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Stark wrestlers send Coach Walton out with runner-up finish

  • John Stark's Brad Vaillancourt tries to pin down Bow's Peter LaRiviere in a match in the 145 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

    John Stark's Brad Vaillancourt tries to pin down Bow's Peter LaRiviere in a match in the 145 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

  • Kearsarge's Lucas Beltz pins down Newport's Dan Huot in a match in the 132 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

    Kearsarge's Lucas Beltz pins down Newport's Dan Huot in a match in the 132 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

  • John Stark's Josh Vaillancourt pins down Thomas Knizewski in a match in the 132 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

    John Stark's Josh Vaillancourt pins down Thomas Knizewski in a match in the 132 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

  • John Stark's Brad Vaillancourt tries to pin down Bow's Peter LaRiviere in a match in the 145 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)
  • Kearsarge's Lucas Beltz pins down Newport's Dan Huot in a match in the 132 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)
  • John Stark's Josh Vaillancourt pins down Thomas Knizewski in a match in the 132 weight class during the Division III State Wrestling Tournament at Windham High School on February 16, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

WINDHAM – His team marched into the finals of the Division III wrestling championships with a five-point lead, but John Stark Coach Bill Walton couldn’t celebrate. He knew the road ahead was about to get tougher.

“I knew it was going to be close,” he said. “We had to have a perfect finals to do it.”

The Generals gave it a go, but their coach was correct. Windham won three championship matches en route to 164 points and the championship, ahead of John Stark (153) and Plymouth (145). Winnisquam (67) and Campbell (64) rounded out the top five.

“They wrestled well. It had to be almost a perfect day,” said Walton, whose team did manage to send seven wrestlers to the Meet of Champions in the form of two champions, four runners-up and a third-place finisher. “Before the whole tournament, I had Windham winning by four. It would have taken us wrestling up a little bit. I give Windham all the credit. They wrestled tough.”

The runner-up finish was also a bittersweet one for Walton, who is stepping down as coach after 15 seasons at the helm.

“It’s going to be tough to leave them behind,” he said. “I built this program, it’s my baby. Trying to turn it over to someone is going to be hard.”

It looked like the Generals were poised to send their coach out on top, as they led throughout the event and took a 140-135 lead over the Jaguars into the finals. Windham took the lead early when Jeff Armstrong pinned the Generals’ John Wilcox at 113 pounds, but Stark won the next two championship matches to draw within a point. Senior Codi Gaudreau got the first victory, pinning Windham’s Zach Sprague at 120 pounds in the first period, giving him three pins in three matches for the day.

“I just stayed focused, 100 percent, through all my matches,” said Gaudreau, the school’s career leader in wins. “My team wrestled very well, I’m very proud of them. … Falling short, being second, we did what we could.”

While Gaudreau’s win was quick, Nick Widmann’s win at 126 pounds was the opposite, a drawn-out struggle in which the sophomore scored a late point to win, 1-0.

“It’s pretty nice,” Widmann said of his finish. “I’ve wrestled (Campbell’s Benjamin Billings) three times before this season, so I didn’t want to take a lot of risks.”

That made it 151-150 Windham, but that was as close as the Generals got. Kearsarge’s Lucas Beltz beat Stark’s Josh Vaillancourt, 6-4, in the next match at 132 pounds, giving the senior some payback against an opponent who had edged him three times before.

“He’s beaten me by one point three times this season, so I went in there aggressive, wrestled my style,” Beltz said. “I knew I could beat him, deep down, and it came out today.”

Windham scored pins in the championship matches at 138 and 182 pounds to put the match out of reach, but Walton, who also had Andrew Hewey (152 pounds, third place), Jacob Bumford (160, second place after being pinned by Oyster River’s Caleb Cole in the final) and Alex Lavalliere (182, second place after being pinned by Windham’s Chris Ferri in the final) secure Meet of Champions berths, knew the team made progress regardless.

“It’s a big step for the program,” he said.

Brad Vaillancourt (145) and Al Long (195) had fourth-place finishes for John Stark.

Winnisquam had a few high finishers, as freshman Login Patten reached the final at 106 pounds before being pinned by Pelham’s Jared Boyden, while Tyler Labonte (third), Tyler Swain (fourth) and Richard Mills (fourth) reached the consolation finals at 285, 113 and 170 pounds, respectively.

Bow’s Peter LaRiviere, who won Division III titles at 130 and 138 the last two years, made it to the 145-pound championship final, but lost an 8-2 decision to Stevens’s Stephan Nix. Coe-Brown’s Kendall Goodwin finished fourth at 106 pounds.

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or abonifant@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @dbonifant.)

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