Wrestling preview: Growth of the sport and roster numbers a common theme for area programs

Bow’s Adler Moura celebrates after pinning Lebanon's Sawyer Beaulieu in the 120-pound finals at the NHIAA Division III wrestling championship at Bow High School on Feb. 18. Moura is looking to win his third straight title this season.

Bow’s Adler Moura celebrates after pinning Lebanon's Sawyer Beaulieu in the 120-pound finals at the NHIAA Division III wrestling championship at Bow High School on Feb. 18. Moura is looking to win his third straight title this season. Chip Griffin / Photos By Chip

Bow’s Ben McDowell (top) attempts to pin Concord’s Jeydon Wilson during a 152-pound consolation match at the Capital City Classic wrestling tournament at Concord High School on Jan. 28. Both athletes are back representing their schools this season.

Bow’s Ben McDowell (top) attempts to pin Concord’s Jeydon Wilson during a 152-pound consolation match at the Capital City Classic wrestling tournament at Concord High School on Jan. 28. Both athletes are back representing their schools this season. DAN ATTORRI / Monitor file

Bow’s Jared Dolder wrestles against Manchester Central on Jan. 14.

Bow’s Jared Dolder wrestles against Manchester Central on Jan. 14. Chip Griffin / Photos By Chip

John Stark wrestling coach Zach Feudner instructs the team in the school cafeteria using wrestler Stephen Johnston on Jan. 24. The Generals finished third in Division III last season after finishing ninth in 2021-22 and are eager to keep that momentum up this season.

John Stark wrestling coach Zach Feudner instructs the team in the school cafeteria using wrestler Stephen Johnston on Jan. 24. The Generals finished third in Division III last season after finishing ninth in 2021-22 and are eager to keep that momentum up this season. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Concord 120-pound wrestler Griffin Norwalt competes at the Meet of Champions in Bedford Feb. 25. Norwalt won the Division I title and finished third in the state to qualify for New Englands. Norwalt is the only returning champion on the Crimson Tide’s roster.

Concord 120-pound wrestler Griffin Norwalt competes at the Meet of Champions in Bedford Feb. 25. Norwalt won the Division I title and finished third in the state to qualify for New Englands. Norwalt is the only returning champion on the Crimson Tide’s roster. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

By DAN ATTORRI

Monitor staff

Published: 12-02-2023 10:13 PM

High school wrestlers hit the mats for the start of the matches on Wednesday, but they’ll do so in much larger numbers this year. All four area Division III programs noted significant growth in their numbers, with Bow and John Stark’s teams three times larger than they were just two years ago, while Concord’s numbers remain firmly in the 40s as usual.

Whether it’s due to the emergence of more offseason tournaments and clinics that had gone away during COVID years, the increasing interest and number of opportunities in girls’ wrestling, or simply more interest in the sport in general, the fact is that wrestling numbers are up. An increase in participation should mean that dual and tri-meets have fuller lineups with fewer forfeits and more contested bouts, and fuller brackets in tournaments than in recent years, especially at the D-III level.

“This is by far the biggest and most competitive Division III has been,” Bow head coach Bill Chavanelle said. “I believe whoever wins their respective divisional title will truly be the best team in the last 15-20 years. I am looking forward to the competition level to go up and hopefully that draws more attention to the sport in general.”

After the success of last year’s first ever NHIAA girls’ wrestling state championship, held at the annual Meet of Champions, girls’ wrestling is back for a second year, with some discussion of girls’ divisions being added to tournaments or possibly having girls’ only events on the schedule as early as this season.

NHIAA wrestling teams will also see changes in the classification of weight classes. The longstanding breakdown of the 14 weight classes is being altered for the first time in many years. The six lowest weight classes (106, 113, 120, 126, 132 and 138 pounds) will remain the same, but seven of the 14 weights will change. The 144, 150, 157, 165, 175, 190 and 215 -pound classes replace the previously used 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195 and 220-pound lineup, while 285 pounds remains as the heavyweight class.

Concord head coach Ham Munnell estimates this is the “fourth or fifth” time in three decades of coaching that the weights have shifted.

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“We had to talk about (the changes) early on,” Chavanelle said. “We weren’t expecting the changes until next season, so we had to adjust our lineup and move some guys up or down. They adjusted fine, but it was something we needed to discuss.”

All five area teams will open with duals or tri-meets on Wednesday, and the first tournaments of the season on Saturday.

Concord hosts Pinkerton, and Bow hosts Winnisquam and Pelham, while John Stark travels to White Mountain Regional, and Kearsarge heads to New Ipswich to take on Mascenic and Kingswood.

Concord and Bow will compete in the Salem Blue Devil Classic on Saturday, while John Stark, Kearsarge and Winnisquam will be at the ConVal Early Bird Invite.

CONCORD

Division: I

Coach: Ham Munnell (28th year)

Last year: 4th

Returning starters: Cullen Burke, jr., 120; Hunter Richard, sr., 132; Griffin Norwalt, sr., 126; Levi Madison, sr., 144/150; Sawyer McCready, jr., 138; Jeydon Wilson, jr., 157; Tony Gualtieri, jr., 165; Carl Sirrianna, jr., 175.

Top newcomers: Jaxon Carter, so., 144; Max Chung, so., 150; Don Mvuyekure, jr., 138; Isaiah Puckett, so., 190; CJ Rheault, jr., 106; Wayne Sakakeeny, so., 285.

Outlook: “Our goal is to be tough and competitive every time we wrestle,” the Concord coaching staff reported. “We have a lot of young talented wrestlers who are looking to solidify their varsity lineup position. So, there will be a learning curve as they adjust but we have a solid young core as well as quite a few returning starters who should help provide leadership.”

