Warriors beat Melrose, run the table to win league title
Published June 9, 2021
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
MELROSE — With all due respect to league champions of Wakefield wrestling past, this one meant just a little more.
In a battle of unbeaten’s the Warriors defeated the Red Raiders 49-27 yesterday at Melrose High to complete a perfect 10-0 season and win their second consecutive league title. It’s the first undefeated season in Wakefield wrestling history.
“To run the table in the Middlesex League – that was our goal at the beginning of the year especially because we knew there wasn’t going to be a state dual meet tournament which is a shame because we have a very good team,” said head coach Ross Ickes. “These kids come to wrestle. They’re gamers, every single one of them.”
Those gamers in the final dual meet of the season weren’t just the winners as each contested bout was competitive as always, but Luke Fitzgerald, Jason Hubbard, Anselm Schools and Matthew Cunningham proved to be the difference for the Warriors with their clutch wins.
Fitzgerald stepped up against Jake Petitpas at 132 with the score tied at 12-12. In the first all-out battle of the night, Fitzgerald outlasted his opponent to get a 10-8 decision. In a back-and-forth, athletic bout that went the distance, Fitzgerald made enough maneuvers to get a lead and played some technically sound defense to hold off any last ditch efforts as the crowd rose to its highest levels of the night…for now.
“I just tried to stay composed and focused on the things I could control,” said Fitzgerald on what was going through his mind during his marathon matchup. “We put a lot of effort into practice and we know what we can do so you can’t get too wrapped up in what the crowd is doing or anything like that, you just gotta stay laser focused.”
Fitzgerald’s decision gave the Warriors a 15-12 lead and set the tone for the rest of the meet.
At 138, Melrose’s Mike Maher pinned Jameson O’Callahan in 3:02 during another good battle as the home team took an 18-15 lead.
One of five forfeit wins for the Warriors came at 145 to make it 21-18 and set up what everyone would agree was the matchup of the meet as Jason Hubbard squared up Oto Albanese at 152. Hubbard trailed early but a key flip and turn gave him a 3-2 lead and he avoided multiple takedown attempts to stay up. Albanese eventually battled back to even things up at 5-5 as both bleachers housing Wakefield and Melrose fans combined with the push from both benches created an electricity that could rival any past “Brawl in the Hall” between the two programs even with limited spectators allowed.
After three even periods, the bout went on to overtime. Both wrestlers were surely just trying their best to take home a decision but Hubbard turned the tables with a perfectly executed move to earn a pin in 6:23, causing the Wakefield side of the Marcoux Gym to explode to another dimension.
“Jason Hubbard stepping up and getting the pin in sudden victories, that was the match,” said Ickes.
Wakefield built on their 27-18 lead when Anselm Schools beat Nico Chiulli by a 13-3 major decision at 160. Schools got an early 4-0 lead on a couple of takedowns and after Chiulli got back into it at 6-3, Schools finished strong with seven straight points to earn the four and push the lead to 31-18.
Cunningham sealed it for the Warriors in a dominant pin over Pedro Ribeiro in 1:53 at 170. Cunningham was in complete control from the start, getting out to a 10-1 lead before earning the pin as the Wakefield fans got one more chance to celebrate a big win.
“Every time we wrestle Melrose it’s always an amazing atmosphere,” said Cunningham. “I know a lot of guys on that team, they have a lot of good people. This was such a weird year and we were upset because we had a lot of goals for ourselves that we couldn’t achieve but the fact that we were able to do this means so much to us.”
The Warriors and Red Raiders have alternated wins in the final meet of the season every year for the last four seasons. Melrose got it in 2017 and 2019, Wakefield in 2018 and 2020. The Warriors finally broke that pattern by becoming back-to-back Freedom Division champs which doubled as a full league title this year as they ran the table against teams from the Liberty as well with wins over Melrose, Reading, Woburn, Arlington, Wilmington, Watertown, Burlington, Lexington, Winchester and Belmont.
As Ickes and Cunningham alluded to, the Melrose matchup and league crown meant even more this year with no state tournaments to prepare for.
“It’s what we look forward to at the beginning of each season,” said Hubbard. “Melrose is always in the back of our minds; we know it’s going to come down to us and them for the league title. We just spend so much time game planning, thinking about it and talking amongst ourselves. It was such a good opportunity to be the only team that’s ever gone undefeated. It was the most important night of our wrestling lives.”
It’s an accomplishment and moment that won’t soon be lost on these Warriors. Like all high school wrestling squads this year, Wakefield worked through plenty of obstacles most notably being the loss of a handful of athletes who played other spring sports, including Ickes’ two sons, juniors Nathan and Luke who play on the baseball team. Still, part of that connection which allowed Ickes to know his current student athletes since they were in elementary school, has led to a strong bond throughout the whole team. It’s why to break a huddle the team doesn’t yell their school name or nickname like most. They break with one big, “Family!”
“We’re a family, we call each other brothers,” said Cunningham. “We all love coming to practice, we love having a good time and we love winning together.” Together, the Warrior wrestling family was perfect in 2021.