TOPSHAM — In the middle of the high school wrestling season, when the COVID-19 omicron variant was racing through schools and meets were being canceled on a weekly basis, Mt. Ararat/Brunswick coach Erick Jensen kept a note of optimism.

After all, the championship meets were still waiting for teams at the end.

“We might have to limp over that finish line,” Jensen recalled thinking. “But we’ll get there.”

Now they are. The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships are Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center, and mark the start of the postseason in the wrestling slate. Up next will be regionals in a week, followed by the state championships on Feb. 19.

It’s the first time in two years that the meets will be held, and coaches and wrestlers alike are excited that they’re back.

“I think in the past couple of years, they’ve had more of an understanding of what to look forward to,” Winslow coach Dustin Vigue said. “But I feel like the intensity’s much higher this year, because they’re just so ready for something that they missed out on last year.”


The meets arrive this time after a regular season that followed a bumpy path from the start of the season to now. With COVID-19 spreading during and after the holidays, meets were canceled and teams didn’t get those all-day weekend tournaments that normally prepare them physically and mentally for the postseason.

“There’s been a lack of competition this year,” said Mt. Ararat/Brunswick 126-pound senior Brycen Kowalsky, whose team normally competes in five or six tournaments a season and wrestles out of state, but only got one tournament in this season. “We’re a little under prepared.”

“It feels like forever since we’ve had a really big tournament,” said his teammate, 160-pound junior Shea Farrell. “I’m really hyped for it. Practices have been ramping up.”

Vigue said Winslow’s only weekend tournament was the Westlake Memorial Tournament in early December. He said those repetitions can’t easily be made up.

Chris Wilkinson, left, and Brycen Kowalsky compete during a Mt. Ararat/Brunswick wrestling practice Wednesday in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“There’s no way to get that experience,” he said. “Dual meets are a totally different experience.”

Gardiner coach Matt Hanley said even the dual meets weren’t always fulfilling. Smaller turnout meant opponents often didn’t have wrestlers in each class, and Hanley said he had wrestlers go long stretches without facing live competition. One of his wrestlers, he said, has 18 wins this season, 10 by forfeit.


“You show up on a given day, on a Wednesday night or a Saturday, preparing all week to wrestle and there’s nobody in your weight class,” he said. “You don’t get that chance to be out there on the mat, and that’s the one thing a tournament would give you.”

Hanley said COVID affected opponents, but in-house practices as well.

“(It’s been difficult) between COVID hurting you on the mat itself with lack of wrestlers to wrestle,” he said, “and then hurting you in the practice room where you don’t know who’s going to be at practice.”

Coaches have tried to make those practices as useful as possible.

Maine Central Institute’s Bryce Bussell, top, looks to pin Mount View’s Garrett Dunton in a 220-pound match at a Jan. 12 event in Thorndike. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We’ve had to adjust this year. Fortunately our team is tough individually, so they battle each other every single day. But you’d like to take that aggression out on somebody else,” Jensen said. “It’s a big loss, and so you just try to make it up in practice as best you can by working hard and trying different unique things to keep the kids motivated. Because they don’t like wrestling each other every single day. They’d much rather be out competing against somebody else and learning that way.”

Frustrating as the season got at times, the understanding that conference, regional and state meets still remained provided the motivation to work through the challenges.

“It’s been quite difficult. Pushing each other has been the most important thing, staying focused, wrestling the person as hard as you can (and) staying focused with whoever’s in the room at the time,” Farrell said. “These next couple of weeks, everyone’s really pushed themselves in practice this week. Hopefully next week is going to be even better.”

“It definitely made it easier,” Vigue said of having the end-of-season meets. “It is a little frustrating, I’m not going to lie and say that it’s not. But I (see it) as a step in the right direction. … Now we’re starting to see there are some new, fresh faces, they’re really starting to make a name for themselves. Wrestling is back in, and I think it’s going to keep stepping forward.”

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