MIDDLEBURY — No wrestler from one of the four local high school programs stood on the top of a podium when last week’s annual Hubie Wagner Invitational Tournament concluded in the Middlebury gym, but each of the four teams had something to be happy about.
The host Tigers had the best performance, tying for sixth with Champlain Valley among the 18 programs competing on Dec. 28 and trailing only one Vermont team, the combined Bellow Falls-Hartford squad.
The top four spots were claimed by New York teams: Shaker, Watervliet, Granville and Cohoes, in that order. Vergennes was ninth, Mount Abraham took 12th despite fielding only six wrestlers, and the rebuilding Otter Valley team — composed entirely of freshmen and sophomores — finished 14th.
MUHS senior Gabe LaBerge enjoyed the best tournament individually, taking second with a 4-1 record and leading a Tiger 2-3-4 finish at 195 pounds. His freshman teammate Nate Gebo took second at 99 pounds with a 3-2 mark, senior Tyler LaPlant went 3-1 and was third at 220, and although junior Jakob Trautwein suffered his first loss of the season, he still went 4-1 and took fifth in the competitive 182-pound class.
More importantly, first-year Tiger coach Ethan Raymond said his wrestlers continue to work hard and get better on an almost daily basis.
“In the big picture, every week we’re making more and more improvements,” Raymond said. “I told them as long as we keep getting better, by the end of the year we’ll be where we want to be. Just keep working in practice, just keep paying attention, just keep focusing on the small details and we’ll be fine. And they do.”
He said the team’s experienced wrestlers have helped set a tone that is helping all his wrestlers thrive.
“What’s allowing them to grow is their willingness to listen,” Raymond said. “I’m really glad we have that type of kids with that type of attitude. They’re willing to try things and learn regardless of their experience level.”
He believes the Tigers are on track to “perform to their highest potential at the end of the year,” and wrestlers like LaPlant, LaBerge, Trautwein, Gebo, and seniors Walter Odell and Skyler Shute will help the program reach its goals.
“I’d like to get multiple New England qualifiers as a team,” Raymond said. “Last year we had one. This year I’d like two or three, and I think it’s definitely in the cards.”
The full MUHS results were:
• 99 pounds: 2. Gebo, 3-2.
• 106: Kyle Desabrais, 1-4.
• 126: 5. James Whitley, 2-2.
• 170: 5. Shute, 4-1; Nick Beauchamp, 0-3.
• 182: 5. Trautwein, 4-1; Asa Vessa, 0-4.
• 195: 2. Gabe LaBerge, 4-1; 3. Chris Gobbi, 4-1; 4. Wyatt LaBerge, 3-2.
• 220: 3. LaPlant, 3-1; Thomas Langevin, 1-3.
• 285: 4. Odell, 4-1; Benn Lussier, 0-4.
Vergennes was led by senior T.J. Simpson’s second-place effort in the tough 170-pound class, and got podium finishes from sophomores Luke Stinchfield (120) and Erik Eisenhower (182) and freshmen Ethan Reardon (99) and Ryan Paquin (170).
“Some young kids are really stepping it up a little bit here,” said VUHS assistant Scott Bissonette, filling in for Coach Nate Kittredge, who was dealing with car trouble.
Bissonette said it was fair to call this a rebuilding season for VUHS, which had only three seniors and 10 freshmen and sophomores on its preseason roster.
But he believes the future is bright.
“We’re definitely young, so it’s definitely a learning curve from what we’ve had the last four or five years,” Bissonette said. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to because we’re only losing two or three kids … And we’ve got some eighth-graders coming up through.”
The team’s younger wrestlers are putting in the necessary effort, he said.
“We’ve got some kids, some younger kids, who are really stepping it up in terms of being there every day, working hard,” he said.
The Commodores are hosting the state championship meet this year and would love to do well, but will focus on the fundamentals first.
“We’re trying to do small steps,” Bissonette said. “It all comes down to basic wrestling with a team like we have.”
The VUHS results at MUHS were:
• 99: 3. Reardon, 2-2.
• 120: 2. Stinchfield, 1-2.
• 132: Leo Orsini, 0-3.
• 138: David Johnson, 2-2; Zeb Hodsden, 2-3.
• 160: Jordan Grant, 2-3.
• 170: 2. Simpson, 4-1; 4. Paquin, 2-3.
• 182: 4. Eisenhower, 3-2.
• 195: Greg McGrath, 1-4.
• 220: Josh Litch, 1-3.
Mount Abe coach Pete Lossmann has seen some defections from a roster that started out at 10, but said those that remained are doing well. At Middlebury, four of six Eagles finished at .500 or better.
Senior T.J. George fared the best, with three wins by pin and one by a technical fall in a 4-1 record that was good for a third-place finish among 10 wrestlers at 145 pounds.
Lossmann said George and classmate Mike Wetzel at 170 have been wrestling well, and senior Jacob Johnson at 220 could also come on strong as he rounds into form after several years off due to medical issues.
Sophomores Josh Roy (113) and Josh Russin (152) have also wrestled well enough to give the Eagles enough depth to compete in dual meets, Lossmann said.
“Overall, when it boils down to the end of the year, I hope we’re going to be in the finals for the NVAC tournament, anyway,” Lossmann said. “You have to have a winning record to progress into that tournament, so we’re hoping.”
The keys will be hard work, good health, and a full squad.
“I think we’re going to have that winning record at the end of the season, as long as we can keep everybody healthy and on the team,” Lossmann said.
The Eagles’ results at MUHS were:
• 113: 5. Roy, 2-2.
• 145: 3. George, 4-1.
• 152: Josh Johnson, 0-3.
• 170: 6. Wetzel, 3-2.
• 220: Jacob Johnson, 3-2.
• 285: Gary Brown, 0-3.
First-year OV coach Steve Mitchell made no bones about where his program stands. A year ago, OV’s team had three wrestlers, all of whom graduated.
“We are truly starting over. I have no upperclassmen,” Mitchell said. “Right now we’re taking our lumps and bruises.”
But Mitchell said there are plenty of positives, including a strong group of middle schoolers on the way and a positive attitude among his young wrestlers.
“We’ve got a lot of enthusiasm in the room,” Mitchell said. “The kids, I think, look forward to practice every night.”
And after they take their lumps, he said, “They come back every time.”
Mitchell — who has had some help from his son, former OV standout George Mitchell — said students and their parents have also responded well to what he called “pretty rigid ground rules,” including those that insist athletes show no disrespect for their parents, school or teammates.
“Whether they want to admit it or not, they love guidance and … structure,” he said.
The young Otters did have some positive results at MUHS. Adam Sherwin probably had the best tournament, going 3-2 against the 195-pound iron and taking fifth. Jacob Scarborough took fourth in the small 120-pound field, and Dillon McDougal, Jared Felkl and M.J. Dennis each won twice.
The OV coaches were especially happy with Felkl’s competitive spirit — he nearly came back to upset the Commodores’ Jordan Grant after falling behind, 8-2, in the match’s first minute.
The Otters’ results were:
• 106: McDougal, 2-3.
• 113: Eric Manny, 0-3.
• 120: 4. Scarborough, 1-2.
• 132: Evan Perry, 0-3.
• 160: Felkl, 2-3.
• 182: Dennis, 2-3.
• 195: 5. Sherwin, 3-2.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.