AUGUSTA — Prior to a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference wrestling meet Wednesday, four teams were stretching out over two mats.

Cony, Morse, Belfast and Nokomis were preparing for a quad meet, and they were doing it with deep rosters, something many wrestling teams have struggled to maintain since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wrestling was not offered in the 2020-21 season, and it’s taken some time for the sport to come back.

On Wednesday, there were strong signs that at least some teams are rebounding nicely.

“It can (bounce back),” Morse coach Mike Bennett said. “It’s going to take five years, but it can bounce back, I think. But we need the junior high (programs) to have a season. If it doesn’t have a season, the state is going to take a hit.”

Morse, a regular Class B contender, only had 12 wrestlers last season. A year later, Bennett’s roster has climbed to 20 wrestlers, including a good mix of upperclassmen and youth.


“The team is looking really good,” Bennett said. “We’ll be better at the end of the season when we get healthy; we’re missing four guys out of the starting lineup. At practice, we have a hard time coordinating everything because we’ve got so many kids. That’s a good problem to have. A lot of teams are facing that, but that’s good. You look at Cony, they’ve got about 20 freshmen altogether. Nokomis’ numbers are going back up, Belfast’s numbers are going back up. It’s a good thing.”

“I wasn’t sure (a year ago), but I thought (if) the guidelines and restrictions kind of loosened, parents would be open to it, kids would be more willing to get back into it, and I think that’s what happened,” Bennett continued. ”

Morse sophomore Kaiden Webster said he’s been pleased with his team’s big turnout.

“It’s nice to actually have people,” said Webster, who wrestles at 106 pounds. “Last year, we didn’t have too many people because of COVID. It’s pretty (motivating). Last year, with a couple weight classes missing, we got second at the duals states. If we keep practicing the way we have, we can get first this year.”

No team has seen a greater surge in numbers than Cony. Thanks to a strong middle school program, Cony entered this season with 31 wrestlers on its roster, most of whom are freshmen. The Rams can easily fill all weight classes and is well-positioned for the future.

“Last year, we had a solid five guys on the team,” said junior Jonny Lettre, who won the Class A title at 220 pounds last season. “We had a huge returning class from the middle school; I go and help out with the middle school a lot. We’ve got 20 returning kids who were eighth-graders last year who are freshmen this year. They’re working hard at practice. The past few years, we haven’t had much for central Maine contenders. But this year, I think we can place top four at the dual meet state championship. I think we can win a regional state championship this year. It’s good to have (people) behind us.”


“All year, it seems like numbers have rebounded due to two years of difficulty because of COVID,” Cony head coach Shawn Totman added. “It’s nice to see a lot of numbers up. We go from six to 30. It makes matches like (Wednesday) fun. You could tell that we’re still dealing with a lot of inexperience. But even the kids who are struggling in matches against guys who outexperience them, they still realize they’re important, because they’re helping us win. We talk about it every day; it’s not about the wins and losses. It’s about building something. It’s about being a part of something that almost disappeared.”

Cony’s Evan Pitcher, front, tries to escape Belfast’s Kaden Bonin, who eventually won the 132 pound match with a pin, during a wresting meet Wednesday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Nokomis entered the meet with 18 wrestlers and couldn’t fill all the weight classes. Still, the Warriors are experiencing growth.

“I think, state-wide, the numbers are high this year,” Nokomis head coach Scott Preble said. “That comes from the middle school. There’s a lot of freshmen wrestling this year, I’ve noticed. … It’s giving the kids a little more something to do,  Something to do coming out of the (pandemic).”

Cony had success in all three meets, including 43-42 tiebreaker wins over both Belfast and Morse.

“I went to Morse, so I always cheer for Morse until we wrestle them,” Totman joked. “But the experience is fun. The gym is electric. The kids are engaged. None of the other teams left while our matches were going on. It was just nice to see kids excited about wrestling again and the numbers are a huge part of it.”

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