After John Altieri won his first state wrestling championship in 2011, he sat beside the mat and watched Warwick Vets teammate Mike Meyers win his fourth. Meyers was just the third Rhode Island wrestler to accomplish that feat.
On Saturday, Altieri joined the club.
Now a senior – and an owner of state titles as a freshman, sophomore and junior – Altieri battled back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for most of the season and rolled through the state tournament again. He beat Cumberland’s Cody Beaudette in the 120-pound semifinals and Hendricken’s Jason Davol in the finals to capture his fourth state championship. He’s now among elite company with Meyers, Cranston West’s Shawn Giblin and Coventry’s Dan Smith in the four title club.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling,” Altieri said. “It’s just so exciting. When I got my hand raised, it was a great feeling.”
Altieri’s title kept a streak alive for Warwick Vets, which has now had at least one individual champ for seven consecutive years. Davin Lourenco and Aaron Hurst also medaled for the ’Canes, who finished 11th.
Toll Gate senior Aaron Travers climbed to the top of the podium as well with a first-place finish at 145 pounds. He’s the first Titan to win a state title since 2009 and he led the Titans to 10th place, their best finish since taking fifth in 2008. Max Procopio and Joe Brosnahan also medalled.
Pilgrim finished 26th and did not medal.
For Altieri, the final steps to the championship proved to be the toughest of his career. On Jan. 8, he was wrestling Beaudette in a dual meet with Cumberland when he suffered a shoulder injury. It was so bad that he defaulted in the match and went straight to the emergency room.
His chance at history flashed before his eyes – but not for long.
“As soon as I got hurt that night, I said, ‘I’m coming back for states,’” he said. “I never gave up.”
After intensive physical therapy, Altieri was cleared just in time for the state tournament, but he hadn’t wrestled in nearly two months.
If he was rusty, it didn’t show. Altieri pinned his first opponent at states then won by major decision in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, he matched up with Beaudette, the same wrestler he was facing when he got hurt. The two also squared off for the 113-pound championship last year.
“He started off a little shaky in the semifinals,” said Vets head coach Brendan Friel. “I think he doubted himself a little bit. It was a big mental hurdle. But as that match went on, his confidence started to come back.”
Beaudette came up with an early takedown but Altieri quickly escaped and was in control from there. He focused on staying on his feet, taking Beaudette down three times and letting him go each time. When the dust settled, he had a 7-6 victory that wasn’t really in doubt.
“It was a huge win for him,” Friel said. “Once he stepped off the mat, I saw that same John.”
In the finals, Altieri matched up with Hendricken’s Davol, the state champ at 106 last year. Thirty-five seconds in, Altieri notched the first takedown and he never trailed. Davol picked up his only points when Altieri let him to escape, and Altieri added two more takedowns and a third-period escape. He won 7-2.
Altieri held his hand high after the final whistle and was overwhelmed as teammates and coaches greeted him.
“I think it was relief,” Friel said. “It was kind of a whole accumulation of a year that could have gone terribly wrong for someone in his situation. He’s a stoic kid, but I think that was his way to exhale.”
In addition to his state titles, Altieri is also a three-time place-winner at the New England championships. He will likely skip the event this year since he’s not 100 percent healthy. Besides, he already has his happy ending.
“I was just really excited,” Altieri said. “It’s hard to explain.”
Lourenco and Hurst came home with Vets’ other medals. Lourenco, a junior and the top seed at 132, was upset by Johnston’s Mike Caparco – who had missed much of the year with injury – in his first match of the tournament. Caparco went on to the finals, where he lost to Moses Brown’s Andrew Howard. Facing a long road back to the medals, Lourenco didn’t blink. He won five straight matches to get into the third-place bout, where he pinned Cumberland’s Kris Nordby.
Lourenco won six matches in all, more than any other wrestler at the tournament. He was the only wrestler to lose his first match and come back to take third.
“Like I told him, ‘I would have been happy if you were in the finals, but I’m proud of you for taking third,’” Friel said. “He showed a lot of character. He could have folded like other wrestlers I’ve seen.”
Hurst finished out his Vets career with a fifth-place finish at 220. He won his first two matches before Mt. Hope’s Tyler Fenwick – the eventual runner-up – pinned him in the quarterfinals. Hurst came back with two straight pins before a loss in the consolation semifinals. In the fifth-place match, he out-lasted Hendricken’s Pierre-Louis Arcand 5-2.
