GARDINER — One opponent after another learned a tough lesson at the Gardiner Tiger Tournament on Saturday.

Nic Mills and James Boyd are defending state champions for a reason. And good luck to any hopefuls looking to knock them off the perch.

Cony’s Mills and Nokomis’ Boyd were two of the biggest names going into the annual tournament, and both had rousing performances to back up the mounting hype to their names. Boyd took the title at 285 pounds, pinning three straight opponents, none lasting more than a round.

Mills was just as overwhelming, notching three one-round pins at 195 to lead Cony (171 points) to the team title over Kennebunk (164.5), Mt. Blue/Spruce Mountain (102), Nokomis (92) and Portland/South Portland (83).

There were plenty of established performers in the Bragoli Gym on Saturday, but Mills and Boyd were the only central Maine wrestlers with state titles to defend. Mills has two, as the senior is going into his third year as the man to beat — or, try to, at least — in the 195-pound class.

Mills said there’s been a pressure to this season that wasn’t there the two before, and that there’s a different feel going into meets and tournaments.

“Yes, there’s that pressure of ‘I’m a state champ, what happens if I get put to my back or I get beaten?’ ” said Mills, one of four Cony champions Saturday along with Noah Dumas (106), Jakob Arbour (152) and Aaron Lettre (172). “It’s different. It certainly is a lot different. People look at me like ‘Oh, he’s good, he’s the kid to beat,’ just because I have those titles under my belt. … But I really don’t think about it.”

Cony coach Shawn Totman said he’s seen no change in Mills’ demeanor. The mix of poise and focus is still there.

“That’s the personality of Nic. I don’t think he lets too much get to him,” he said. “Honestly, I think after winning a couple, the monkey’s off his back. I know he still has high expectations, but this is kind of icing on the cake.”

He wrestled that way Saturday, notching falls in 14 seconds and 1:22 to reach the final, then pinning Portland/South Portland’s Malcolm Gartland in 1:59 for the title. Mills waited for Gartland’s first move, then quickly took him down for a near fall before finishing the job.

“That’s definitely his style, a little more methodical,” Totman said. “He just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, he’s very patient. But he’s also aggressive when he knows it’s time to strike. That’s smart wrestling. His technique has improved so much.”

It’s been a different path to a similar point for Boyd. While Mills has been a renowned name for two seasons, the Nokomis senior took the state by surprise on his way to his title.

“My junior year, my name was unheard of,” Boyd said. “It’s definitely different (this season).”

He had another adjustment to make. After becoming the state’s best wrestler at 220 pounds last season, Boyd bumped up to 285 this winter, a move he said was set up by his having to keep his weight around 245-250 pounds for the football season. Now around 230 pounds, Boyd is often considerably lighter than the opponents he goes up against.

His strategy, however, hasn’t changed.

“It’s not too hard,” he said. “I still wrestle my same style. I’m trying to get a little more aggressive, but other than that it’s real similar.”

He’s lighter, but he’s now faster than his foes, and there will be few wrestlers this season that can match Boyd’s strength.

“He really hasn’t adjusted. He still wrestles the same way he did at 220,” coach Scott Preble said. “James has done a lot of work to get to this level, with his work in the wrestling room and his work in the weight room. It’s accumulated, and it’s paying off now.”

It certainly did Saturday, as he needed less than a minute to pin his first two opponents. Cony’s Mitchell MacFarland gave him his best test, but Boyd got an opening and took him to the ground for a final pin 1:22 into the round.

The victory may not have come in a conference, regional or state meet, but Boyd said it was just as important to treat Saturday like one.

“If you don’t take these early meets seriously, you’re going to be low-seeded,” he said. “And that’s just not a good recipe for success later down the road.”

Mills and Boyd would know better than most.

• • •

Saturday was also a strong showing for Cony senior Noah Dumas, who’s a state title hopeful at 106 after finishing runner-up last year at 113. He took the Gardiner title with three pins, at 11 seconds, 17 seconds and finally 2:36.

“I’ve had some tough competition in the past, so I was really hoping to seal the deal for my senior year,” he said. “I feel some pressure, but I just try to go into it with a clear head and get the job done.”

Jagger Bullen (Mt. Blue/Spruce Mountain, 113), Calvin Peck (Nokomis, 120), Caleb Carrel (Nokomis, 132) and Tucker Nicholas (Mt. Blue/Spruce Mountain, 160) also won individual titles.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.