There is a running joke that the Vermont high school wrestling finals often look like a dual meet between Mount Anthony Union and an all-star team from the rest of the state. And in a good year, MAU would still capture the crown, even in such a format.
This was a very good year for the Patriots.
MAU sent 13 of its 14 grapplers into the finals and crowned eight champions to sew up its 25th straight state title at Vergennes Union High School on Saturday, and further extend a streak that became a national record five years ago in Rutland. The Patriots amassed 324 points to win the team title by a 217-point margin over runner-up St. Johnsbury, continuing a season of what head coach Scott Legacy described as surprising success.
"These kids have been overachieving all year," said Legacy, noting that his lineup included only four seniors. "All year long, I've been hearing people say how they didn't expect us to be this good."
Legacy cited his team's experience wrestling out of state as a mitigating factor in its success, and experience proved to be a theme Saturday at Commodore Thomas McDonough Gymnasium. Several repeat champions were crowned, and a number of wrestlers who were knocking on the door last year took the next step to title glory.
Mount Mansfield's Ben Bliss was a good example of the latter, using his third-place finish at last year's states as motivation in his 7-1 victory over MAU's Tyler Raetz in the 106-pound finals.
"Ever since I lost last year at states, I've been pushing myself harder and harder to get better," said Bliss, who earned a first-period takedown, second-period near-fall and third-period reversal to hammer out his first championship. "I came into this match focused on scoring as many points as I could, and it paid off."
MMU head coach Harley Brown said the sophomore's drive has been evident throughout a season in which he has yet to lose a match.
"No one has worked harder, or deserves this more, than Ben," Brown said. "All year long, he's been so highly motivated. He's not just 43-0; he's 43-and-dominant."
Experience was also a key for MAU's Brandon Marcoux-Shaffer, who won the 195 state title despite wrestling "up" 20 pounds, just as he did in his first varsity season with the Patriots three years ago.
"Brandon weighed 139 and wrestled 152 as a freshman, just because we had an empty spot in the lineup," said Legacy, adding that the senior currently weighs 175. "This year, the same thing happened -- and he stepped up again."
Marcoux-Shaffer said his four years on varsity at MAU helped prepare him mentally for the challenge of states.
"It definitely gets easier the more you do it," said Marcoux-Shaffer, who beat Middlebury's Gabe Laberge in Saturday's 195 final. "But to tell you the truth, I still felt nervous before the (match). If you're not nervous, you're not ready."
The first five matches of the finals hinged on decisions, and a handful of weight classes saw tense duels that went right down to the wire. Mill River's Zach Allen edged top-seeded Bailey Willard of MAU, 6-4, in a chess match at 138. On top with a 4-3 lead in the third period, Willard chose to give up the tying point on a neutral restart with 46 seconds left, only to surrender a decisive takedown moments later and lose, 6-4.
Harwood's undefeated Kyle Streeter and MAU's Jack Luciano waged a six-minute war at 220, with Streeter managing a brute-strength takedown late in the third period to prevail, 3-1.
The final match of the night, at 160 pounds, saw Fair Haven's Jordan Felion and MAU's Damon Young deadlock at 4-4 through regulation and overtime, until Felion earned an escape then rode out Young for 30 seconds to win, 5-4.
Other individual champions were MAU's Troy Gassaway (113), Dylan LaFountain (120), Kyle Fletcher (126), Miguel Calixto (132), Tyler Mattison (170), Austin Price (182) and Jesse Webb (285); Bellows Falls-Hartford's Nolan Viens (145) and St. Johnsbury's Dylan Shattuck (152).
Those individual winners will now turn their focus to the New England Championships, set to take place next weekend in Providence, R.I. Marcoux-Shaffer thinks this year's Patriots may have what it takes to top the best of the rest of the region.
"This is a very close-knit team, like a family," Marcoux-Shaffer said. "I think that gives us a great chance to win New Englands this year."
