CUMBERLAND — When it came time to wrestle the finals of Saturday night’s John D. Gorman Memorial Tournament at Cumberland High, two chairs at matside were occupied by coaches from Bishop Hendricken (Kevin Hennessey) and Warwick Veterans (George Schmeider).
“They’re just wrestling junkies,” Cumberland coach Steve Gordon said with a laugh on Sunday morning, after his balanced team had captured the team title despite crowning only one individual champion (Tom LaCroix at 195). “Kevin and George probably just wanted to see our boys wrestle. They’re scouting, of course, checking us out.
“I really think Hendricken is the team to beat in the dual-meet season,” Gordon added, echoing the prevailing thinking with one month left on the schedule. “Warwick Veterans is the defending state tournament champion and they have five or six really good wrestlers. Vets doesn’t have the depth of Hendricken but they have those really good kids who can score a lot of points in the state meet.”
Hendricken, which defeated Warwick Veterans 45-27 on Saturday to remain undefeated at 7-0, has been lying low the last few years after a dominant stretch earlier in the last decade.
“It’s too early to make any predictions,” Hennessey said. “Cumberland had their usual strong tournament yesterday. I didn’t get there until the finals. I think there are definitely teams that can beat us. We might have been the early favorite but Cumberland (8-0) and Coventry (6-1) are both very good dual-meet teams.”
Hennessey was pleased to beat Warwick Veterans in Saturday’s meet at the Hurricanes’ gymnasium.
“We haven’t defeated them in three years,” the coach said. “We all know they are a tougher tournament team.”
Hendricken will visit Cumberland on Feb. 8 is what promises to be the dual-meet of the winter.
Warwick has six wrestlers ranked in the New England Top 10. John Altieri is sixth at 106 pounds. Nate Collici is eighth at 120. George Schmeider Jr. is ranked fifth at 160 and Devin Hurst is ranked sixth at 170. Nick Salois earns No. 2 billing at 182 pounds.
The New England rankings are a difficult nut to crack for Rhode Island wrestlers. Erik Travers is the only Cumberland wrestler to draw a mention. The talented junior was ranked third at 145 before losing to unranked Sam Odell of South Windsor (Ct.) in Saturday night’s finals.
Odell, a former state champion, belongs in the top 10, as does Travers, who was ranked so high because he wrestled No. 1 ranked Brandon Walsh to a standstill last month in the championship match of the Lancer Invitational in Willimantic, Ct.
LaCroix, who has won three tournament titles this winter, including one at the prestigious Redskins Invitational in Maine, is currently unranked at 195 in New England. That’s an oversight, something that can push the highly-motivated Cumberland senior. LaCroix is ranked No. 1 in Rhode Island.
East Providence, 7-1, is similar to Warwick Vets. The Townies return three defending state champions – Joao Vicente (126), Jacob Burrows (132) and Jonah Aurelio (285).
Hendricken laid a 49-18 defeat on East Providence back in early December. But the Townies, and coach Tom Galligan, place more credence on the state tournament than the dual-meet season.
“Our three state champions are healthy and wrestling well,” said Galligan, whose team will visit Cumberland for a 9 a.m. match this morning as part of the annual Martin Luther King quadrangular that also brings Burrillville and Pilgrim to the Clippers’ gymnasium.
“Joao has lost only one match and that was early in the season,” Galligan said. “Jake has lost a few. Jonah is undefeated. We’re looking forward to wrestling Cumberland. They always have a good team.”
Vicente is currently ranked No. 2 in New England. Aurelio probably deserves a mention at heavyweight but, like LaCroix, will have to earn his way into the Top 10, perhaps at the New England championships in early March.
Saturday’s Cumberland tournament featured several strong regional wrestlers. Johnston High’s Matia Alvarez, who is ranked fourth in New England at 113 pounds, hardly broke a sweat while breezing through his weight class, winning in the finals by a pin in 98 seconds.
Alvarez easily could have been voted Outstanding Wrestler in the tournament but the coaches who do the voting chose Odell for his victory over Travers.
Durfee High’s Eric Benevides, ranked second in New England at 106, also romped through his weight class, outclassing Johnston’s Jesse Ribezzo 16-0 in the title match.
North Attleboro’s Shane LeBlanc, ranked fourth in New England at 120 pounds, also rolled through his weight class on Saturday, defeating Lincoln High’s Alex D’Aloisio 8-1 in the championship final.
Lincoln got a champion of its own in heavyweight Nick Zicuis, who scored late takedowns in both the semifinals and finals to secure his title, the first one by a Lincoln wrestler at the Cumberland tourney.
Wrestling season resumes this morning when East Providence visits Cumberland. Four weeks still remain in the dual-meet season. After Cumberland meets Hendricken on Feb. 8, it closes out the regular season on Feb. 15 with a road match against Warwick Veterans.
The state tournament is scheduled for Feb. 24-25 at the Providence Career and Technical Academy.