BATH — The unofficial start of the 2023-2024 high school wrestling season began Saturday at Morse High School.

Sixteen teams packed the gym for the 41st annual Steven J. Westlake Memorial Tournament. Though a preseason tournament that doesn’t count against wrestler’s season records, the Westlake provides an opportunity to get much needed match experience before the start of the regular season.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to kind of get back into it, shake off the rust,” said new Morse head coach Tom Hall, a former Morse wrestler who won in his weight class at the Westlake in 2005 and 2006. “And for all the teams to get back together in the same place for the first time during the season. It’s nice to see all the familiar faces again. But it’s great opportunity for the kids to get into competition. Practices are long and grueling, this gives them a place to test their skills and learn what to work on and build from there.”

Named after Steven Westlake, a former Morse student and wrestler who, along with friend Randy Fuller, were lost at sea in a sailing incident in July 1982, all proceeds from the day fund the Steven J. Westlake scholarship, presented each year to a Morse senior who ‘displays qualities of leadership, dedication, enthusiasm and determination as a student-athlete, with preference given to a Morse wrestler,’ according to the tournament bulletin.

It’s also a place for alumni to gather. Several current and previous Morse coaches were on hand helping with the tournament on Saturday, including assistant Tom Bennett and former head coach Jim Coffin, who was inducted into the Maine Amateur Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003 after a 24-year career leading the Shipbuilders.

“(Bennett) has been here since he graduated back in 1979,” Hall said. “(Coffin), I think he might have started coaching back in the early (1980s). Those guys are a tremendous help in the (wrestling) room, both have been great mentors to me, both as a wrestler and as a coach. It’s nice to have those guys around the kids, I can bounce ideas off them. Between the two of them, there’s about 70 years of experience, if not more.”


There was action on three mats in the early rounds of the 41st annual Steven J. Westlake Memorial Wrestling Tournament on Saturday in Bath. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Cony head coach Shawn Totman, himself a Morse graduate, has brought his team to the Westlake for years.

“This tournament is much bigger than it used to be,” Totman said. “These kids have had two weeks together practicing in the (wrestling) room. Win or lose, it’s time to get some competition in, get that taste of what it’s like. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose down here, it really doesn’t, and I try to tell the kids that. But this is more about getting out there, competing, getting into a real match situation, making mistakes, learning from them, celebrating the victories.

“I love this tournament. And this is where I went to high school, too, so to come back here every year is really cool, I look forward to it,” Totman continued. “I was so pumped for practice (Friday) night. (The kids) were like, ‘Coach, you seem really excited.’ And I said, ‘Why wouldn’t I be? It’s the Westlake tomorrow.'”

For veteran wrestlers, it’s an opportunity to focus on strategy, and a chance to get into proper wrestling shape entering the season. As for newcomers, it’s an introduction in finding out how tough Maine high school wrestling can be.

“It helps all these newer guys get used to wrestling, and wrestling in high school, especially for the freshmen,” Mt. Blue senior Noah Krysztofiak said. “Those incoming freshmen are going to get a taste of wrestling, and higher level of wrestling, than in middle school.”

It’s also an opportunity to scout future opponents, both for the regular season and the postseason.

“(The Westlake) is really nice, especially since there’s so many teams here this year,” said Skowhegan junior Sophie Noyes. “It gives us a good look for the postseason, so we know who people are and how we line up. It’s obviously a long way away, but (the postseason) is in the back of our minds, because it’s what we’re working towards.”

“I love (the Westlake),” added Mt. Blue head coach Mike Hansen. “I wish there was a couple more (preseason tournaments) that more teams could get to. But the season starts on (Nov. 20). I would love to see the season start, or at least open up for practices a couple of weeks (earlier), so we could be more prepared, and (then) we could have hit a couple more duals or tournaments last week, come off Thanksgiving break and immediately get into competition.”

The first countable matches of the season begin Dec. 8, per the Maine Principals’ Association wrestling bulletin.

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