PROVIDENCE – Jordan Dutcher doesn’t wince at the reminder of what he deemed a failure on the mat as a Woonsocket High junior, but you could tell he wanted to.
Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and delivered a mammoth frown.
Late last February, at the state wrestling championships inside the spacious Providence Career & Technical Academy fieldhouse, Dutcher had the opportunity to nail down a third-place finish at 120 pounds and automatically qualify for the New England tournament.
Dutcher, however, sustained an emotional, 3-2 loss to Cranston West’s Chris Gomez, leaving him no place to go but home.
“I was so upset; I had faced him earlier in the state meet and lost, but won all of my wrestlebacks to get another chance,” Dutcher stated. “Then I faced him in the third-place bout and lost by a point. I wasn’t happy.”
Less than two weeks after that devastating defeat, the determined Villa Novan decided to do something about his shortcomings, signing on with the USA Wrestling affiliated New England Gold club out of Franklin. He did so to train outside of the usual interscholastic campaign.
“The coaches there are really strict and organized, and they taught me a whole lot,” Dutcher said. “They taught me how to be more confident in myself when I’m wrestling; obviously, they helped me advance my fundamentals, which helped me get more confidence.
“My practice partners there were at the same level as me, if not better, so it was great,” he continued. “They pushed me. They wanted the same goals I had; it didn’t matter where they were from.”
According to Dutcher, he’s been a new young man, a new grappler, with a new attitude this entering his senior year as a senior co-captain. So far this winter, while wrestling either at 120 or 126 pounds, he’s compiled a phenomenal 46-1 overall record.
Naturally, he’s unbeaten in regular-season, dual-meet action.
The latest wins came in a Division II crossover quad-meet opposite Central Falls, Tolman/Shea Co-op and Central inside the Knights’ home gym last Thursday night, but one of his favorites came back on Jan. 26. On that Saturday, Dutcher earned his 100th career triumph over a Carver High wrestler at the Carver Memorial tourney.
With it, he became only the third Villa Novan in program history to achieve such a coveted honor – the other two being Julian Jerez and Elijah McDowell – but the first to do it in only three seasons.
“Even after my disappointment from last year, I knew it was only my second year wrestling, and that I had made great strides from when I was a sophomore,” he explained. “I knew I was going to have a good senior season because I was more driven – and more determined. That’s why I joined New England Gold.
“Now my goal is to finish in the top three at the states, if not win it, and get a medal at New Englands (which means a top-six placement),” he added. “I can honestly say that, before this season started, I didn’t expect to be at this level. I was hoping I’d do this well, but you never know.
“I will say this: It’s been unbelievable so far. It meant a lot, getting the 100th was important, because I put so much time into my wrestling, but I want to achieve a lot more.
Matt Morrow, Woonsocket’s head coach, mentioned Dutcher didn’t express much emotion after that milestone win, but was hardly surprised.
“He was very subdued; he knew it was just another notch, or another rung, in the ladder to his ultimate goal – to be a state champion and medal at New Englands,” the mentor said. “You know, he lost to Gomez five times last year, including those two matches at states, and that really aggravated him.
“Last week at the Smithfield tournament, I bumped him up to 126 because he wanted another shot at him after busting his butt all year. You know what happened? He was down, 4-2, with 40 seconds left in the third period, but he put him on his back for two points, then got the two-point nearfall and beat him, 6-4.
“That’s when he flipped; that was probably the most animated I’ve ever seen him. He’s just not that way. I have to say it was one of the top two moments in which I’ve seen him react that way. He was overjoyed, and he had every reason.”
Morrow went on to say Dutcher has been to five tournament finals this season, and won four, among them those in South County, North Providence, Cape Cod and Smithfield.
“He’s not only a really special wrestler, but a fine young man as well,” he stated. “He’s ranked 20th in his senior class and is the Cadet Commander of the Woonsocket High Junior ROTC program. He’s already received Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s nomination to attend the Air Force Academy, and Sen. David Cicilline’s primary nomination for West Point.
“Jordan’s already been accepted to West Point, and is waiting word from Air Force,” he continued. “His ultimate goal is to wrestle for either one on the NCAA D-I level.
“I knew it from the first day I saw him in practice, after he decided to come out for wrestling as a sophomore, he had IT. By the third week of practice, he was already winning in the semifinals of in-season tournaments.
“His teammates were telling us, ‘My God, Jordan’s already winning medals, and he’s only been doing this a few weeks!’ They were floored by his natural talent … I have to say he’s a great example for our younger guys, showing them what hard work and dedication can do for a kid not only on the mat but in the classroom as well.
“Heck, even life.”
Still, these Novans weren’t built on one grappler alone. Of course, Dutcher’s been a key, but so have several others as Woonsocket will take a 15-0 dual-meet mark into its Division II finale against West Warwick and Barrington on Valentine’s Night inside the Gus Savaria Memorial Gym.
The matches start at 5 p.m., and Morrow and his staff will honor the seniors beforehand. With victories in those meets, the Novans would clinch the II-B league title with a perfect 17-0 slate.
Among those who have been instrumental in the fun ride: Hayden Depault, a WACTC junior from North Smithfield who is 13-0 so far in dual-meet action and 33-6 overall at 195 pounds. He’s also captured three top-four medals at various tourneys; junior Jacob Costanza, who not only is 7-0 in dual meets and 21-3 overall at 145, but also had three top-four medals, including the gold at the South County event.
Then there’s the multi-talented senior Emmanuel Gomes, who is technically in his first season is grappling at 182 pounds (10-1 record) while excelling in indoor track; junior Thomas Murphy, who’s 13-1in dual meets and 34-7 overall at 113, and also earned finals berths at the Smithfield and Cape Cod tourneys; and Daniel Castillo, a senior co-captain with Dutcher.
Castillo has registered marks of 13-1 in dual matches and 40-8 overall at 132 pounds, and just last week as the No. 4 seed upset the favorite, Cranston West sophomore Tyler Stephenson, to win the weight class by a 6-4 count.
“What’s amazing about him is, in the second week of the season (last winter), he broke his collarbone at the North Providence tournament and didn’t wrestle at all,” Morrow explained. “He busted his butt to get back, and now look at him.
“We also have a freshman in our lineup at 106 (pounds), Anthony Diaz, and he’s already set our freshman school record for most wins in a season; he’s got 33 so far, and he’s still got two more duals, the freshman states and then the varsity states.
“All these guys have really come together this season, and I know why; for the last three years in a row, we’ve finished second in our league to Hope, and – three years ago – we took second to Pilgrim,” he added. “The guys were sick and tired of being runner-ups. It’s unbelievable how hard they’ve worked. A lot of them train 12 months of the year, which you pretty much have to do to succeed. Most of them are with Jordan’s club, the New England Gold.
“I’ve thought about it: How ironic that these seniors now have a chance to not only win the divisional title, but also finish the season without a dual-meet loss. I know these guys would love that.”