Over the past three years, Warwick Vets has won six individual state wrestling titles, plus the 2011 team championship. As the 2013 season begins, only one of those champions is still in a Hurricane uniform, but head coach Brendan Friel doesn’t want to see the program’s high standards slip away with the graduation losses.
“For the guys we do have, the expectations are still there,” Friel said. “Although we may not have three state champions in the room, we have some solid wrestlers and I anticipate getting some more medals. We have to keep working hard.”
The ’Canes are certainly not the same team that steamrolled to the 2011 state championship. There are some holes in the lineup and the overall numbers still aren’t great. But even with some similar issues last year, Vets went 10-5 and won three individual championships at the state tournament. This year, Vets is hoping for a repeat of that dual-meet success, plus a bigger presence at states.
The bar is still high.
“So far, so good,” Friel said. “We’ll have some of the same problems we had last year and some of the same gaps. But we’ll try to find out best lineup and compensate where we can.”
The top returning wrestler is senior John Altieri, who’s on a quest to make history this season. If he wins the state title, he’ll become just the fourth wrestler in Rhode Island Interscholastic League history to win four consecutive state championships. Altieri will wrestle at 120 pounds this season.
“Our first focus with him is to keep him unbeaten in Rhode Island,” Friel said. “Our second goal is obviously to have him win his fourth in a row. And the third thing is one of his ultimate goals – to win the New England championship.”
Altieri has placed three times at New England but has never come home with the ultimate prize. That, plus the quest for four straight championships, drives him.
“He’s one of those rare kids who, if he falls short in an area, you don’t even have to tell him. He just takes it upon himself to work and improve” Friel said. “He puts in so much more time than people realize.”
Altieri is a captain for the ’Canes, along with senior Aaron Hurst, the only other wrestler on the team who was part of the 2011 championship run. Hurst will wrestle at 195 this year and is hoping to bring home a state medal after falling short last season.
A similar theme will run through much of the Vets lineup. Friel was expecting to bring back six or seven medals from last season’s state tournament but the ’Canes only got the three championships. Wrestlers like Hurst, Owen Amirault, Mickenzey Pacheco and Davin Lourenco will be trying to finish the job this year.
“Last year, I expected quite a few medals,” Friel said. “We ended up only getting the three. I’m hoping those guys who didn’t medal will be ready to step up this year. They have the ability.”
Senior Nick Thompson, who was new to the lineup last year, will return at 106. Friel is hoping Thompson takes a step forward this year.
“That weight class, you typically get some forfeits and there were times we put Nick out there just to get a forfeit,” Friel said. “He’s worked hard and this year, I expect him to be a stable force in the lineup and win some matches for us.”
The 113-pound weight class is currently open. Altieri is at 120 and freshman Logan Amirault is moving in at 126.
“He wrestled with Warwick PAL, so he has the basics down,” Friel said.
Lourenco, a junior, is set for 132 pounds and Pacheco, also a junior, will wrestle at 138. They’ll be looking for breakouts after solid campaigns last year.
At 145, Vets has a logjam, with sophomore Owen Amirault and junior Tom Galligan joined by freshman Robert Thomas. Two of the three will likely wrestle up in weight as Vets tries to fill the 152 and 160-pound classes.
The ’Canes are still trying to solidify the 170 and 182-pound classes. Hurst is in at 195, while football standout David MacDonald has joined the team and could slot in at 220.
Despite the holes, Vets thinks it can shape up as a pretty good dual-meet team.
“Last year, we did pretty well, but one of the disappointing things was we got off to a slow start,” Friel said. “That cost us. I’d like to start faster this year and be in it all the way. Hopefully, we’ll be the ones with the Division I-South trophy at the state meet.”
Developing the team’s young wrestlers will be another goal. With a steady stream of youth wrestlers expected to join the program in the next few years, the ’Canes will be trying to lay a foundation for the kind of deep, talented team that can live up to the high standards.
“If anything’s been proven the last few years, it’s that getting young guys into the program and keeping them is very important,” Friel said. “Kids who have never wrestled before can come in, work hard and by their senior year, they’re very competitive. If we keep building, hopefully we can see some of these gaps get field over the next few years.”
Vets was scheduled to open the dual-meet season on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time. The ’Canes will have a break from dual meets for the holidays before getting back to action Jan. 8, with a home meet against Cumberland.