Concord carries large roster into new high school wrestling season

  • Concord High’s Alex Buteau (right) goes head-to-head with Timberlane’s Ryan Cole in a match last season. The Crimson Tide open the season Wednesday night against Alvirne. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Concord’s Liddon Ling wrestles against Alvirne in last year’s season opener. Ling will serve as a senior captain on this year’s team. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

  • Concord High’s Alex Buteau (left), seen here after a 3-2 overtime win against Timberlane’s Ryan Cole last season, is a senior captain this year for the Crimson Tide wrestling team, which opens its season Wednesday night at home at 7 p.m. against Alvirne. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Concord returns plenty of talent and experience from last year’s team that finished second at the both the Division I wrestling championships and the Meet of Champions.

This year’s Crimson Tide roster features two wrestlers who qualified for New Englands (Sam Wagner and Noah Giffard), two who just missed out on New Englands by finishing fourth at MOC (Ben Widmann and Alex Buteau) and three who were fifth at MOC (Nick Bunch, Isaac Gladey and Isaac Habimana).

But Concord also lost a lot from last year’s team, including the leadership and four D-I titles of senior captains George Tarwo and Chris Munnell, who are now both wrestling at Springfield College.

“We have a lot of kids with a lot of state paper from last year, which makes it seem like we’re pretty experienced and pretty good, but we don’t have a George or a Chris,” said Ham Munnell, now in his 22nd year as Concord’s head coach. “But I feel good about these kids. They’ve taken all the right steps, they’ve worked hard in the weight room and worked hard in the clubs, so we’ll see.”

With 55 kids on the roster, there’s no question the program is healthy. But a team that size also comes with its own challenges.

“With such a big team it can take longer to really get a feel for it,” Munnell said. “There are some kids in there that I think can wrestle, but I really haven’t paid attention to yet. Like we didn’t find Cam Cate (who finished third last year in D-I as a freshman) until six weeks into the season, and we may have some of that going on this year, hopefully.”

The 220-pound Buteau, who was third in D-I last year in addition to taking fourth at MOC, and Ling, a 145-pound senior who was fifth in D-I last year, will serve as Concord’s captains this season. They have both been working hard and setting a great example, but the team’s identity won’t begin to take on a clear shape until the matches start piling up.

“Alex and Liddon are both good kids, tough kids and they’re leading by example, and there’s a really good vibe on the team,” Munnell said. “We are still trying to figure out who we are, and until we start competing, it’s tough to tell.”

The competition will start Wednesday night against Alvirne, which finished eighth at the D-I meet last season. The Tide will also compete in the Blue Devil Classic in Salem this weekend and has two more dual meets and a pair of home quad meets in December before going to the Lowell (Mass.) Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28 and 29, an event that could serve as a good early-season measuring stick for this team.

“If we do well at the Lowell Holiday Tournament and we have kids in the final, that would put us on the map, but I’ve also had teams not do well there and turn out to be pretty good by the end of the season,” Munnell said. “But if they go there and make some noise that would be awesome, and we certainly have kids that could do it.”

Giffard, who was third at 195 at both the D-I and MOC last year, is definitely one of the kids who could do it. But the junior will miss the first few weeks of the season as he recovers from appendicitis. Wagner, a 106-pound sophomore who was the MOC runner-up in 2017, is another one who could make some noise in Lowell, as is Gladey, a 160-pound junior who has stood out this preseason and “has a chance to be special,” according to Munnell.

Concord and the rest of D-I figure to be chasing Timberlane … again. The Owls have won 16 of the last 17 D-I titles and have claimed 14 straight MOC crowns. Last year Timberlane scored 271.5 points at the D-I meet, well ahead of second-place Concord (194.5). But the Tide also finished well ahead of third-place Londonderry (107). And even though Concord may be missing some leaders from last year’s team, the majority of the wrestlers who earned that runner-up plaque are back.

“For the past three years we’ve been tough and good competitors, and a lot of these guys were part of that really tough team we had last year, so I feel good about that,” Munnell said.

Pinkerton, fourth in D-I last year, also figures to be a tough out this season. And look for Salem to take a step forward this year after the Blue Devils took seventh in the D-I in 2017.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)