’s just relentless, a throwback to the kind of kids I had in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I had some crazy kids, but they were so tough. They’d do anything to improve and to win, and that’s Chris to a ‘T.’”
Claimed Smith: “I’ve wrestled against him. He’s the toughest kid I’ve ever coached.”
Heavyweight (285 or below) – Reilly took part as a first-year matman last year, and gleaned a lot of strategy from his teammates. He’s a solid wrestler with good instincts, but Gordon anticipates a battle between him and senior newcomer Josh Pizzarelli for the starting slot.
“Josh is big but very athletic,” he noted. “This is his first season, and he’s got a lot to learn technically, but – when you have a heavyweight who’s a good athlete with good balance – you can usually compete at this level. We’ll see how both prepare and improve.”
170 – Faria finished third at the state JV tourney last season, but has earned a chance to start for Gordon’s varsity program.
195 – Giorgio’s a standout linebacker for the CHS gridders, so his talent is obvious.
“He had a great dual-meet season as a sophomore, but didn’t do too well at states,” the mentor recalled. “Still, he’s grown into that weight class, and he’s going to be a solid 195-pounder.”
220 – Gordon admitted Herrera only moved up to the varsity squad “for a cup of coffee” a year ago, but mustered a terrific outing at the JV state meet.
“He came out ahead in all of the ‘wrestle-offs’ against his teammates, and most of them are really competitive,” he said. “I’m looking for him to have a banner season.”
126 – The sophomore Creamer didn’t place in the state championships, but did win most of his dual-meet competitions. With that, and his superior grades, he achieved Academic All-State status.
“He’s a really smart kid, and he’s come along well for us,” Gordon mentioned. “I can’t wait to see how much he’s improved.”
106 – The lone freshman starter (unless someone dethrones him), Porcaro snatched the Rhode Island Middle School title in his weight category last winter.
“He’s a little light for the division, but the experience will be great for him,” Gordon said. “He could go a long way, as he’s got great instincts.”
The veteran mentor will discover just how far his squadron has come along during early-season workouts when the Clippers travel to Middletown for their first D-I clash at 7 p.m., Wednesday. Just 24 hours later, they’ll face Johnston in their home opener.
“(Johnston) finished ahead of this at states last year, so that’s going to be a tough one,” Gordon shrugged. “I believe these kids can go as far as they want to go. We’ve got a lot of depth, so that will be a key.”