Published in the May 17, 2021 edition.
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — There’s a long list of memories and heroics at Colonel James M. Landrigan Memorial Field.
From football, to lacrosse, field hockey and soccer, Landrigan has been home to some of the best athletic events in Wakefield Memorial High School’s history.
Add to that list a sport nobody would ever dream of seeing way up on Hemlock Road: wrestling.
The WMHS wrestlers are off to a 3-0 start during their first and likely last spring season. The postponement of wrestling from winter to spring forced a lot of decisions to be made in regards to protocols, chief among them being where should it take place? As is the slogan for so much during the pandemic: when it doubt, bring it outside. For the Warriors, who had the option of competing indoors at the Charbonneau Field House as always, decided it was a unique opportunity to seize.
“Wrestling outside has been amazing so far, the kids seem to love it,” said head coach Ross Ickes. “We decided to do it to make it as fun as possible for the kids.”
While seeing wrestling at Landrigan might seem to fit the classic fish-out-of-water story, the reality is not much is different once the whistle blows.
“Wrestling with masks is difficult at best – we probably break 25-30 a practice. Other than that, not much has changed as we have always cleaned and sanitized the mats,” said Ickes. “One major change is that we have to practice in the field house as opposed to our wrestling room, so we have to roll out the mats every day instead of leaving them down but overall the kids have stepped up and made it easy.”
That type of dedication on both match days and practices requires a certain type of leadership from the student athletes themselves. For that, Wakefield is leaning on captains Luke Fitzgerald, Jameson O’Callahan, Matthew Cunningham and Jimmy Grover.
Much of Wakefield’s early season success can be attributed to that leadership along with a sheer numbers advantage that the Warriors will have over all of their opponents this year. Numbers are understandably down across the state more-so due to conflicting sports than any kind of COVID concerns. The Warriors are down some too, but are in much better shape than most in the commonwealth, no doubt due to the type of program that Ickes and his staff has built throughout the years.
“Numbers is a major issue not so much with us but around the league,” said Ickes. “We are carrying 27 right now which is by far the most in the league. Last year we had over 40 but given the circumstances we are happy. We did lose seven kids to spring sports, Luke Ickes, Nathan Ickes, Luke Hopkins, Bryan Fabbri, Andrew Valley and Philip Valley to baseball and Jack Morris to tennis, as well as three or four who just didn’t return.”
That advantage was evident when Wakefield hosted a Woburn team of less than 10 at Landrigan on May 11.
Of course, no matter the numbers, good wrestlers abound in the Middlesex League. The Tanners had plenty of talent and fight hanging with the Warriors until Joao Valdevino’s pin in 29 seconds at 182 reclaimed the lead at 16-12 and Grover’s pin in 1:37 at 195 sealed things up.
Woburn’s James Mahon started with a pin at 120 before Wakefield’s Ana Valdevino battled Sophia Matthews in one of the most intense matchups of the meet with Matthews eventually earning a pin in 5:32.
The Warriors stormed back to win the next four bouts, the technical jargon of wrestling more amplified than ever for the fans looking straight down on the action from the bleachers like they were at a palaestra in ancient Greece.
O’Callahan pinned Sean Hall in 3:32 at 145 after gaining momentum late in another competitive matchup.
Jason Hubbard got an 18-5 major decision over Izayah Quiroz at 160, getting close to a pin multiple in multiple rounds before just barely running out of the time posted neatly up on Landrigan’s big scoreboard.
Valdevino and Grover finished it off before Wakefield’s Ian Dixon and Woburn’s Mike Mercer treated the crowd to one more grueling, entertaining bout where everything was left on the mat, Mercer getting a pin in 4:27.
Wakefield’s first meet on May 7 also required from middleweight heroics after a slow start. Two pins and a decision gave the visiting Rockets a 15-0 lead in the first ever outdoor high school wrestling meet in state history.
The Warriors responded with three pins to end it, first from Hubbard in 1:01 at 160, then from Anselm Schools in 42 seconds at 170 and and finally from Grover at 220 in 38 seconds.
Wakefield had a more comfortable win over Arlington on Friday by a score of 46-18, more wrestlers on the Spy Ponders than the Rockets or Tanners leading to more scored bouts rather than no contests.
Logan Bayers got his first varsity win, pinning Berti Jimenez in 3:03 at 106.
Fitzgerald got a pin in 1:10 at 126; Tommy Grover had a 9-1 major decision at 132; Nick Roberto got a pin in 2:18 at 132; Hubbard had a 6-4 decision at 160; Schools had a 10-6 decision at 170 and Jimmy Grover had a pin in 1:03.
Gavin Bayers (113) and Dixon (285) both won via forfeit.
The Warriors always focus on winning the Freedom Division, but much of their preparation throughout a typical winter campaign has a lot do with getting ready for individual state and sectional tournaments which won’t be occurring this season. That will put an even greater emphasis on going after a league championship and perhaps even a perfect season, something the Warriors are excited to chase in the great outdoors.
“With no individual state tournament, kids like Joao Valdevino will not get the chance to chase down their goals of becoming a state champion. He had a chance to be the second two-time state champ in school history,” said Ickes. “So, the goal has shifted to going undefeated in the Middlesex League and becoming league champs.”