Coming off a year that saw the USM wrestling program have two All-Americans, two national qualifiers and one alternate, as well as five wrestlers earn All-New England honors at the New England Wrestling Association Championships, this year’s team had big shoes to fill.
Mike Morin (Fryeburg), the most decorated grappler in the history of USM wrestling, graduated last year leaving behind a legacy that will be hard to match. He earned two All-American honors and three All-New England Championships with a total record of 133-31 (.863).
Following him on the way out was Matt Ulrich (Garfield, N.J.), who also garnered All-American honors in 2009-2010 and earned his first All-Pilgrim League honors with a record of 24-4, and senior Doug Christensen (Middletown, N.Y.), who placed fourth at the 149-pound weight class at the NEWACs and was tapped as the team’s alternate at nationals.
There was no question that this was a tough act to follow.
Although losing key members who were arguably part of the Huskies’ most successful era, the 2010 -2011 team has shown promise. The same mentality that was instilled in the program in the past four years is evident this year. This, partly as a result of adding Morin and Christensen to the coaching staff along with Head Coach Joe Pistone and Assistant Julio Santiago.
“We couldn’t have better coaches than Mike and Doug with us,” Santiago said. “Coach Pistone and I have been out of competition so long, and it’s nice to have guys in the room who are still riled up and still have that fire coming off a great season.”
USM’s roster currently has twelve wrestlers on it, similar to last year’s squad that was knocked down to 14 mid-season, and then later to nine because of injuries and eligibility problems. This year’s squad features a great combination of veterans and younger wrestlers who are solid on the mat and are focused on succeeding like their predecessors did before them.
“We have a younger crew this year, and losing that many good wrestlers is always tough, but we are going at it the same way every day and our guys are putting their best foot forward,” Santiago said. “It doesn’t matter to us how we are number-wise, we’re going to put our best ten on the mat and we’re confident they can get the job done.”
Senior Billy Cole (Madbury, N.H.) is back after being named a first team Pilgrim League All-Star in 2009-2010 when he earned a 30-11 record. Cole, who wrestled along Morin and Christensen for two seasons, is one of the Huskies’ three captains, and has come on hot as of late, winning his last six individual matches. He is undoubtedly one of USM’s leaders.
Sophomore Peter Gilman (Alfred) is coming off a tremendous freshman campaign wherein he earned a respectable record of 17-16 and made his mark by garnering first team All-Pilgrim League honors, and All-New England honors by placing fifth at 157-pounds at the NEWACs. Gilman — who is also a captain this season — wrestled at three other weight classes last season, making him an irreplaceable and versatile threat for the Huskies. He is showing his strength on the mat this season as he has wrestled at both 157-pounds, and more recently at 165-pounds, proving again that his versatility is a rare weapon for Pistone’s squad.
Gilman’s classmate Travis Spencer (Waldo) has been as good as advertised so far. At 197-pounds he earned his team-leading 18th win of the season on Jan. 30 with decisions over wrestlers from Worcester Polytechnic and nationally-ranked Plymouth State. The third captain, junior Cinjin Goeway (Pittsfield), and sophomore Logan Russell (Bath) have also proved to be solid competitors for the Huskies, wrestling at the 141 and 149-pound weight classes.
Freshman Dakota Jewett (Mariaville), who comes from a solid wrestling program at Ellsworth High School, has adjusted to the college level very well wrestling at 165-pounds.
Of course, by having guys at every practice and match like Morin — who was USM’s first ever All-American — and Christensen, it rubs off on the returners and the younger wrestlers. Gilman was Morin’s wrestling partner last season. Cole, Spencer, Goeway and Russell have all seen the way both Morin and Christensen go about things on and off the mat, helping them learn a lot about being the best they can be.
“When you have quality guys like Mike and Doug helping out, guys respond,” Santiago said. “Our team has been receptive to everything this year, and our younger wrestlers have made leaps and bounds. They’ve come a long way.”
Santiago mentioned that by losing such great leaders like Morin, Ulrich and Christensen, it doesn’t mean they’re rebuilding — it means they’re “rebooting.”
“To say we’re rebuilding signifies that we’ve lost everything. We’re only losing one senior at the end of this year and we’ve beat some solid teams this season,” Santiago said. “Yeah, we may not have a lot of guys , but we’re getting it done.”
Although the Huskies may not be having the season they had last year, their overall goal for the program hasn’t changed, ensuring a solid base to build on for its future.
“We’re always expecting to have five, six, seven guys at the top of the conference, and even send some to nationals,” Santiago said. “Putting our wrestlers on the podium is what we try to do every year.”