State championships results
Saturday At Vergennes H.S. Team scores: 1. Mount Anthony 324; 2. St. Johnsbury 107; 3. Bellows Falls-Hartford 99.5; 4. Mount Mansfield 96.5; 5. Champlain Valley 91.5; 6. Middlebury 91; 7. Essex 88; 8. Vergennes 71; 9. Spaulding 60; 10. Fair Haven 58.5; 11. Rutland 58; 12. Mill River 53.5; 13. Harwood 50; 14. Milton 33; 15. North Country 25; 16. Otter Valley 20; 17. Colchester 17; 18. Mount Abraham 15; 19. BFA-St. Albans 14; 20. Winooski 12. 106: 1. Ben Bliss, Mount Mansfield, def. Tyler Raetz, MAU, 7-1; 3. Liam Bowley, CVU; 4. Ethan Reardon, Vergennes; 5. Nathan Gebo, Middlebury; 6. Sergio Mendes, Essex. 113: 1. Troy Gassaway, MAU def. Brandon Tyson, Spauld, 7-3; 3. Bryce Bernadine, Mount Mansfield; 4. Austin Viens, Bellows Falls/Hartford; 5. Kyle Goodell, St Johnsbury; 6. Brandon Tieso, Champlain Valley Union High School 10 1- 3 120: 1. Dylan LaFountain, MAU def. Dominick Hahr, SJA, 11-0 (major dec); 3. Cody Jolley, Spaulding; 4. Alex Craige, CVU; 5. Jacob Scarborough, Otter Valley; 6. Kyle Farnham, Harwood. 126: 1. Kyle Fletcher, MAU, def. Jonathan Perreault, SJA, 4-0; 3. Alex Legg, Champlain Valley; 4. Pat Mumford, Mill River; 5. Jeremy Jarvis, Essex; 6. Kaleb Larock, Fair Haven. 132: 1. Miguel Calixto, MAU pinned Steve Cerrone, BF-Hart, 3:23. 3. Dylan Hemstead, Milton: 4. James Dagesse, St Johnsbury; 5. Silas Meriam, Spaulding; 6. Jeb Hodsen, Vergennes. 138: 1. Zach Allen, MR pinned Bailey Willard, MAU, 5:29; 3. Pattrick Libuda, Bellows Falls; 4. Andrew Durkin, Winooski; 5. Ashford Goodhue, Fair Haven; 6. Kyle Galusha, Colchester. 145: 1. Nolan Viens, BF-Hart def. Houston Shaler, MAU, 7-3; 3. Brendon Giroux, Mount Mansfield; 4. Ian Riley, Rutland; 5. Kyle Cooke, Spaulding; 6. Cody Turner, Colchester. 152: 1. Dylan Shattuck, SJA, def. Kyle Record, BF-Hart, 11-4; 3. John Hart, Fair Haven; 4. Vincent Pagan, Mount Anthony; 5. John Mccarrol, Rutland; 6. Izzak Young, Mill River. 160: 1. Jordan Felion, FH def. Damon Young, MAU, 5-4 (2OT); 3. Connor Brown, CVU; 4. Colin Brennan, North Country; 5. Ryan Paquin, Vergennes; 6. Brennan Silver, St Johnsbury. 170: 1. Tyler Mattison, MAU, def. Keagan Pearsall, Harwood, 9-4; 3. Grant Poston, CVU; 4. Mike Wetzel, Mount Abraham; 5. Ian Kandzoir, Milton; 6. Charles Whittemore, Rutland. 182: 1. Austin Price, MAU, def. T.J. Simpson, Verg, 17-8 (major dec); 3. Bob Baraka, Essex; 4. Jakob Trautwein, Middlebury; 5. Pat Pfenning, Rutland; 6. Gage Stearns, Mill River 195: 1. Brandon Marcoux-Schaefer, MAU, def. Gabe Laberge, Midd 4-3; 3. John Sirois, Mount Mansfield; 4. Nick Henry, Essex; 5. Matt Perreault, St Johnsbury; 6. Grant Blake, North Country. 220: 1. Kyle Streeter, Harwood def. Jack Luciano, MAU 3-1; 3. Tyler Laplant, Middlebury; 4. Noah Macgillivray, Essex; 5. Adam Sherwin, Otter Valley; 6. Nick Brunelle, Mount Mansfield. 285: 1. Jesse Webb, MAU, pinned Joe Ramada, Essex, 1:42; 3. Chris Wright, Middlebury; 4. Sebastien Taft, BFA; 5. Dylan Lorrain, Vergennes; Michael Pierce, Mount Mansfield.