Last season, the Warwick Vets wrestling team stormed to its first state championship since 2001 with a dominant performance at the state tournament. The ’Canes beat their next-closest competitor by 50 points.
Much of the damage was done that day by a talented senior class. The group took home six medals, including a fourth state title for All-American Mike Meyers.
With those wrestlers lost to graduation, the ’Canes will have some work to do in their quest to win another title. But the atmosphere, the identity and the expectations didn’t leave with the seniors.
“Like we’ve already told the guys, we don’t set the bar any lower,” said assistant coach George Schmeider. “We have five guys back who medaled last year and we’ve got two guys who were right in the mix. When you’re talking about seven guys who have a chance to medal, our goals shouldn’t change.”
That means the ’Canes are shooting for a repeat. Their predecessors may have sparked the program’s resurgence – Vets has become one of the state’s premier programs in recent years – but the current ’Canes fully expect to continue it.
“I think just in the building, our team has a reputation of being successful,” Schmeider said. “That raises the expectations for the kids and it makes them work. They know what they have to live up to. So the talent level isn’t the same this year, but the atmosphere is.”
Taking the torch from last year’s seniors are two returning state champions – senior Nick Salois and sophomore John Altieri.
Salois was a contender in his first two years on the mat before emerging as the state’s top-ranked 171-pounder last year. He took care of business at the state tournament, beating South Kingstown’s Dan Reiss in the finals. Salois is expected to wrestle at 182 in the new weight-class system.
“He’s eager to get back on the mat,” Schmeider said. “I know he wants another state title and I think he’s even shooting higher. He thinks he has what it takes to be a New England champ.”
Altieri is also back after winning a state title. The favorite all season, Altieri also got it done at states and rolled to a 7-0 victory in the championship round. He’s slated for 106 this year and will be shooting for another first-place medal.
“I expect him to repeat as a state champ,” Schmeider said. “He’s worked so hard. He probably wrestled 40 or 50 times in the off-season.”
In addition to their returning champs, the ’Canes bring back three other place-winners – senior Devin Hurst and juniors Nate Colicci and George Schmeider, the coach’s son.
Hurst will serve as a captain along with Salois, and he’s primed for big things. A three-time state medalist, Hurst will bump all the way from 125 to 170 this year. That could be a major advantage as Hurst tries for his first state title.
“He comes to that class with a lot of ability,” the elder Schmeider said. “Big guys wrestle big style, but he’s a big guy with small-guy technique. I think he’s going to be really tough to beat. He’s probably our hungriest guy.”
Colicci returns after finishing as the state runner-up at 112 last year. The junior is also a judo champion so he’s the team’s busiest competitor. Colicci will wrestle at 120.
“He’s our most active guy,” Schmeider said. “I expect him to improve on his second-place finish and win it.”
The last of the returning medalists is Schmeider’s son, who finished fourth at 152 at last year’s state tournament.
“He’s worked hard,” Schmeider said. “He traveled all over the place wrestling in the off-season and he’s improved greatly. He has one goal right now – being a two-time state champ.”
With so many individuals shooting for the top again, Vets fully expects to be in the mix for the team championship. But they don’t want to rely just on their returning stand-outs – the team is hoping for big things from junior Casey Beauregard, junior exchange student Diego Martinez and freshman Davin Lourenco, among others.
“If we can get a couple of guys to have break-out years, then we’ll be strong,” Schmeider said.
The ’Canes may not be a heavy favorite like they were last year. Cumberland, Cranston West and Hendricken – all of whom placed in the top four at states last year – should be strong again.
But Vets isn’t going to back down.
“We show up every day with that notion,” Schmeider said. “We’ve got seven guys who are still here, who felt what it was like to win a championship and who saw what it took. We’re not going to just say, ‘Oh, we’ll have a good year.’ We want to be in the mix again. The ingredients are there.”