It’s long been known that Skowhegan Area High School houses a strong wrestling program.

For years, however, the program was lacking the ultimate stamp of approval, that being a state championship. In fact, the closest the school had come to hitting the mark was 1968, when it finished runner-up at the Class A championships to Sanford.

But that all changed in 2016. Led by a senior class disappointed in its performance a season before, Skowhegan dominated its area competition, and for one season, broke the stranglehold southern Maine teams had on the title. Skowhegan closely topped perennial champion Marshwood for the Class A championship. Not only was it the first state title in program history, it was the first Class A title captured by a team in the north since 1989, when Oxford Hills accomplished the feat.

A year before, Skowhegan finished in a distant but respectable third place at the state meet, finishing with 115 points, trailing champion Marshwood (180 points) and second-place Noble (130.5 points). The finish was far from satisfying for the returning members of the team.

“I know for myself, along with Julian (Sirois) and Logan Stevens, all those guys that were seniors with me, it was the past three years, technically, that we had (fallen short) at the state championship, and it was all about the South,” Skowhegan senior Kameron Doucette said. “It wasn’t about the North. Over those three years, we always excelled and won regional championships up here. But when it came to going down there, we could just never come out on top. We didn’t know what it was, we didn’t know if we were working hard enough, or if they were just better than us. Coming into that 2016 season, we just kind of had that chip on our shoulder. We wanted to show everybody what we were about, that we could compete with them.”

“We all felt like we could have won that state title (in 2015),” Skowhegan junior Cody Craig said. “We all feel like a lot of us might have underperformed or maybe didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. Some things didn’t fall in line, that’s just kind of how it is… We all just kind of took it to heart and came back a lot harder the next year, with (2015) in mind.”

The team took its anger out on the mat against its fellow Class A North competition, early and often. Skowhegan ran away with team titles in multiple tournaments, notably the Nokomis Warrior Clash (Skowhegan topped second-place Foxcroft Academy by 43 points), and its home Skowhegan Tournament (beating second-place Cony by 83 points). But the team saved its best performances for the postseason. Skowhegan ran away with the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship, beating host Cony by a score of 224.5-124.

“The KVACs, when we ran up 100-plus points over everybody, we had three-quarters of the team take first or second (place),” Skowhegan senior Sirois said. “That was a huge motivation, that was a good push toward states.”

The team was even more dominant at the Class A North championship, scoring 243.5 team points — besting second-place Cony by 121.5 points — to win the title. In that meet, Skowhegan wrestlers captured eight individual titles out of the 14 weight classes. It was the team’s fourth consecutive regional championship.

Kameron Doucette of Skowhegan looks to his coach as he wrestles with Joe Kenney of Bonny Eagle for the win in the 160 lb. class championship semi-final match at the 2016 Class A state wrestling meet at Noble High School. Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald file photo

All that remained was the Class A meet, hosted at Noble High School in North Berwick. This, of course, was no easy feat. From 1998 to 2015 — a period of 18 years — only three different schools interchanged as Class A champion. Noble had the dominant lead in that stretch, with 11 titles, followed by Marshwood (with four) and Massabesic (with three). The Hawks entered the Class A meet as the favorite, having won the previous four consecutive state meets.

Skowhegan, however, had no fear of Marshwood, and the team’s performance in a dual meet earlier in the season added to its confidence.

“We invited them to our home turf, to dual it out,” Craig said. “We actually lost. We could have done better. You know how duals are, versus tournaments. (Dual meets) are a chess match, getting the right matchups. After that, even though we learned we had a couple of bad tradeoffs (for match points), a couple missed plays with who we put out (to wrestle), we knew everything was very much within grasp, but by all means, we felt after that dual that we actually had the favor to win. We treated it like that, we treated it like (states would be) ours for the taking, like it was ours to lose.”

Camden Hills High School’s Taylor Crosby, top, tries to pin Skowhegan Area High School’s Jon Bell, in the 145 pound class final at the 2016 Class A North regional final in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file photo

“The respect (for Marshwood) was up there,” Doucette said. “We respected the hell out of them, and the people they put out of their program. I remember my junior year (in 2015), they graduated three guys, Jackson Howarth, Cody Hughes and Brett Gerry. Those guys were just monsters, and they carried that team for Marshwood. They were very intimidating, we were freshmen and sophomores. Julian and I were lucky enough to make the team our freshman year, so we’re out there for the state tournament. We did alright (up north), and then we got down to the state tournament and were just getting wiped across the mat by these people. It was very eye opening. But we knew if we worked hard enough, these were people we could come back and somehow compete with. That was a motivating factor across our whole four years, not just our final year.”

The day of the Class A meet was long and nerve-wracking for Skowhegan, taking to the championship round to have any idea who would walk away with the state crown.

“The one thing that really stands out to me — and I tell everybody this with the state tournament — we were all warming up out back, getting in each other’s heads, getting each other going,” Doucette said. “I just remember walking out to the gym to start the meet, looking up to where our families were sitting. Piles and piles of people from Skowhegan, that we all knew, had piled into the stands, and we had taken a huge portion of the bleachers, more than I had ever seen. I think they all had faith in us that this was our year.”

Three Skowhegan wrestlers captured individual titles. Craig beat Massabesic’s Leo Amabile 7-0 for the 106-pound title, Sirois beat Morse’s Hunter Reed for the 152 championship, and Doucette topped York/Traip’s Joshua Smith 11-4 for the 160 crown.

“If one person (on the team) had placed less than they did, we wouldn’t have won it,” Sirois said. “We wouldn’t have gotten the points to win it. It was very close. By the finals, we were neck-and-neck with Marshwood. There was a lot of pressure going into those matches.”

The team finished with 144 points, 21 more points than second-place Marshwood. Finally, Skowhegan had accomplished its mission.

“I knew that everything that we had been doing, basically since I was a child, had come to fruition,” Craig said. “We had been doing this stuff forever, I had been wrestling during offseasons, wrestling non-stop. And it wasn’t just me. It was Kameron and Julian, both of them wrestled all offseason as well. We knew it would all come to fruition. All that time that we put in, when we didn’t necessarily have to, had finally kind of peaked. We finally hit that point where (we could succeed).”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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