Monday, March 10, 2014
By Dave Dyer
A staple of the central Maine high school wrestling scene has hit a milestone birthday.
The 40th Tiger Invitational will be held Saturday in Gardiner. It’s the oldest non-state championship tournament in the state. Ten area teams, a mix of local schools such as Mt. Blue, Cony and Erskine, as well as teams from away such as Westbrook, will hit the mat.
“It’s pretty prestigious, we have teams calling in every year,” Gardiner coach Matt Hanley said. “It’s tough, and there’s some real quality wrestling in it. It’s a little different now, everybody seems to have tournaments now. The tournament scene has become a real big part of wrestling. But to have the oldest one in the state, it’s really good.”
Hanley has seen the tournament grow firsthand. He wrestled at Gardiner in the late ‘70s, the early stages of the Tiger Invitational. For the past 13 years, Hanley has led the Tigers into the tournament as head coach. And, Hanley says, whenever he is done coaching, he is far from being finished with the tournament.
“I’ve wrestled in it myself,” Hanley said. “I wouldn’t mind reffing it someday to go full circle. It just started when I was there.”
Hanley said the tournament has grown over the years — starting from four teams in the early years to 10 today. It helps from a scouting perspective, finding out which teams and which wrestlers may be standouts come conference and state meet time.
“It’s where you start the feeling out process,” Hanley said. “Where all the kids think about wrestling (weight-wise) for the year. Who the new kids are or the kids that have really stepped it up. Not that we’re going to make any major adjustments, but some teams do based on who’s wrestling where.”
Mt. Blue won the tournament last year, finishing with a total of 154 points. Gardiner finished second with 120 points. Westbrook, Erskine and Cony rounded out the top five teams. Both of the Del Gallo brothers — Dan and Peter — won individual titles for Gardiner. Dan beat MCI’s Stewart Buzzell by technical fall at 145 pounds. Peter beat Erskine’s Justin Studholme for the 113-pound title. Dan has since graduated, but Peter remains, as well as Jake Truman (170 pounds), Hamish Thornton (182 pounds) and Andrew Doody-Veilleux, who each won in the consolation finals.
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Wrestling coaches are quick to tell anyone the regular season is a grind. Wins are welcomed this early in the season, but coaches are looking into more technical aspects of their wrestlers’ game, specifically if they are picking up new moves learned in practice.
Aspects like move sets is what Mt. Blue coach Scott Jennings is looking for from the Cougars. Jennings is in his first season as head coach at Mt. Blue, and said the team is going through some early season growing pains.
“We have a core group of seniors and everyone else is pretty young,” Jennings said. “It’s seeing how they develop from week to week, it’s kind of a big deal to us. Whether or not they are picking up the technique that we’ve been teaching. It’s been a little rough so far, people are still pretty raw. I’ve shown them stuff they haven’t done in the past.”
Early season touraments like the Tiger Invitational bring valuable mat time to some teams. Erskine carries a roster of 24 wrestlers, but has gone against teams in dual meets that carry far less on their roster. As a result, teams are forced to forfeit in certain weight classes. In a meet last week with Oceanside, the Eagles won nine matches by way of forfeit, coming away with a 60-18 score. Erskine also beat Nokomis 40-27, with five wins coming from forfeits.
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