“He went out after the loss and just did what he had to do,” Friel said. “It’s great for a kid who never wrestled before high school.”
Nick Thompson, Logan Amirault, Kendall Watts, Robert Thomas, Owen Amirault and Ronald Larocque also competed for Vets.
Travers completes the climb
Toll Gate’s Aaron Travers was a third-place finisher as a sophomore and a runner-up last year as a junior.
As a senior, he took the final step.
Travers beat Ponaganset’s Tyler Noury 10-8 in the 145-pound finals to capture the state championship.
“Long road,” said Toll Gate head coach Jerry Sabatelli. “He’s been battle-tested for a couple of years. Tenth grade, he took third. Eleventh grade, he took second. He had one more step to go and he got it.”
Travers won by pin in his first match then beat La Salle’s Aaron Wolfang 5-2 in the quarterfinals. In the semis, he faced one of his toughest tests – East Greenwich’s Ebed Jarrell, who had beaten him in the regular season.
This time, Travers won 8-5.
“He’s a tough kid,” Travers said. “All week, my coaches told me, ‘Visualize the win. Get by him, and you know you’re in great shape.’ He’s more of a defensive wrestler. I just wrestled to the whistle. I never stopped basically, just kept going.”
In the finals, Travers matched up with Noury, whom he had beaten four times this season, including a win the week before in the Division II championship.
Travers took care of business again on the big stage, scoring the first takedown and taking a 4-1 lead on another first-period takedown. From there, Noury grabbed a few points on escapes but Travers continued to take him down every time.
“I just wanted to go out there and wrestle my game like I have all year,” Travers said. “We’ve wrestled four times this year and I just had to do what I’ve been practicing all week – be aggressive, shoot, control the match.”
Travers became the first Titan to win a state title since Doug Johnson in 2009, and it was a fitting finish. The senior ends his career as the all-time wins leader in Sabatelli’s tenure, a title that was held at one point by Aaron’s older brother, Josh.
“Josh had a tremendous career,” Sabatelli said. “He was my all-time wins leader when he graduated. Aaron came in and made an immediate impact. He probably had 30 wins his freshman year. I knew he was going to be something special. He’s got a lot of heart. You can’t teach that. He never quits.”
Also medalling were Procopio and Brosnahan, both seniors. Procopio, the D-II champ at 138, won his first match before a loss in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Tim Tedesco of Johnston. Procopio came back with two victories before a close 3-1 loss to Ponaganset’s Jarrett Clarke dropped him to the fifth-place bout. There, he beat Cumberland’s Kyle Durkin 4-1.
“We got him down to 38 and it really paid off for him,” Sabatelli said. “We thought we could grab third. It didn’t work out, but he finished out taking fifth. He had an unbelievable season and career.”
Brosnahan made it all the way to the semifinals at 160 with a pair of pins before falling to Hendricken’s Lewis Stewart. He ended up taking sixth.
“He’s a kid who got cut from the hockey team his ninth grade year,” Sabatelli said. “I play softball with his dad and I said, ‘Send him my way.’ To be on the podium tonight, it’s nice.”
The three medalists are part of a core of wrestlers that led the Titans to new heights. In the last four years, Toll Gate won 52 dual meets, one of the best stretches in program history. The Titans also won their first City Championship this year.
Seniors Dave Navilliat and John DiGiuseppe and junior Ed Pierce were also part of that nucleus. Navilliat and Pierce finished one step shy of the medal round at states.
DiGiuseppe won two matches for the Titans. Zach Caldarone and Joe Mercurio also won matches.
“Overall, I wish things went a little different for some of the guys, but they’ve put Toll Gate on the map,” Sabatelli said. “It was a nice ride with this group. The seniors are going to be missed.”
Pilgrim had five wrestlers competing at the tournament, with senior Mike Turchetta and junior Griffin Potter making the deepest runs. Turchetta won his first bout 18-6 for a spot in the 195-pound quarterfinals, but Johnston’s Marc Conte pinned him there. Turchetta then lost to Burrillville’s Nicholas Samek in a tiebreaker, ending his run.
At 182, Potter posted a pin in his first match before a loss to Mt. Hope’s John Perroni, the eventual third-place medalist. Potter then won two consolation bouts but ended up one round shy of the medals with a loss to South Kingstown’s Matt Cauchon.
Also for Pilgrim, Mike Pereira and John Castaldi won one match apiece, while Oluiwaseun Akinnusotu dropped two.