There’s a lot of wrestling pride in the city of Warwick. There’s strong tradition at the youth level with Warwick PAL, and there’s a pedigree of success at the high school level.
Warwick Vets has eight state championships, including one in 2011. Pilgrim has a couple too, and Toll Gate is in the midst of establishing itself as one of the premier teams in Division II.
Wrestling is big in Warwick.
That’s why when the three teams get together for the Warwick City Championships in a week, there’s more on the line than just a few wins and some bragging rights.
It’s about being the best in a city that has prided itself on having one of the best traditions in the state.
The last seven years, Vets has reigned supreme, winning the title each time, but last season, the ’Canes almost saw their grip on the city come undone. They beat Pilgrim 45-33, but then barely out-lasted Toll Gate 39-37 to keep the trophy on West Shore Road. In 2012, Vets beat Toll Gate by just a point to win the championship.
“This was the thing we marked on the calendar until states,” Vets head coach Brendan Friel said last year. “We’re bringing it back home.”
That’s how important it is. It’s a notch below the state meet for these programs, and in a season in which none of the teams will likely vie for a state crown, there’s even more at stake.
It should be a good one.
Vets is the favorite until it loses, as it’s the only Division I team in Warwick and has six straight winning seasons in the state’s highest division. It’s 1-1 currently but has three-time defending state champion John Altieri still on the roster to lead the way. There are others who are hoping to medal at states, including Aaron Hurst – the only member of the 2011 state championship team still at Vets other than Altieri.
The ’Canes’ chief competition again will likely be Toll Gate. The Titans are not-so-quietly establishing themselves as a potential top-10 team in the state, and are 6-0 in dual meets so far this year after going 10-6, 14-2 and 14-3 the last three years. Toll Gate finished third last year at D-II sectionals and fourth the year before, and is hoping to be in a similar spot again.
The Titans have seven state meet qualifiers back from last year’s team and now have standout Dave Navilliat back in the lineup after an extended absence due to injury. After falling short last year by just two points to Vets, Toll Gate has this year circled as a great chance to finally raise the trophy.
It would be a milestone if it happens – the Titans have never won a Warwick City Championship. They’ll be hosting this time around and have a realistic shot to finally get it done, in their home gym.
“We’re hoping to win that for the first time,” Toll Gate head coach Jerry Sabatelli said on Tuesday.
Pilgrim is the dark horse in all of this, a young team with a lineup full of freshmen. The Pats are 2-2 so far this season and are already ahead of where head coach Tom O’Connor figured they’d be at this point.
Last week, Pilgrim rallied from a 15-point deficit in a match with East Greenwich, getting a major victory from senior Adam Landroche in the final match of the day to win 40-39.
That’s the type of team the Pats have proven to be thus far – tough, gritty and ready to compete. If they wrestle well, O’Connor thinks they’ve got a real chance to be somewhere in the mix as well.
The meet is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 23 at 4 p.m. at Toll Gate. Just like the last two years when it came down to just a handful of points, Warwick supremacy won’t come easy for anybody next week.
All three teams will have some tune-ups before the meet gets underway, but then it’s on to the big time. When it’s all said and done, one group will be able to call themselves the best wrestlers in Warwick. That’s no small honor.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and email@example.com.