Eighteen Class A and B schools will compete for the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference wrestling title Saturday at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham. Among those teams are Cony, Erskine, Gardiner, Maine Central Institute, Mt. View, Mt. Blue, Nokomis, Skowhegan and Winslow.
Because of the mixing of both Class A and Class B schools, some coaches consider the KVACs to be a tougher tournament to conquer than the regional or state tournament.
“Sometimes the KVACs, because of that mix of A and B, can be a harder tournament to win,” Gardiner coach Matt Hanley said. “It’s harder to place at the KVACs than a regional or state meet. We wrestle each other all year long, it’s a good (Class) A, B mix. It is that last chance to measure yourself against the Class A wrestlers.”
“The KVACs are the best,” Erskine coach Pat Vigue said. “That’s the best competition we’ll see all year, by far. Seventeen or 18 teams there. If you get a medal there, you’ve earned it.”
Skowhegan, the defending KVAC champion, enters as the likely favorite. The Indians won by a commanding score last year, collecting 227.5 points, 85 points higher than second-place finisher Camden Hills. Skowhegan returns four wrestlers who were in the championship finals last year: Tyler Craig (113-pound champion), Julian Sirois (120-pound champion), Kameron Doucette (second place at 132 pounds) and Mikal Federici (second at 170 pounds). Logan Stevens, who finished third at 145 pounds last year, also returns.
Skowhegan co-coach Brooks Thompson said a team that can have four or five strong wrestlers has a shot at winning the KVACs, which leave many teams — Belfast, Camden Hills, Cony and Gardiner, among others — as threats for the title.
“If you have four or five stud wrestlers, you have a shot at the KVACs,” Thompson said. “I think it’s really a matter of who brings their A-game that day.”
Since last season, Craig moved to 132 pounds, while Stevens now wrestles at 170 pounds. Sirois is at 126 pounds, Doucette went to 138 pounds and Federici moved up to 182 pounds.
The Indians have also reloaded this season with younger wrestlers, led by Cody Craig (106), who won his weight class in three different tournaments this season and is undefeated.
“Andrew Pineo was our guy that only had one loss for us last season,” Thompson said. “But Cody just seems to have plugged himself right in there.”
Aside from Skowhegan, Cony could be another team that has success Saturday. The Rams have had a season similar to the Indians, winning the Tiger Invitational, Mid-Maine Tournament and the Cony Duals.
Erskine and Mt. View have each had successful seasons in Class B. The Eagles went 15-9 during the regular season with a large group of promising sophomores. Multiple wrestlers have 20 or more wins this season for Erskine, including Cameron Grass (106), Isaac Taylor (120), Justin Studholme (126) and Joe York (138).
The Mustangs caught some fire to end the regular season and have seen consistent success from Job Mesaric (220), Jarryd Fonger (132) and Anthony Barnard (145). Mesaric finished second in his weight class last season at the KVACs to Victor Irwin of Brewer. James Blanchette, at 126 pounds, recently fell in a 5-1 match with one of the area’s top grapplers, Gardiner’s Peter Del Gallo.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, the team has been hit with a case of the flu.
“We’ll see,” Mt. View coach Hamilton Richards said. “I am in hopes to salvage something this weekend but the bigger goal is to get back on track for regionals.”
Chris Cole, Mt. View’s 285-pounder, is a possible top-three finisher at the KVACs and a threat to Aaron Lint, the two-time defending state champion from Winslow.
“That heavyweight weight class has a lot of good wrestlers in it,” Hanley said. “In past years, even in the KVACs, there might only be about eight wrestlers in the weight class. This year that weight class will be full, and it’ll be a strong day of competition.”
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For a team like Gardiner, which struggled during dual meet season because of lower numbers, the end of season tournaments play off as almost a second season.
While the Tigers have lower numbers, their quality of wrestling is high, making Gardiner a dangerous team come tournament time.
“If we can climb close to the top, we’ve done well with our numbers,” Hanley said.
Peter Del Gallo leads the Tigers heading into the tournament. A perfect 52-0 last season, Del Gallo has been adjusting to his new weight, going to 113 pounds for the postseason.
Jake Truman (182), Andrew Doody-Veilleux (195) and Orion Seraph (285) have also had strong seasons for Gardiner.
“The kids are wrestling pretty strong right now, we’re looking OK,” Hanley said. “It’s a good tournament. I think we’ll get a good idea of where we stand for regionals and states.”
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Cony and Skowhegan got an early preview of the KVACs last Friday, when the two teams met as part of a meet with Winslow, MCI and Belfast.
The Indians got the upper hand on the Rams, walking away with a 49-30 win. Cody Craig (106), Cooper Holland (120), Julian Sirois (126), Tyler Craig (132), Luke Bolster (138), Kameron Doucette (145), Kaleb Brown (152), Mikal Federici (170) and Justin McGuire (182) each picked up wins for Skowhegan. Joshua Gilbert (113), Victor Tapia-Smith (160), Jacob Fraser (195), Nic Benner (220) and Elias Younes (285) each had wins for Cony.
Cony coach Shawn Totman said before the meet that wrestling Skowhegan would be a good test for his team.
“We always like wrestling Skowhegan,” Totman said. “They are loaded with tough kids and Coach (Tenney) Noyes, Coach (Brooks) Thompson and the rest of the staff are excellent coaches. There is no doubt that they are one of the most talented teams in the state, but we feel that we are a pretty tough team also. When the ref blows the whistle, I know that our kids are going to give it their best shot to beat those guys.
“Win or lose this is the perfect matchup for us leading into the championship part of our season. Friday will only make us a better team regardless of the outcome. You can’t help but get pumped up for a night like this.”
Thompson added the meet was a good measuring stick for the Indians.
“It was good competition to see where we’re at,” Thompson said.
Dave Dyer — 621-5639