Bishop Hendricken hasn't won a state wrestling title since 2004. That could change this weekend, and the Hawks know it. They've been labeled the favorite almost since the end of last season, when they were edged out for the state title by a single point. A 15-0 season with several tournament titles did nothing to change the impression.
Now the Hawks just have to go out and do it.
"We know who we have to watch out for," said senior Chris Barone. "We know what we have to do. We know our jobs. We're going to prepare confident, but not cocky."
Walking that fine line will be key. The Hawks know they have to take care of business because there's a chase pack ready to pounce if they falter. Johnston and Exeter/West Greenwich have been impressive in dual meets and tournaments all season, defending champ Cumberland is always tough, Mt. Hope has some standouts and Warwick Vets could make a run if things fall right.
Still, it all comes back to the Hawks.
"They're going to score in so many weight classes," said Cumberland head coach Steve Gordon. "They might be untouchable."
That's a different role for the Hawks. In recent years, teams like Cumberland, Vets and Cranston West have been had the bulls-eye on their backs.
Now it's Hendricken.
"It is different," said Hendricken head coach Kevin Hennessey. "It's never been like that before, so it's a little odd for us. But someone told me, I was talking to a coach that has a lot of wins and does really well, and he said, 'Hey, if you're going in as the favorite, you're not the only person that believes you're going to win.' That should help with our confidence."
The Hawks had seven place-winners at last year's state meet but no winners and only one finalist. They expect to have more of everything this year.
The numbers paint a rosy picture if that happens. Seven medals with one finalist put the Hawks one point from the title last year. If they get nine place-winners as some have predicted and a few other strong performances in the consolation rounds, they could be well on their way.
The top contenders for the Hawks are Jason Davol at 106, Nick Celico at 113, Rob Lanni at 120, Nick DiMauro at 132, Anthony DiMauro at 145, Jimmy Sauro at 152, Chris Barone at 160, Hunter Boesch at 182 and Dallas Sauer at 220. All of them will be pushing hard for medals.
The rest of the lineup - Matt Jacobsen, John Arruda, Lewis Stewart, Chris Storti and Kyle Brichetto - will be looking to make some noise as well and help the cause.
It all adds up to a team that's poised to win big, but the Hawks won't take anything for granted. All year, they've taken things one day at a time, and Hennessey saw proof of that last week. After a big win over La Salle, the Hawks wrestled Cumberland the next night with a chance to finish off their perfect season.
"I was worried about this match after beating La Salle last night," Hennessey said after the Cumberland win. "I didn't want them to be overconfident, and they weren't."
Ultimately, the Hawks still remember what happened at states last year, when they were just a point away from the crown. That fueled them all season and it will again this weekend.
"It hurts," Barone said. "It really hurts. Hopefully this year we can get it. That's the goal."
Warwick Vets will be one of the teams trying to chase down the Hawks. The 'Canes won the title in 2011 and finished just 4.5 points out of first place last year. Though they don't have as much top-level depth as last season - when they won five individual titles - they'll still be looking to make some noise.
"We're looking at top five, and if everything goes our way, I think we can make a run," said Vets coach Brendan Friel.
Three of the team's five champions from last year are back in the fold this season and will be looking for repeats this weekend.
Junior John Altieri was a state champ as a freshman and a sophomore. He'll try to make it three in a row as he heads into a tough 113-pound weight class. Senior Nathaniel Colicci won the title at 120 last year and will go for it at 126 this season. Senior George Schmeider will be gunning for a repeat championship at 160.
"I expect the same and they want the same," Friel said. "They have their eyes on even bigger prizes at New Englands, but they know what they have to do. If they take it one match at a time and wrestle like they're capable of, they'll get it done."
If the 'Canes want to be in the mix for the team title, they'll need some other strong performances as well. Wrestlers like Tony Lonczak, Aaron Hurst, Davin Lourenco, Mickenzey Pacheco and Owen Amirault will be trying to get hot.
"Some of our guys underneath need to come up big," Friel said. "You look at our title a couple of years ago, and we only had three champions. It was what our other guys did."
Pilgrim and Toll Gate, who are fresh off strong performances at the Division II sectionals, aren't likely to contend for the state title but will have several wrestlers looking for strong showings.
Toll Gate had three second-place finishers at the D-II meet - Aaron Travers, Dave Navilliat and Ed Pierce - and that trio will be pushing for similar success at states. Travers lost to Scituate's Serge Bouyssou 4-1 in the finals at 138, which may end up as a state championship preview.
The Titans also have Colin Higgins, Austin Medeiros, Max Procopio, John DiGiuseppe, Joe Martinez, Joe Brosnahan, Matt Cullen and Tim Warner qualified for states.
Pilgrim was led at sectionals by freshman Steven Johnson, who won the title at 132. Senior Jordan DeSisto had a second-place finish.
Both will be at states, along with Adam Landroche, Jordan DeSisto, Mark Lenz, Brett Prescott, Oluiwasean Akinusotu, Michael Pereira and Gage Potter.
The state tournament will be held at the Providence Career & Technical Academy. It begins Friday at 5 p.m. and continues Saturday at 11 a.m., with the finals scheduled for Saturday night.