Norwalt is the defending D-I champion at 120 pounds and finished third at the Meet of Champions to earn a berth at New Englands. Noah Blake, Concord’s other individual champion from last season, graduated, but three former JV state champions – Carter, Mvuyekure and Sakakeeny – have moved up to the varsity ranks.

The coaching staff also highlighted several wrestlers – Carter, Richard, Gualtieri, Chung, Puckett, sophomore Dominic Schinella and sophomore Madison Beauregard (the first ever girls’ 182-pound state champion) – with putting in a lot of work in the offseason “who are helping shift the culture of the team and will help make us more competitive.”

Madison, Norwalt and Richard will serve as captains.

Teams to beat: Timberlane

BOW

Division: III

Coach: Bill Chavanelle (2nd year)

Last year: 2nd

Returning starters: Adler Moura, sr., 113/120; Jared Dolder, sr., 144/150; Joe McDowell, sr., 175; Ben McDowell, sr., 157/165; Josiah Funches, sr., 157/165; Jackson Hall, jr., 215; Chase Flagg, so., 190; Herbie Madden, so., 132; Jake Coulon, so., 165

Top newcomers: Caleb Schumacher SO (157), Shane Rabalais FR (126), Ryan Dolder SO (138), Jake Antuna JR (144), Hunter Hutchinson SO (285), Jaron Coulon FR (113), Will Thomas FR (138), Colin Brassard FR (106), Brayden Brown FR (138/144)

Outlook: Just two years ago Bow had seven wrestlers. Now, the Falcons have over 25. After finishing a competitive second to Plymouth at last year’s D-III championship and graduating just two seniors from that team, Bow has a new goal – to win a state championship.

“We have hit an all-time high as far as numbers in our roster,” Chavanelle said. “We have over 25 kids who are committed to the goal of competing for a state title. Our returners have done a great job at developing their skills, along with getting our new wrestlers up to speed with what needs to be done in order to compete at a high level. Wrestling has grown exponentially across the state and that only means the competition around us has gotten better. With the roster we have I expect our team to be in the mix all season long.”

Moura is the defending 120-pound D-III title holder and qualified for New Englands, while the McDowell brothers both qualified for the Meet of Champions by finishing second in D-III in their respective weight classes.

Teams to beat: Plymouth, John Stark, Pelham

JOHN STARK

Division: III

Coach: Zach Feudner (3rd year)

Last year: 3rd

Returning starters: Sean Crean, so., 120; Caleb Hauptman, sr., 126; Brayden Menard, sr., 138; Stephen Johnston, sr., 165; Deltyn Williams, sr., 175; Alex Descoteau, jr., 190; Lukas Boulanger, sr., 215; Isaac Coker, sr., 285.

Outlook: After grappling their way from ninth place in D-III in 2022 to third place in 2023, the Generals are optimistic heading into this season. John Stark’s roster has nearly tripled in the last two years and currently stands at 22 wrestlers. Among the returners are Boulanger, who qualified for New Englands after finishing third in D-III and fourth at the Meet of Champions at 220 pounds, Coker (second in D-III at 285), Williams (third 182), Descoteau (fourth 195), Johnston (fourth 170) and Hauptman (fourth 120).

“After a good couple years of building, and a great first couple weeks of the season, the roster is looking full and the whole team has been working hard,” Feudner said. “We have a great balance of experience and newcomers. Practices have been fast paced and everyone’s putting in great effort. Our returners have an eagerness and have been quick to get back to the grind, and our newcomers have been working great and progressing. We’re excited to see what the season has in store for us and we look to steadily improve as we have year to year.”

Teams to beat: Bow, Plymouth

KEARSARGE

Division: III

Coach: Reilly Moskalenko (2nd year)

Last year: tied 9th

Returning starters: Justin St. Onge, Gage Richard

Top newcomers: Jacob Mullen, Colin Croto, Davin Selby, Jason Dyment, Cole Giberson

Outlook: “We have grown in numbers from the past so we are a very ‘new’ team, but we bring some heavy hitters and some solid athletes,” Moskalenko said. “I am looking for some quality matches and our guys putting up a solid fight against their opponents. I am very excited to see how this season goes with the ‘new’ team. Good luck to everyone, let’s have some fun.” 

WINNISQUAM

Division: III

Coach: Tom Osmer (7th year)

Last year: 7th

Returning starters: Aemon Gauthier, jr., 113/120; Lucas Fournier, so., 113/120; Ryan Cormier, jr., 12o; Nate Tassey, so., 126; Henry Osmer, sr., 144; David Jean, jr., 150; Victor Pham, jr., 157; Luke Cote, jr., 165; Sam Weisman, jr., 175; Mikey DeFosse, jr., 215.

Top newcomers: Dylan Griffin, so., 132; Wyatt Cushing, fr., 132/138; Colin Parenteau, fr., 138/144.

Outlook: The Bears boast the largest roster and the most returning champions (Osmer and Cormier in 2023, Gauthier in 2022) that coach Osmer has had in his seven years in charge of the program.

“Overall there is a lot to be excited about,” coach Osmer said. “We return some heavy hitters and we bring in a bunch of fresh faces with a great recruiting year. We move up several wrestlers from our middle school program, including state place winners. We should do OK in both the dual meet and tournament scoring formats this season. We have not been a strong dual team for several years so it should be fun to compete at those events again. Our strength is in the light and middle weight classes where most of our experienced wrestlers are, but we should fill all the weights, and expect to compete hard at each of them.”

Winnisquam also has four girls on the roster – junior Ava Anderson, sophomores Anna Drinkwine and McKinley Desmarais, and freshman Ryra Russell  – who are aiming to compete in the girls’ division at the Meet of Champion, in addition to a few new girls’ only events making their debut this season.