Eagle, Tiger wrestlers excel at MUHS tourney

MIDDLEBURY — The Mount Abraham and Middlebury union high school wrestling teams finished second and third, respectively, last week at the Tigers’ 45th annual Hubie Wager Invitational Tournament. Three Eagles — sophomores Roman Mayer and Gary Conant and senior Ben Murray — and one Tiger — junior Dustin Davio — earned individual championships.
The rejuvenated Eagle program almost won the tournament. After one New York power, Granville, opted not to return on Thursday due to the weather, Mount Abe went toe-to-toe with another New York school, Shaker, for the championship, before Shaker edged the Eagles, 169-162.5.
Shaker filled more weight classes than the Eagles, 12-9, but the outcome remained in doubt until Thursday’s final bouts in the championship round.
Mount Abe’s performance left even first-year Coach Nick Mayer, whose roster roughly tripled in size this season, almost speechless.
“These guys earned it through hard work, but at the same time it’s so unprecedented that I don’t know what to say, really,” Mayer said. “It’s a fantastic feeling.”
MUHS Coach Ethan Raymond was thrilled to see his team do so well in the 14-team event — the Tigers (107.5) edged Essex (102) and Fair Haven (96) for third — with just six wrestlers competing, but took a moment to praise the Eagles’ success and recruiting.
“It was nice to see Mount Abe doing well. They worked hard for their numbers, and they have some solid kids,” Raymond said. “Good for them.”
Essex 152-pounder James Danis earned the nod for Outstanding Wrestler with a 7-0 record that included six pins, five in the first period.
But Roman Mayer at 120 pounds, the weight at which he was third in Vermont in 2016, had a strong case for that honor. Mayer, like Danis a top seed, also went 7-0, but pinned all his opponents, five in the first period. In the final Mayer pinned Noah Bonning of Essex in the second period.
Murray’s championship came harder at 126, where he was the No. 3 seed. He pinned his first four foes, including the No. 2 seed, and then faced top-seeded Jon Lucey of Spaulding, a 91-win wrestler, in the final.
After a scoreless first period in the final, Murray took a 3-0 lead in the second. He earned one point on a violation — Lucey pushed him off the mat rather than let him escape. Then Murray reversed him for two points. Lucey escaped once in the second period and again midway through the final period to make it 3-2. A takedown by either wrestler could have been decisive, but Murray and Lucey battled on their feet for the final minute, and Murray won, 3-2, his 78th career victory.
Conant cruised to his title. He started out as the top seed in the 132-pound class, which consisted of five wrestlers, three from Granville. He defeated all comers, finishing 4-0 with three pins, including of Burr & Burton’s Kole Blanchard in Thursday’s final at 1:07 of the second period.   EAGLE SENIOR DYLAN Little tries to pin his Shaker opponent, Spencer Clements, during a 170-pound semifinal match at last Thursday’s Hubie Wagner Invitational Tournament hosted by Middlebury Union High School.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Two other Eagles reached finals and suffered tough losses. At 145, senior Josh Hardy was the No. 3 seed and reached the final against No. 1 Dakota Peters of Rutland by pinning three foes and earning a technical fall against a fourth. In the final, Hardy led Peters, 9-5, midway through the middle period before Peters suddenly caught Hardy for a takedown and a quick pin.
At 170, Eagle sophomore Kevin Pearsall, the No. 2 seed, earned a berth in the final with a dramatic third-period pin of top-seeded Ethan Hartlage of Shaker, who appeared to have an insurmountable lead before Pearsall reversed him and put him on his back. But No. 4 Travis Morrisette of Fair Haven rallied to defeat Pearsall in the final. Pearsall led, 3-0, after a near pin in the second period, but Morrisette took him down and won by pin in the third.
Also placing for the Eagles were sophomore Dawson Philips, fourth at 120; freshman John Bent, fourth at 126; junior Christian Little, third at 138; and senior Dylan Little, third at 170.
Coach Mayer said it was a team-wide effort.
“Some of these guys that didn’t make the finals really pulled their weight to score points to get the team to where it ended up,” Mayer said.
He also praised two female wrestlers who have not won a match, sophomore Hailey Trayah and freshman Justice Green, for helping to create a positive atmosphere and wrestling with courage.
“They’re just as much a part of the team as anyone else,” Mayer said.
But as well as the better turnout, he said, effort has been the biggest factor. 
“In part it’s the numbers. That really helps. But it’s also everybody working hard and doing the best they can,” Mayer said. “That’s all we can ask for. Some people have been wrestling since kindergarten, and some of the people have been wrestling since the first day of practice, and they’ve just been doing the best with the tools that they have.”
Also competing for Mount Abe were sophomore Matt Cota at 152, Green at 170; Trayah at 220, and senior Ryan Durfee at 285.
The Tigers also enjoyed their tournament, with three finalists, albeit one by default — freshman Mike Whitley was one of only two wrestlers in the 99-pound class. He fought hard, but lost to experienced Shaker wrestler Austin Sill in a third period technical fall after fighting off several pins.
Davio, a sixth-place Vermont finisher at 132 pounds last winter and the No. 2 seed at 138 last week, provided the Tigers’ biggest highlight, cruising to victory with a 6-0 record that included five pins and a major decision. In the final, he pinned Rutland’s Hunter Cameron in 22 seconds.
Senior heavyweight Joe Langevin, who has been wrestling well this season, had a good two days. The No. 2 seed, Langevin racked up four wins by pin to reach the final, where he met Fair Haven’s Kevin LaRock, the No. 1 seed. After a scoreless, evenly contested first period, LaRock started on top in the second and never let Langevin escape, pinning him with 25 seconds to go.   TIGER JUNIOR JOE Whitley tries to stay alive against Randolph opponent Adam Osha in a 152-pound semifinal. Whitley fell to Osha, but won his third-place match.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Two other Tiger wrestlers, both juniors placed. First-year wrestler Jaro Perera pinned Essex wrestler Hayden Beattie in the consolation final for third. And Joe Whitley also took third, winning his consolation final at 152, 6-2, over Fair Haven’s Dylan Lee.
Whitley easily could have had a shot at Danis, the Outstanding Wrestler from Essex, in the 152 final: He apparently defeated Randolph’s Adam Osha, 5-3, with a reversal in the semifinal, but was penalized for locking his hands on the takedown and instead lost, 4-3. Raymond spoke calmly with the official, but to no avail. It appeared even if there were a penalty, Whitley might have earned an escape point that would have forced overtime.
The final Tiger wrestler, freshman Alex Walker, won three matches at 120 but came up one win short of placing in the top four.
Regardless, Raymond came away happy at the end of the day because his wrestlers approached matches aggressively, as he and his assistants have been preaching.
“I was pleased with everyone’s performance. We wrestled very well as a team. We only had six wrestlers scoring, so in order to place top three every wrestler had to score points for us. Every match counted,” he said. “The big thing I stressed to them is to go out there and wrestle smart and leave everything on the mat 100 percent, and they did that. We went out there and wrestled very hard.”
The positive results should also give the MUHS team a shot in the arm, Raymond said.
“Some of the younger kids, what they’re missing, I think, is the intensity, and I think that comes from confidence. They have the ability to take kids down, they just have to have the confidence to shoot and then quickly transition to the next move,” he said. “And I think with success like today, I think they’ll start to see that.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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