BELFAST, Maine — The Belfast wrestling team was so dominant at the 2008 Class B state championship meet that it clinched the title before the consolation- and championship-round matches were contested.
So with just two seniors graduated from the program’s first state championship team since 1995, it’s no wonder the Lions are among the favorites to battle for the 2009 crown.
And that just provides additional motivation as the team continues its preseason workouts in preparation for Saturday’s Belfast Duals.
“We know we’ve got to work hard,” said senior Zach Shellabarger, one of eight returning Lions who scored top-four finishes at the 2008 state meet. “We know we can do it because we did it last year, so as long as we stay on it and everyone keeps working hard for the entire season I think we’ll have a real good shot at it again.”
Belfast is ranked third statewide and first among Class B teams in the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance’s preseason poll after a 2007-08 season in which it ended Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference rival Camden Hills of Rockport’s 13-year hold on the Eastern Maine Class B title before storming to the state crown.
Belfast scored 160 points at the states, well ahead of runner-up Mountain Valley of Rumford (124), Wells (113) and Camden Hills (98).
Those four teams figure to be among the primary contenders for this year’s title, according to longtime Belfast coach Ted Heroux.
The Lions are led by senior Travis Spencer and junior Kote Aldus, both high school All-Americans. Spencer will bid this winter to join the elite ranks of four-time individual state champions, having won the Class B title at 160 pounds as a freshman and at 189 pounds each of the last two years.
“He’s 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, and he’s as quick as anyone on the team,” said Heroux of Spencer, who went 49-2 last winter and begins his senior season with a 120-9 career record — with six losses coming as a freshman.
“It’s not hard to coach someone like that because there’s no substitute for strength and speed. He’s very strong, he’s quick and he loves the sport.”
Spencer, who went on to finish third in his weight class at the 2008 New England interscholastic championships, also went 5-0 last summer during the Maine-Nebraska Friendship Series held in Nebraska.
“There was a lot of good competition out there,” said Spencer, who this winter will attempt to break the school record for career victories of 154, set by older brother Jimmy Spencer last season. “It was a real good experience. I was hoping to do well, but I just went down there thinking I’d try to wrestle my best.”
Aldus, one of two of Heroux’s grandsons on this year’s Belfast roster, is the reigning New England champion at 160 pounds after also claiming the state title at that weight class. Aldus is 82-9 in two years of high school competition.
“I’ve been coaching now 41 years, and we’ve only had a couple of athletes like that,” said Heroux. “I’ve probably coached about 4,000 wrestlers, and they’re two of the best.”
Other Belfast wrestlers back after reaching the championship or consolation finals in the 2008 state meet are Josh Robbins, second at 119 pounds; Shellabarger, second at 145; Josh Wolfe, third at 112, Mark Smith, third at 215; Kornealius Wood (another Heroux grandson), fourth at 135; and Matt Sanderson, fourth at 152.
“You’ve got quite a nucleus of athletes out there on the mat who have a lot of wrestling experience,” said Heroux. “The better your team is, the easier it is to coach them. They know what’s at stake, and they’ve been working real hard.”
Class C powers clash in Dixfield
The top four teams at the 2008 Class C state wrestling championships will meet Friday evening in a season-opening four-way meet at Dirigo High School in Dixfield.
Western Maine powers Lisbon and Dirigo and Eastern Maine contenders Dexter and Foxcroft Academy will square off at this event for the fifth consecutive year.
The winner of the meet has gone on to win the Class C state championship each of the last four years — Foxcroft in 2005, Lisbon in 2006, Dirigo in 2007 and Lisbon again last February.
This year’s Lisbon team has been ranked fourth statewide according to the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance preseason poll, while Dirigo also is given consideration. Dexter and Foxcroft are considered two of the top teams in Eastern Maine Class C.
John Bapst paces All-LTC picks
Newly crowned state champion John Bapst of Bangor claimed nearly a third of the first-team picks on the 2008 All-LTC football squad.
John Bapst players were named to 10 of the 34 slots on the first team, including three players who were recognized at multiple positions.
Senior Derek Smith was named first-team quarterback, punter and defensive back, while classmate Chase Huckestein was similarly honored at both fullback and linebacker and junior Billy Wetherbee was named a first-team running back and defensive back.
Other John Bapst players named to the first team are wide receiver Shane Hass, defensive lineman Tyler Chamberlain and kicker Doug Dieuveuil.
Other multiple first-team honorees are Ian Champeon (running back, defensive back) and Andrew Larson (offensive and defensive tackle) of Foxcroft Academy, Nate Ireland (center, linebacker) of Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, and Markus White (offensive guard, defensive line) of Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield.
Also named to the first-team All-LTC offense were fullback Blake Ford of Calais-Woodland; running back Nate Warren and guard C.J. Breidt, both of Bucksport; running back Sam Weiss, tight end David Searle and wide receiver David McGuire, all of Rockland; tight end Brandon Levasseur and tackle Jake Paul, both of Orono; wide receiver Josiah Richard of Foxcroft, and utility player Nick Miller of MCI.
Other first-team defensive choices were lineman Robbie McGuire, end Vince Tymoczko, linebacker Robbie Winters and defensive back Cam Wentworth, all of Bucksport; end Greg Hand of Mattanawcook; and linebacker Cory Barnett of Stearns of Millinocket.